Published on February 19th, 2011 | by Ali Gharib1
Protests Spread to Northern Iraq
Our colleague Mohammed Salih, a talented young Iraqi reporter who used to be with our D.C. bureau, writes from Iraqi Kurdistan, where a wave of small protests resulted in clashes and deaths. (For complete coverage of the globe, you can always turn to the Inter Press Service homepage.)
At least one person died and dozens were injured Thursday in Iraqi Kurdistan’s second largest city as angry protestors attacked the local headquarters of one of the two ruling Kurdish parties, while an opposition building was set ablaze in the other major Kurdish city.
The violence broke out in Sulaimaniya following a rally organised by a number of civil society groups to express solidarity with protestors in Egypt and Tunisia and protest the poor state of public services and corruption in the autonomous Kurdish region.
A curfew has since been imposed in Sulaimaniya since 7 pm Thursday, and there is an unusually heavy presence of police and security forces.
Hours after the attack on the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) building in Sulaimaniya, the local headquarters of Gorran (Change) opposition movement in Erbil, Kurdistan’s capital city, was set on fire.
Thursday’s incidents in northern Iraq broke out amid a wave of mass protests that has galvanised several Middle Eastern countries in the recent weeks, leading to the collapse of two governments in Egypt and Tunisia.
Iraqi Kurdistan has witnessed several demonstrations in the last few years where people protested corruption and mismanagement. A number of people were killed and injured during those protests as well.
The organisers of the Thursday rally in Sulaimaniya had called on the protestors to disperse after a few speeches were read out in line with the protest’s objectives. But tens of protestors continued marching toward nearby Salim Street, where a number of high-profile government and party buildings are based.
Upon arriving at the local headquarters of the KDP, the protestors started chanting slogans against Kurdish rulers. Minutes later they began throwing stones at the KDP’s building, shattering its windows.
Eyewitness accounts say panicking guards of the building started opening fire on the demonstrators. Sulaimaniya’s top health official told the local media that one person died and over 50 others were injured as a result of the shooting.
“I could hear the sound of bullets whizzing by my head. At that second I thought that I was going to die. They were shooting right into the crowd,” Karzan Kardozi, a blogger who was among the protesting crowd Thursday, told IPS. “We hid in a parking lot for about three minutes and they were still shooting.”
“There should be an inquiry,” Kardozi said. “Those who shot the people should be brought to justice or the government will further lose credibility with its people.”
There are fears that increasing tensions in Iraqi Kurdistan might lead to serious instability, especially in light of the regional events and the prospect of further protests.