KUT, Iraq — A teenager was killed Wednesday when private guards shot at protesters who set fire to several Iraqi government offices, in the country’s most violent demonstrations since uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
The protests, which also left 27 people wounded, took place in the southern city of Kut, capital of Wasit province, with more than 2,000 demonstrators calling for the provincial governor to resign over poor basic services.
The demonstration began at 9:00 am (0600 GMT) and saw protesters set fire to three buildings — the offices of Wasit provincial council, the governorate’s main administrative building and the governor’s official residence.
Policemen and soldiers fired their weapons into the air in a bid to dissuade protesters, while private security guards employed by Wasit council opened fire directly into the crowd, for which a senior policeman pledged punishment.
Majid Mohammed Hassan from Kut hospital’s administrative unit put the toll at one dead and 27 wounded. He said the fatality had been a 16-year-old boy who suffered a bullet to the chest.
None of the wounded were as a result of the fires because all the buildings had emptied of staff who fled the scene, fearful of the demonstrations.
“Those were private guards, only they fired at the protesters. They were outside the law,” police Brigadier General Hussein Jassim told AFP. “Our forces only fired into the air.”
Major Mohammed Saleh, the top police intelligence officer in Kut, said: “Measures will be taken against the private guards but after the situation has calmed down.”
Illiteracy, poverty and access to clean water in Wasit are all worse than the Iraqi national average, according to United Nations figures.
Earlier, the demonstrators had chanted slogans calling on Tarfa to resign, and held up placards that sarcastically said, “To all citizens: Electricity is only for officials”, a reference to Iraq’s dramatic shortfall in power provision.
“We demand that our rights be met, that we have better services and that the authorities fight corruption,” said 54-year-old Ali Mohsen, a professor at Wasit university.
“We demand that the governor resign … all we need is services.”
Wednesday’s protest was the most violent to hit Iraq since mass uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt led to the fall of both countries’ dictators. A February 3 demonstration near the southern city of Diwaniyah left four people wounded when police fired into the air to disperse the crowd.
In the southern port city of Basra, meanwhile, more than 200 unemployed demonstrators gathered in front of the provincial government headquarters, while clerics in the holy Shiite city of Najaf called on officials to listen to the protesters.
“We must respect the demonstrations, we must support them and they must be listened to,” said Sadr al-Din al-Qubanchi, a senior cleric and member of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council.