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Iraqi PM warns against attacking protesters in Kurdish regions

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Iraqi Kurdish protestors shout slogans in Sulaimaniyah, in the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq, on December 19, 2017. (Photos by AFP)

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has warned against attacking protesters in the country's northern semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

"We would not stand idly by if any citizen were attacked or suppressed. The Iraqi citizens are equal everywhere. We will punish those who attack any citizen," he said on Tuesday.

The announcement was made several after hours after Kurdish security forces fatally shot five protesters as demonstrations continued there amid widespread anger over unpaid salaries and corruption.

Abadi went on to urge Kurdistan’s government to “respect the peaceful protests.” 

Earlier, hundreds of protesters took to streets in at least six cities in Sulaymaniyah province.

The protestors torched the local government building in the town of Kwaisanjaq.

They also attacked and set fire to the offices of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and PUK.

Iraqi Kurdish security forces stand guard during a protest in Sulaimaniyah, in the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq, on December 19, 2017. 

Frustration over unpaid salaries to teachers and other civil servants, in addition to the deterioration of basic services and widespread corruption have been described as the main reasons behind mass protests in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

The Kurdistan region has been suffering from financial and economic hardships as a result of disagreement with the central government in Baghdad over distribution of crude oil revenues extracted from the northern oilfields.

Tensions have been running high between Baghdad and the KRG after the Kurds held a controversial referendum on the independence of Kurdistan on September 25.

The referendum on secession of the Kurdistan region was held despite strong opposition from Iraqi authorities, the international community, and Iraq's neighboring countries, especially Turkey and Iran.

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