16 January 2012
IRAQ UPDATE: December 2011
Persons on team: Bud Courtney, Lukasz Firla, Ramyar
Hassani (intern), Amy Peters (intern), Garland Robertson, Patrick Thompson,
Kathy Moorhead Thiessen
Bombing of the border areas and completion of the opinion
The team completed its survey of public opinion
regarding Turkish and Iranian bombing of the border with the Kurdistan Regional
Government (KRG) area, and distributed it to media, government officials,
political groups, universities, non-governmental organizations, the Suleimaniya
mayor’s office, and the embassies of Iran, Turkey, France and the USA (see https://www.cpt.org/cptnet/2011/12/12/iraq-cpt-iraq-releases-survey-results-kurdish-civilian-opinions-toward-cross-borde). On 5
December, Thiessen, Firla and Mohammed Salah held a news conference at the
Culture Café to publicize the survey, which then received considerable
attention in local media. The team also held vigils outside the KRG parliament
in Hawler (Erbil) to highlight the bombings. On 21 December, the team, border
villagers Mr. Bapir and Mr. Khidr, and the Federation of NGOs, met with the
parliament’s Human Rights Committee (HRC) to present the survey and a detailed
report done by the Federation on the damage to life and property from the
bombing. The HRC promised to visit the villages to see the damage, and the
villagers asked CPT to join them to witness the visit if it happens.
Visiting areas between the KRG and the rest of
This month saw the final withdrawal of U.S. troops
from Iraq. Although promised by Presidents Bush and Obama, Iraqis were
sceptical saying, “we’ll believe it when we see it.” Although the U.S. military
presence in the KRG was minimal, Iraqis are very concerned about what will
happen in Kirkuk, Mosul, Diyala province, and the other communities that sit on
the border between the KRG and the rest of Iraq. These are flash points which continue
to experience high levels of violence among different ethnic and religious
groups. Therefore, the team accepted invitations from the Chaldean Catholic
church to visit the Christian community in Kirkuk (see https://www.cpt.org/cptnet/2012/01/14/iraq-reflection-christmas-kirkuk).
The team travelled to Kirkuk three times in
December, joining the Chaldeans for mass and developing a relationship with their
clergy. On the last visit, 26-27 December, the team stayed at the Convent of
the Virgin Mary and joined the mass there on the evening of 26 December.
Hassani and Courtney then travelled with the priest, Father Silwa, for mass in
the nearby Christian village of Se Kanian. On 27 December, Father Silwa took
the team to meet the archbishop of Kirkuk and Suleimaniya for tea and dinner, who
then invited the team to visit and stay whenever they like. Through these
Chaldeans, the team also met Brother Yantz, a Swiss Catholic monastic who has
moved to Suleimaniya to start a community which focuses on Christian-Islamic
interfaith dialogue, similar to interfaith work he has done in monastic
communities in Syria.
Visiting Political Prisoners.
The team continues to monitor the legal and
political aspects of the case against Mr. Ibrahim, who was arrested after
leaving the ruling Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan (PUK) for the opposition Goran (Change) party (see https://www.cpt.org/cptnet/2011/12/22/iraq-reflection-bound-not-get-away). They also
accompanied Mr. Fallah and Mr. Aram, members of the Suleimaniya Federation of
NGOs, as they visited Mr. Saed Akreem in a Dohuk prison, and then held a news
conference to highlight his case. Akreem was director of the Ibrahim Khalil
border crossing into Turkey, and was arrested after speaking out about
corruption at the border. The team also met Mr. Akram, director of the Kurdish
Civil Rights Organization in Dohuk, who encouraged a closer relationship with
The team met with long-time partner Mrs. Parween
and her friend Mrs. Gulazar who talked about issues that women face in the KRG.
One of the main concerns is female genital mutilation, and how some traditions
and village culture are still encouraging the practice, while some
organizations are battling it. Another issue is the legal status of women, and
how by law they have to depend on men for many things.
On 2 and 3 December, the team saw a rise in
tensions attributed to conservative Islamists. This peaked with the fire-bombing
of liquor stores and massage parlours in Zakho and Badinan. In apparent retaliation,
the Islamic Union’s headquarters in Zakho were then burnt down. Tension was
also visible in Suleimaniya with the fire-bombing of a massage parlour, and a
peaceful demonstration by the Islamic Union. However it has become apparent to
the team, through many conversations and a visit to Zakho by Courtney and
Peters, that these tensions have been greatly fuelled by political factions
struggling for power, rather than religious extremists. For example, when the Union
building was burnt, the Asayish (security police), who answer to the Kurdistan Democratic
Party in Zakho, simply stood by and watched.
On 28 December, Turkey bombed and killed 35 Kurdish
youth from Turkey, who were smuggling goods across the Iraqi border into the Turkish
province of Shirnak. The Turkish Government has acknowledged the act and has
described it as a “mistake.” Since then there has been a reported rise in
violence between the Turkish military and Kurdish armed groups in Turkey.
The team celebrated New Year’s standing on their
roof in a cold, heavy rain. Fireworks were exploding everywhere in Suleimaniya.
The main streets were full of people dressed in costumes, representing not only
New Year’s but also Christmas and Halloween. The team hopes that 2012 can be a
year of peace and is working to make it a reality (see https://www.cpt.org/cptnet/2012/01/04/iraq-reflection-speculations-what-new-year-holds-iraq).