In March, CPT-Iraq interviewed eleven Peshmerga (Kurdish armed forces, literally “those who face death”) and Iraqi Border Patrol officers whom members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have harassed because of their support of the Goran (Change) Party. Since that interview, many more stories of persecution have surfaced, cracking the façade of a completely fair election.
Shortly following the March 8 vote, there was a brief quiet period which some mistakenly interpreted as the people’s satisfaction. However, a few weeks later, CPT’s Iraq team learned of the Peshmergas’ situation (see video http://goo.gl/p5XR), and then began hearing other stories of political persecution.
A Goran-supporting family from Rania, a few hours north of Suleimaniya, was driven from their home by their PUK-supporting neighbors.
In Kirkuk, mysterious armed men picked up a man who hung a Goran Party flag on his house, detaining and torturing him until after election day.
While campaigning for the Goran Party in 2009 during the Kurdistan Region’s parliamentary election, a young man, Aziz, was abducted and tortured by a group of armed men. During the campaign season this year, Aziz says the PUK harassed him and made false charges against him.
“They say that I wanted to kidnap a guard from PUK building #1,” he reported. “I have a small body and the guard has a gun. I am without a weapon. I only have a pen,” implying that his ideas are the reason behind the harassment. He is now seeking refuge in the Goran headquarters, fearing for his life if he leaves. (See video: http://goo.gl/7xT6)
Who is responsible for the persecution? Though proof is scarce, all victims point to the PUK’s elusive Counter-Terrorism Group, headed by Lahur Talabani, nephew of Iraqi President and PUK leader Jalal Talabani.
On 3 April 2010, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, held a meeting with leaders of the main Kurdish political parties. At this meeting, Goran representatives called for an end to the harassment and for the PUK to return jobs to Goran supporters fired because of their political affiliation.
What Barzani’s response will be remains unclear, but those Kurds targeted for speaking out against corruption embody a spirit that has led to social change all over the world.