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Iraq: Four protesters killed, 15 wounded in ethnic clashes in Kirkuk

Dispute centres on the return of a building by the central government to the Kurdistan Democratic Party, opposed by Arab and Turkmen opponents
Iraqi protesters block a road following protests in the multi-ethnic Iraqi city of Kirkuk on 2 September 2023 (AFP)
Iraqi protesters block a road following protests in the multi-ethnic Iraqi city of Kirkuk on 2 September 2023 (AFP)

Iraqi security forces deployed in the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk on Sunday to prevent further violence as the death toll in clashes between ethnic groups the previous day rose to four, police and security sources said.

Four protesters were shot dead on Saturday in clashes between ethnic groups in Kirkuk that broke out after days of tensions. Police and medical sources said all four were Kurdish.

Amir Shwani, a spokesman for Kirkuk police, said in a statement to reporters a curfew had been lifted and vehicles were moving normally in the city on Sunday.

But security forces had deployed additional troops on the streets to "prevent violence and protect civilians", he said.

The dispute centres on a building in Kirkuk that was once the headquarters for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) but which the Iraqi army has used as a base since 2017.

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Iraq's federal supreme court issued an urgent ruling on Sunday obliging the government to delay procedures regarding the handover of a building in Kirkuk to the KDP, the state news agency reported.

The ruling could raise tensions amid discussions over the return of the powerful Kurdish party to the city.

Military helicopters flew over the city on Sunday, according to four Kirkuk residents who spoke to Reuters by phone.

Shwani confirmed that four protesters had been killed and 15 people were wounded. Residents said police detained several people on Sunday who had participated in the clashes but police refused to comment on any arrests.

'Tense and dangerous situation'

Kirkuk, an oil-rich province in northern Iraq along the fault lines between the Kurdish autonomous region and areas controlled by Iraq's Shia-dominated central government, has been the focus of some of the country's worst post-Islamic State (IS) group violence.

Arab residents and minority groups, who say they suffered under Kurdish rule, have protested against the KDP's return to the city.

Massud Barzani, a veteran Kurdish leader in the autonomous region, accused "rioters" of blocking the highway from Kirkuk to Erbil with their sit-in.

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He said this was "creating a tense and dangerous situation for residents".

Barzani said it was "surprising" that security forces had not prevented "the chaos and illegal behaviour of those blocking the road", while on Saturday "violence was used against Kurdish youth and demonstrators".

His son Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the autonomous region, called on Sudani in Baghdad to "intervene immediately to bring this unacceptable situation under control".

He also urged "Kurdish citizens being persecuted in Kirkuk to show restraint and refrain from violence".

Kurdish forces controlled Kirkuk city after driving IS out in 2014 but were ejected by the Iraqi army in 2017, bringing the city back under Baghdad's control.

When Sudani took power last year, he worked to improve relations between his government and the KDP and agreed to allow the KDP to reopen its headquarters in Kirkuk.

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