At least three Kurds were killed and 16 people injured during protests in the multi-ethnic Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Saturday, as authorities imposed a curfew after days of tension.
Two people were hit in the chest and a third in the head, local health authority director Ziad Khalaf told AFP.
The victims were a 21-year-old man and two 37-year-olds, he added.
The injured, including Kurds, Arabs and three members of the security forces, were hit by gunfire, rocks or glasses, Khalaf said.
The curfew was imposed in the evening after rival protests – between Kurdish residents on one side and Turkmens and Arabs on the other – escalated into violence despite the presence of security forces.
Earlier in the day, police from the northern city had been deployed to buffer and keep rival groups at bay.
Warning shots were fired to force the Kurdish protesters to disperse. According to an AFP correspondent, vehicles circulating on a main avenue were set on fire.
Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani called for a commission of inquiry into the incident, and a press release from his office promised that those responsible would be “held accountable”.
Tensions have been simmering for almost a week in Kirkuk, a region historically disputed between the federal government of Baghdad and the authorities of the autonomous region of Kurdistan, in the north.
Arab and Turkmen protesters staged a sit-in near the headquarters of Iraqi security forces in Kirkuk province on Monday, after reports that Soudani ordered the site be handed over to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which previously occupied it.
Kurdish protesters tried to reach the headquarters on Saturday, an AFP correspondent noted.
– ‘Dangerous situation’ –
After the violence, Soudani ordered a curfew in Kirkuk and “extensive security operations in areas affected by the riots”, according to a statement from his office.
He called on all parties to “play their part to prevent conflicts and preserve security, stability and order in the governorate of Kirkuk”.
Soudani, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, ordered the security forces in the province “to assume their responsibilities in maintaining security and respecting the rule of law”.
On Saturday evening, Turkmen and Arab demonstrators continued their sit-in in front of the security building.
In another part of town, the local police chief, General Kawa Gharib, was trying to calm the Kurdish protesters.
In 2014, the KDP and the peshmerga, the security forces of the Kurdistan region, took control of Kirkuk, an oil region in northern Iraq.
However, federal troops expelled them in the fall of 2017 following a failed referendum on Kurdish independence.
Despite a history of difficult relations and tensions, the Sudanese government has generally managed to maintain cordial relations between Baghdad and Arbil, the Kurdish capital.
Massoud Barzani, a former Kurdish leader in the autonomous region, accused the “rioters” of blocking the highway linking Kirkuk to Arbil with their sit-in.
He said it “created a tense and dangerous situation for residents”.
Barzani said it was “surprising” that security forces failed to prevent “chaos and illegal behavior by those blocking the road”, as on Saturday “violence was used against young people and protesters Kurds”.
His son Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the autonomous region, called on the Sudanese in Baghdad to “intervene immediately to bring this unacceptable situation under control”.
He also urged “the persecuted Kurdish citizens in Kirkuk to exercise restraint and refrain from violence”.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)