Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government Prevents Return Of Protests

Sulaymaniya in Iraq’s Kurdistan saw the largest and most consistent protests at the beginning of the year. Thousands of young people turned out every day in the city’s central square beginning in February 2011. In April, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had enough, and sent out the security forces to break them up. Since then things have been relatively quiet, until July 15 when organizers called for a new round of demonstrations. The regional government acted quickly to suppress it before it even happened.
(United Nations)
On July 14, a youth group in Sulaymaniya called for new protests in the city. It used Facebook to promote its plan for an assembly on Friday, July 15. Other activists had differing opinions on the idea. Some warned that the government would repress any new activity. The Livin Press, which has been critical of the government, added to this by reporting that large numbers of security forces were deployed throughout the city. The KRG used force back in April to break up protests in Sulaymaniya, so this threat had to be taken seriously.

The security forces were out in large numbers to deter any protests
When July 15 came around, the security forces were ready. There were checkpoints in and around the city, and a large number of officers were deployed in Saray Square where the previous protests were held. As soon as people approached downtown they were swept up or deterred from continuing. Ten organizers were arrested, (1) along with two reporters. Later, one of the protest organizations claimed that their followers were abused and beaten. They claimed the director of the Metro Center to Defend Journalism was picked up, and whipped, and that people who were trying to film the arrests with their cell phones were also detained. The government was obviously not going to tolerate a new round of demonstrations starting in Sulaymaniya. They had just broken up the last ones two months before, and were not willing to have more people out in the street questioning their authority. They thus wanted to nip these activists in the bud by a strong show of force meant to scare and intimidate them.

Demonstrations originally began in Sulaymaniya on February 17, when thousands of young people came out to Saray Square calling for a number of reforms such as a new government, and an end to corruption. Things quickly got out of hand when they headed for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headquarters, one of the two ruling parties, and started throwing stones. That led guards to fire into the crowd, killing two people and wounding 47 others. That did not deter activists who came out to the square again the next day, and started a sit-in that lasted two months. In May, the government decided to end them, by sending in the security forces to beat and arrest the protesters, and push them out of the square. Since then, there had not been any activity in any part of Kurdistan until July 15.

After May, the demands of the protesters were taken up by the Kurdish opposition parties, but nothing came of it. In fact, the three opposing parties recently walked out of talks. Some of the activists objected to the negotiations to begin with, claiming that only they spoke for the Kurdish people. Because the two months of protests and the discussions with the ruling parties have not brought about any concrete change, a new wave of protests could’ve been predicted. The KRG’s response with the security forces was also something that could have been foreseen. Whether the organizers can break through the security forces is the question now, because without outside pressure, the regional government is unlikely to make anything but cosmetic reforms, while they hold onto power.


1. Alsumaria News, “Kurdish security forces arrested ten people who were preparing to break a demonstration in Sulaimaniya,” 7/15/11


Alsumaria News, “Kurdish security forces arrested ten people who were preparing to break a demonstration in Sulaimaniya,” 7/15/11

Asaad, Dana, “unrest in kurdistan,” Niqash, 2/21/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Strict security measures in Sulaimaniya to face new demonstration,” 7/16/11

Hennessy-Fiske, Molly, “IRAQ: At least two protesters dead,” Babylon & Beyond, Los Angeles Times, 2/17/11

MESOP, “Stop the Whipping in Sulaimaniah / The Federation of Civil Society Organizations,” 7/16/11

Saifaddin, Dilshad, “Kurdistan’s ruling parties to voice stance on opposition’s suspension of talks,” AK News, 7/14/11
- “Sulaimaniya: Youth group calls for revival of protests,” AK News, 7/14/11

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