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Three Reported Killed In Iraqi Protests

Flames engulf the Wassit provincial council building in the southern city of Kut.
Flames engulf the Wassit provincial council building in the southern city of Kut.
BAGHDAD -- Three people were reported killed and at least 14 injured following clashes between protesters and Iraqi security forces in the eastern city of Kut, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

A curfew was imposed from 6 p.m. on February 16 until 6 a.m. today after the protests turned violent.

Security forces reportedly shot at demonstrators when they stormed three government buildings, including the provincial government seat and council, and set the buildings on fire. Kut is the capital of Wassit province.

Several hundred people had gathered in Kut to demand jobs and improved services. They also called for the resignation of the provincial governor and the city council.

A demonstrator identified as Hussein told RFI that events in Kut "reflected the anger on the streets of Wassit caused by rampant corruption and poor services."

An unnamed protester said the demonstration started as peaceful, but "some of the provincial council's guards opened fire and that made the people angry."

He said the protesters are demanding improved services, the distribution of ration cards, and the cancellation of plans to raise electricity prices. He added that all unemployed university graduates need to be hired and that corrupt officials have to be removed.

Protests were also held in Baghdad and Basra, where hundreds of graduates demanded jobs and complained about poor municipal services and governance.

A protester in Basra told RFI that they want jobs, "we want to work -- all the people of Basra are unemployed," he said.

In Baghdad, a protester outside the Education Ministry told RFI that the demonstrators are mostly unemployed college graduates. He said some of them had joined in the protests from other parts of Iraq.

"The recent wave of revolt in Arabic countries against oppression and injustice aimed at obtaining rights encouraged us to demand our rights," he said. "We, young people, are gathering here [outside the Education Ministry]. I personally also posted invitations on Facebook calling on others in Basra, Diwaniyah, and other provinces to join this gathering."

Meanwhile, in Baghdad a separate demonstration was held by female students in front of the Higher Education Ministry. They demanded that the ministry revise what they said was a rule obliging them to wear head scarves on campus.

A ministry representative denied that such a decision had been made. The students, however, said a coordinated effort is under way to impose head scarves at the university.