SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq, (AP) – Gunmen burst into a Kurdish television station in northern Iraq on Sunday, shooting up the equipment and setting fire to the building, apparently in retaliation for footage they aired earlier in the week of a deadly protest, station officials said.
Later Sunday, about 2,000 demonstrators took to the streets of this Kurdish city, 160 miles (260 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, for a fourth consecutive day to demand political and economic reforms from the ruling parties that control the region. Police and hospital officials said at least four people were injured — two of them by bullets — after Kurdish forces fired in the air to disperse the crowd.
The attack on the television station took place early Sunday morning, when a group of 40 to 50 gunmen wearing military-style clothes stormed the network’s headquarters in Sulaimaniyah, spokesman Farhang Hars said. Officials at the station suggested the raid was retaliation for broadcasting footage of a demonstration last week in which two people were killed. The station had only been on air for a few days.
“The channel showed some footage from the last demonstration in Sulaimaniyah, and it seems our work annoyed some sides,” said Shaswar Abdul-Wahid, the Kurdish businessman who owns the channel. He did not elaborate on exactly who he thought was responsible.
The prime minister of the Kurdish region, Barham Saleh, condemned the attack and said it would be investigated.
During Thursday’s protest, security guards opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators outside the Sulaimaniyah headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party headed by Kurdish President Massoud Barzani and pelted it with stones. Two people were killed and nearly 50 injured.
KDP officials said the guards were forced to defend themselves while opposition groups described it as an attack against unarmed civilians.
The three provinces that make up the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq are much better off than the rest of the country, but many Kurds are angry with the stranglehold with which the two ruling parties control the region’s politics and economy.
On Sunday, about 2,000 people rallied against the government in the city center, shouting: “Down with the government!” and “No to corruption!”
“There is no justice. … I don’t have anything but the sons of the political leaders have everything,” said Shakhawan Ahmed, 35.
The protesters tried to march to the KDP headquarters again but were pushed back by security forces loyal to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the other main political party in Kurdistan that is headed by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
A scuffle ensued with some protesters throwing stones and some members of the PUK forces firing in the air to disperse the crowd.
A police and hospital official said two people, including a security member, were injured by flying stones and two by bullets, one in the hand and the other in the leg. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media.
Iraqis have been following the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia intently and venting their anger against their democratically elected leaders over a lack of jobs, corruption and shoddy services.