Monday, December 5, 2011

Clash Between Political Parties In Iraq’s Kurdistan

A conflict is emerging between two political parties in Kurdistan. It started when several local clerics in Dohuk province aligned with the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) condemned some businesses as being un-Islamic. Their followers then left the mosques to burn down dozens of these firms. The ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) condemned this riot, and urged its followers to hold counter demonstrations, which led to attacks upon KIU offices. That was followed by a war of words between the two lists, and arrests, which could continue to escalate in the following days. This is just the latest clash between the ruling parties in Kurdistan, and the opposition, which still have not figured out how to work together within a democratic system.
Riots started in Zakho in northern Iraq just along the border with Turkey (Now Public)
The dispute between the two Kurdish parties started in the town of Zakho in Dohuk province. On December 2, 2011, several clerics aligned with the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) during Friday prayers told their parishioners that Asian massage parlors and liquor stores should be banned in the city. After their sermons were over, their followers flowed out of the mosques, paraded down the streets, and set upon four hotels, thirty alcohol shops, and one massage parlor, burning many of them. Christians and Yazidis owned all of the liquor stores. Afterward, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) condemned the riot, and called on their supporters to take to the streets in several cities and towns across the region. They ended up attacking KIU offices in Zakho, Dohuk, Sumel, and Irbil. This included four party offices, which were set afire, and one was shot at, along with a TV and radio station run by the list. Thirty people were injured during these latter events, including many policemen. The KIU immediately condemned the assaults upon their facilities, and claimed that they had nothing to do with the rioting in Zakho. President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Massoud Barzani called for a special committee to be formed to investigate the incidents, which he called pre-planned. That didn’t end things however.
Kurdistan Islamic Union offices in Sulaymaniya after being attacked by Kurdistan Democratic Party followers (Al-Rafidayn)
The situation quickly escalated with arrests and more demonstrations. First, the KIU organized its own protests in Irbil and Sulaymaniya provinces. The party did not get official permission however, and were met by the security forces. It also threatened to withdraw from the Kurdish Coalition, the alliance of all the Kurdish parties in the Iraqi parliament. At the same time, the internal security force, the Asayesh, allegedly arrested several KIU party members, including the list’s parliamentary chief, a member of its governing board, and its party chief in Dohuk, and several others. The KIU responded by threatening to go to court for the burning of its offices. It accused the KDP of being behind the attacks, and claimed that the clerics that incited the original riot in Zakho were KDP followers.

This is just the latest dispute between these two parties. The KDP is the dominant list in the Kurdistan region. It controls the region’s presidency, and is expected to regain control of the premiership in the beginning of 2012 as well. The KIU on the other hand, is part of the Kurdish opposition that has been gaining support in recent years as some people have become disillusioned with the ruling parties. The Islamic Union used to be in an alliance with the KDP, but decided to run on its own in the December 2005 elections. (1) As a result, their offices in seven Kurdish towns were attacked by the KDP, leading to four deaths, and 21 wounded. The KIU was attacked again in Irbil during the 2009 Kurdish parliamentary elections. (2) The Islamic Union ended up winning five seats in the balloting, and today works with the Kurdistan Islamic Group and the Change List as the major opposition parties. All of them have faced continued harassment and retaliation by the ruling parties since that voting. It is with this background that the latest tit for tat between the KDP and KIU can be understood. At the same time, the KIU follows an Islamist ideology, which condemns alcohol and other types of businesses as being against its interpretation of Islam. Clerics loyal to it incited a mob, which devastated a section of Zakho, setting upon many businesses owned by Christians and Yazidis who have been victimized throughout Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. They are one of the only sects allowed to sell liquor in the country. This violence should have been condemned by all of Kurdistan’s parties, and legal action taken against the culprits. KRG Premier Barham Saleh has promised to do just that. Unfortunatley, Iraq’s political parties are not quite versed in democratic principals. Instead, they often turn to rhetorical attacks, bullying, and force, which could mean nothing substantive will happen. That has led to the current impasse, with the KIU and KDP both carrying out illegal activities, with no higher institution able to enforce the rule of law. That could lead to further escalation of the situation.


1. Cetin, Cetiner, Kurt, Suleyman, “Barzani Supporters Attack Kurdish Party Building,” Today’s Zaman, 12/8/05

2. Aswat al-Iraq, “Kurdistan Islamic Union HQ attacked in Arbil,” 7/27/09


AK News, “Fire on the Streets of Zakho – Unrest in Duhok Governorate,” 12/4/11
- “Official: Entire cabinet changes after Kurdistan PM swap,” 11/20/11

Ali, Hawar Abdulrazaq, “Kurdish President Deplores Zakho Riots,” Rudaw 12/4/11

Ali, Mandy Samira, “Kurdish fears of the repercussions of turmoil in Dahuk,” Radio Free Iraq, 12/4/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Barzani stresses the need for peaceful coexistence and put the blame on some of the professors of religion,” 12/3/11
- “Demonstrationsdenouncing Islamic Federation Headquarters burning,” 12/3/11
- “Deplores the events of an internal region of Zakho and Barzani is an investigative committee,” 12/3/11
- “Deputy Governor of Dohuk: protesters burned shops, hotels, beverages are outlaws,” 12/3/11
- “Dozens of supporters demonstrating in the Islamic Union of Erbil and Sulaimaniiya, to protest the burning of the headquarters of the party,” 12/3/11
- “Islamic Party of Kurdistan Democratic bears the responsibility of burning its headquarters in Zakho and Dohuk,” 12/3/11
- “Kurdistan Islamic Union calls upon his supporters to organize protests and security forces intensified their presence,” 12/3/11
- “Kurdistan Islamic Union HQ attacked in Arbil,” 7/27/09
- “KurdistanIslamic Party charges Kurdistan Democratic Party with burning its HQs,” 12/3/11
- “Member of the Kurdistan Islamic Union reveals the arrest of the head mass, and thus accuse the Democratic,” 12/3/11
- “Necessity for peaceful co-existence, blame on clergymen, -President Barzani,” 12/3/11
- “Vice-Islamic Union of Kurdistan looming mass withdrawal form the coalition of Kurdish blocs,” 12/3/11

Cetin, Cetiner, Kurt, Suleyman, “Barzani Supporters Attack Kurdish Party Building,” Today’s Zaman, 12/8/05

Ekurd, “Islamic Mob stormed Christian + Yezidi shops,” 12/4/11

Hasan, Rebin, “Islamic party’s “unlicensed” protests being intercepted by police,” AK News, 12/3/11
- “KDP washes its hands before Consul-Generals,” AK News, 12/4/11
- “U.S. Consul Geenral condemns Zakho Booze Burning,” AK News, 12/4/11

Juhi, Bushra, “Crowds rampage in Iraqi Kurdish city after sermons,” Associated Press, 12/3/11

Mohammed, Fryad, “Asayish denies arrests of KIU officials,” AK News, 12/3/11
- “Leaders say courts will hear of arson cases,” AK News, 12/3/11

National Iraqi News Agency, “Barzani orders to form special investigative committee for the events of Dohuk,” 12/3/11
- “Breaking news. Kurdish source: arrest of Kurdistan Islamic Union Chairman and 5 of his comrades,” 12/3/11
- “Kurdish source: burning / 4 / major hotels and / 36 / Alcohol shops selling ,the outcome of Dohuk clashes,” 12/3/11

Rudaw, “Rioters Attack Liquor Stores, Offices of Local Islamic Party,” 12/3/11

Taha, Yaseen, “secular alliance blamed for Kurdish islamists election failure,” Niqash, 8/30/09

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