IRAQ: CPT delegation meets with organizers of Suleimaniya demonstrations

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27 April 2011
IRAQ: CPT delegation meets with organizers of Suleimaniya

by Annika Spalde

[Note: This piece by a CPT delegate was written before the
18 April 2011 crackdown by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which banned
all demonstrations.]

On Monday 11 April, the four of us from the CPT short-term
delegation accompanied the CPT Iraq team to the central square in Suleimaniya
to meet the demonstrators and the people organizing the demonstrations.

As soon as we entered the square, we were surrounded by twenty-thirty
men of different ages. One of them started asking CPTer Michele Naar Obed, “Have
CPT done the report that you were talking about? What are you doing to tell the
world about what’s happening here?”

I started talking with a young man standing next to me. He
had been a student at the university, but was now unemployed. “Our leaders
are worse than Saddam,” he said, with a tired voice. “They have
learnt from Saddam. There are no human rights for us here.” In his opinion,
many of those who come to the square each day are unemployed. “It is very
difficult to get a job if you don’t have a connection to one of the parties,
PUK or KDP.  And if you don’t have
a job, you have no money.  You
can’t even afford to buy a cup of tea.”

Michele told one of the men questioning her that Amnesty
International would publish a report
on the repression against protesters in
Iraq and Kurdistan the following day. 
He said they would mention
this from the stage as an encouragement to the people that the information is
getting out.

After a half hour we met with two organizers of the protests
in a café.  One was a journalist,
the other works for an international non-governmental organization. They told
us how, in mid-February, the demonstrations started in a very spontaneous way,
with inspiration from the people’s nonviolent fight for democracy and human
rights in Tunisia and Egypt. After just a few days of demonstrations,
representatives from different sectors of society  created a committee to coordinate activities and to think
strategically.  One decision they
took early on was to always follow the principles of nonviolence. Another was
to have an “open mike” at the square, where anyone could share his or
her opinions and experiences.

The demonstrations at the square in Suleimaniya have become
a daily event for almost two months. Demands to the government that it
prosecute persons responsible for the killing of unarmed protesters, have not
been met. There is no dialogue between  the demonstrators and the authorities. The ad hoc committee
organizing the demonstrations is thinking about its next step. They have
written and published a “Roadmap for a peaceful transition of power in
Southern Kurdistan,” where they would call for the resignation of the president,
among other things.

Walking out of the café and across the square I felt deeply
moved by the willingness of these people to stand up for what they believe in,
despite risks. The two young men have received threats, but they say they will
stay with this struggle until there is real democracy in the KRG.

Members of CPT’s April 1-13 delegation to northern Iraq were
Claire Bent (Purley, Surrey, England), Khristo Newall (Perth, W.A., Australia),
Kathleen O’Malley (Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA), Amy Peters (Hanley,
Saskatchewan, Canada) and Annika Spalde (Mjölby, Sweden).


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