IRAQ UPDATE: April 2011

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CPTnet

27
May 2011

IRAQ
UPDATE:  April 2011

On
team during this time were Lukasz Firla, Peggy Gish, Michele Naar-Obed and
Kathy Moorhead Thiessen.

Anti-
corruption demonstrations continued: 

Protest
leaders announced 1 April to be a “Day of Anger” at the protests. Two events
precipitated this: first, the arrest of religious leader Mullah Kameron who had
called from the stage for a peaceful jihad, the nonviolent struggle of truth
and justice against corruption and injustice.  He asked for a nonviolent revolution. The authorities
only heard the word jihad and twisted the rest of his words. Thus, they arrested
him on an antiterrorism charge and refused to let two pro bono lawyers take on his case or visit
him.  Second, was KRG President Barzani’s statement
that all demonstrators and supporters must be prosecuted.  The demonstration leaders called for anger to be
displayed with nonviolence and peaceful protest, but the security forces were
summoned.  By the end of the evening,
forty-four people were injured including some police hit by the rocks.  Click here for CPTnet release of 2 April.

CPT  members continued to have conversations with
demonstrators.
One of the young men summed up the grievances, saying: “It is very
difficult to get a job if you don’t have a connection to one of the [political]
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.”

The
mostly peaceful demonstrations proceeded daily. However, in the late afternoon
of 17 April a small skirmish between young rock (and marble) throwers and
security forces precipitated more shooting. There were rumors that some of
these were provocateurs paid by unknown sources to stir up trouble. As the
evening progressed, contacts informed the team of  more violence. A few team members returned to
the square. They witnessed security forces surrounding the area and arresting
and beating the remaining protestors with batons.

The
next morning, 18 April, the CPT team went to the square early. The young men
were eager to talk. Many of them were filled with rage and frustration at their
situation and government. The team along with demonstration leaders spoke to
them of nonviolence and how even rock and marble throwing reflects badly on
them.  As the morning progressed the
security forces showed their strength with tear gas and bullets.  It was also evident that many of the young
men were determined to display their discontent. They chose their weapons of
fist-sized pieces of brick and marbles.  Very soon this battle was taking place on the
edge of the square. It was obvious that the soldiers were determined that this
would be the end of the protests.  By the
night the city was full of thousands of security forces and the stage was burnt
down.  Sixty-two days of nonviolent
protests in Maidani Sara (renamed Azadi or Freedom Square) were finished for
now. For further details see CPTnet releases of 19 April on the upsurge in armed presence and Day 61 of the demonstrations.

The
next day the team heard reports of university students heading for a protest at
the court house. The students’ goal was to ask why the ones who had shot
peaceful protestors had not been brought to justice. Sixteen buses full of
students and teachers were apprehended by security forces and held for 8 hours
in a deserted location in the hot sun. Supporters of opposition political
parties were taken off the buses and physically and psychologically abused.
Meanwhile, in front of the university, a nonviolent demonstration in support of
the students on the buses was violently crushed by soldiers and police. Gish
and Firla were witness to these beatings and shooting. See CPTnet release, “Like Kerosene in a Wound“.

Since
the crushing of the demonstrations the team has been in contact and meeting with
the leaders as they healed from the intensity of the 62 simultaneous days of
protests as well as arrests, beatings and threats. See CPT reflection on the
State of the People’s Uprising.

In
support of the movement’s leaders, CPT helped arrange a meeting on 25 April between
the grassroots organizers and representatives from the U.S. Consulate in the
KRG capital city of Erbil. After the meeting, which was held at nearby
American University, the leaders and Naar-Obed were distressed to hear that
Asaish (security police) had been circling the building waiting for their exit.
After many phone calls to politicians they were assured a safe passage and went
to a secure place for several hours. It is unknown how
the police found out about the meeting, but the situation was resolved without
any arrests.

Delegation:

From
2-12 April a CPT delegation of 5 people from 5 different countries came to learn
about the projects of CPT Iraq and the past and present situation of the
Kurdish people. Click here for delegation article.   

Picnic
to the mountains:

The
team spent an enjoyable yet physically exhausting day off 16 April climbing a
mountain near Ranya. The outing celebrated a sister city arrangement between Ranya
and Duluth, Minnesota, USA, home city of team member Naar-Obed. 

Iranian
refugee interview project:

Moorhead
Thiessen continued to interview representatives from the Iranian refugee
community. S. introduced the team to four individuals from a camp that is approximately
a half-hour’s drive from Suleimaniya. Gish and Moorhead Thiessen visited one of
the camps.

Easter Sunday,
24 April:

 The
team invited several guests for an evening worship service and supper.

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