13 March 2011
IRAQ: Suleimaniyah demonstrators continue to resist, despite lack of media coverage.
by Michele Naar-Obed
Military forces firing indiscriminately into crowds of unarmed demonstrators, arrests, torture and disappearances of protest organizers, empty promises made by government leaders have not deterred the Kurdish people from continuing their demonstrations. They are demanding an end to what they call a corrupt government run primarily by tribal parties.
Having watched the people of Tunisia, Sudan and Egypt forcing dictators to step down, the people of the Kurdish north of Iraq are following their example and the wave of uprisings has washed over this land. Since 17 February, 2011, thousands of people have flooded the city center of Suleimaniya, now dubbed “Freedom Square,” for daily demonstrations.
Since the demonstrations began throughout the subdistricts of the Suleimaniyah governorate, military and security forces have killed and injured unarmed civilians, arrested and “disappeared” hundreds of organizers, killed five unidentified people they alleged were terrorists outside of Suleimaniyah, imposed curfew, and positioned armed militias throughout the city of Suleimaniya and surrounding Freedom Square. An independent television station burned to the ground. Suleimaniya students studying in Erbil universities were sent back to Suleimaniyah. The authorities set up roadblocks around the city of Erbil to prevent Suleimaniya cars from entering. KRG Parliament emergency sessions have met to negotiate the demands of the people. There have been assassination attempts against religious leaders who are advocating for this nonviolent revolution.
The White Group formed, consisting of unarmed individuals forming a human peace wall between the thousands of soldiers and the thousands of demonstrators in order to create a safe environment for both demonstrator and soldier.
Both the Erbil and Dohuk governorates, controlled by the KDP party, have banned demonstrations. Most people there appear too frightened to resist the ban.
The people who have found their voice say they are not willing to be silenced again. The demonstrators talk of a hunger strike followed by a general strike to force Mr. Barzani to step down from his position as KRG president and to force immediate elections for an interim government. Nobody knows how long this goal will take or what new efforts will arise to drive out this current government if these demands are not met.
Clearly, government and party leaders feel the threat of losing their positions of power they have held since 1991. They have been fighting, often using dirty tactics, to regain control. If they do, the people opposing them are sure that they will be killed, tortured, disappeared, arrested, and broken. Given that there has been so little coverage of the events in Suleimaniyah, they hope that their efforts will not have been in vain.