IRAQ: “The truth has been unleashed”; protest organizers arrested, disappeared, threatened


13 March 2011
IRAQ: “The truth has been unleashed”; protest organizers arrested, disappeared, threatened

Police and security forces in Suleimaniya have arrested and tortured many organizers of and participants in the daily anti-corruption protests in recent days. Several organizers have also disappeared or received death threats.  In a marked increase of tensions, an unknown number of additional security troops have deployed to the city, but apparently refrained from taking the protest site by force.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani threatened yesterday, 12 Marchto “deal” with the protests if they do not end by 21 March 2011.  Rather than complying, protest organizers have announced more visible actions in the coming week.

“The truth has been unleashed,”  a young protester told CPTers today (Sunday), “and cannot be silenced, not even by more soldiers.”

“Even if there are only fifteen people left at this square,”  said another, “I will never leave until this corrupt, unjust government is finished.”

Additional security forces deployed to Suleimaniyah yesterday. According to one protest organizer, their intention was to take Sara Square by force overnight. The organizer said apparent foreign diplomatic intervention stopped them from doing so at the last minute. In a conversation between Jalal Talabani and U.S. vice-president Joe Biden, later that night, the latter reportedly urged Talabani not to deploy additional security forces to Sara Square.

“If these soldiers come to the square to attack us, much blood will be shed,” a protester told CPT.

In previous weeks, security forces had withdrawn from Sara/Azadi Square.  Since 17 February, security forces have killed at least five protesters and wounded many dozens in confrontations.  In a threat to the status quo, however, many soldiers publicly expressed their support for the protests, or at least their refusal to fire at them.

Apparently unwilling or unable to rely on regular troops from Suleimaniyah, the regime appears to have resorted to illicit actions, including anonymous threats, disappearances and attacks by unidentified thugs.  CPTers spoke to one man who said that after speaking at the open microphone at the protest, he was arrested by security forces and beaten for eight hours before a number of journalists could secure his release. Last week,  plainclothes individuals, whom many believe were sent by the regime, brutally attacked protesters camping in Sara Square overnight.

Protest organizers are currently on high alert, sleeping at different houses each night and moving in the constant accompaniment of volunteers to increase their safety.  Overnight protests have not taken place for some days.

The protests in Sara/Azadi square are now in their fourth week.