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Post-referendum woes spark angry protests in Iraqi…

Kurdish demonstrators gather in the city of Sulaimaniyah on December 18, 2017, calling for the regional government to resign in the wake of a failed independence push

Protesters in Iraqi Kurdistan on Monday torched offices of the main political parties and security services as anger at the authorities boiled over in the wake of a failed independence push.

Furious demonstrators set fire to buildings in the Piramagrun area of Sulaimaniyah province as they demanded the resignation of the autonomous region’s leadership, an opposition party official said.

Abdel Razak Sharif, a leader of the Goran party, told AFP there were no casualties.

Elsewhere, several thousand angry people across the region took to the streets, including in the major city of Sulaimaniyah and some parts of Arbil province.

Haval Abu Bakr, the Goran governor of Sulaimaniyah province, told reporters he backed civil movements but “we oppose any confrontation”.

He urged the security forces not to get involved in the clashes and asked that the protesters “demonstrate peacefully”.

Tensions have soared in Iraqi Kurdistan over the calamitous fallout from an independence referendum in September that was opposed by the central government in Baghdad.

In the wake of the overwhelming “yes” vote — pushed through by veteran regional leader Massud Barzani despite international condemnation — federal forces retook swathes of disputed territory from the Kurds.

The loss of the oil-rich areas dealt a body blow to Kurdish coffers, pushing the region into dire financial straits and dashing long-held dreams of becoming a viable state.

Firms have closed and there has been an uptick in unemployment since the vote as the economic beating by Baghdad has taken its toll.

Protesters — including many civil servants — shouted “Down with the thieves”, “Death to Barzani” and “Down with the government that lost the disputed regions”.

Police in Sulaimaniyah — a stronghold for a faction opposed to Barzani — fired tear gas to keep demonstrators away from the offices of political parties.

Regional president Barzani announced he was stepping down in late October after the independence vote backfired spectacularly.

Legislative and presidential elections in the region due on November 1 were postponed because of the turmoil.

Prime minister Nechirvan Barzani, the ex-president’s nephew, has pledged to hold the polls over the next three months.

The dispute over the referendum saw deep rifts within Iraqi Kurdistan burst into the open.

The main party opposed to the Barzanis rejected the independence vote and its forces struck a deal with Iraqi troops to let them retake key chunks of territory without a fight.

In a sign that the region’s isolation after the vote is easing, Iran on Monday reopened all its border crossings with Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iran, which along with Turkey opposed the referendum over fears it could spur their own Kurdish communities, closed the border crossings after the vote.

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