Iraqi police opened fire Sunday on stone-throwing crowds protesting government corruption in Iraq's northern Kurdish region. At least 35 people were wounded, some of them by gunfire, a doctor said.
It was the latest protest to turn violent in Sulaimaniyah, a city in the normally peaceful Kurdish region where demonstrations calling for political and economic reforms have been held nearly every day over the last several months.
A day earlier, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki lauded Iraq's security forces as ready to protect the country in a meeting with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner.
In Sulaimaniyah, located 160 miles (260 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, witnesses said some police fired into the air to clear protesters blocking a road and others shot into the crowd. Seven people were shot, including two local journalists, said Sulaimaniyah health director Dr. Regald Hama Rasheed.
He said the other 28 people were wounded by thrown rocks or were hospitalized because of breathing problems from the tear gas.
No deaths were immediately reported. At least nine protesters have been killed in anti-government demonstrations in Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region since Feb. 17. The demonstrations appear to have taken inspiration from the other flashes of unrest spreading across the Middle East and North Africa.
Meeting with Boehner on Saturday night, al-Maliki repeated his belief that U.S. forces will no longer be needed to help Iraq's shaky stability after the end of the year.
"The Iraqi armed and security forces are able to handle the responsibility of maintaining security, and work in a professional way," al-Maliki told Boehner, according to a statement issued by the prime minister's office.
Al-Maliki has maintained that the estimated 46,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq must leave by Dec. 31 as required under a security agreement between Baghdad and Washington. However, a small number of active-duty soldiers _ currently estimated at 119 _ will remain in Iraq next year as part of a U.S. Embassy office to continue training Iraqi forces as they buy new arms and equipment from American firms.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, was accompanied by a bipartisan delegation of House lawmakers for the one-day stop in Iraq that ended Sunday morning. In a statement, Boehner noted the vast difference in Iraq's security from four years ago, when "a terrorist insurgency was killing innocent civilians and wreaking havoc across the country."
"Today Iraq is a different country," Boehner said. He affirmed the year-end deadline for the troop withdrawal and pledged to continue assisting Iraq as the nation moves away from eight years of U.S. military support.
"Iraq is critical to our immediate and long-term national security interests, and we must protect the economic, political, and security progress that has been made," Boehner said.
Violence across Iraq has dropped dramatically over the last few years but deadly bombings and shootings sill happen almost every day.
In Baghdad, gunmen stormed the home of a Shiite family living in a mostly Sunni neighborhood late Saturday and killed all four family members, including a 16-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl, police and health officials said.
And a bomb hidden on a car killed a government national security ministry worker Sunday night, police said. Four passers-by were wounded in the explosion in Baghdad's al-Mansour neighborhood.