IRAQ: “We don’t want to become like Syria.”


10 August 2011
IRAQ: “We don’t want to become like Syria.”

 by David Hovde

 Ismail Abdulla worked as a driver in Suleimaniyeh for a retired leader in the government.  On 17 February 2011, people began to demonstrate in the city’s Azadi Square against corruption in the Kurdistan Regional Government’s ruling parties. 

Along with thousands of others, Ismail came daily to the square, becoming one of the regular speakers on the stage.  He continued working, but started to receive many threats.  The government cut his salary.  A high government official called him and asked him to stop speaking from the stage, offering him a new apartment if he obliged.  Ismail said he would not sell himself or his beliefs.  He recorded the phone conversation and played it from the stage.  He also gave the recording to a local TV station.

 By 19 April, the security forces ended the demonstrations.  They used tear gas on the crowds, and burned down the stage.  Ismail went into hiding.  When he heard that the two ruling parties were talking to the opposition groups, he thought it was safe to come out.  It seemed as though the authorities might be finally paying attention to those calling for change.

 Late in the evening on 26 May 2011, Ismail went to the supermarket with some friends.  As he returned to his vehicle, two cars pulled up in front of it.  Eight men in ski masks came out of the cars and put a mask on him.  They put him in one of the cars and beat him with the butts of their guns.  They drove for about thirty minutes, stopped, and made Ismail get out.  They beat him with cables on his legs, and the butt of a gun on his face.  One of them got a phone call, then said, “Don’t kill him.  Just put a sign on his face that he was beaten.”  At that point, one of them took off Ismail’s mask, while another used his gun to break his nose in three places.  They cut him with knives in his arms, back, and said, “If you ever get involved in demonstrations again, we’ll kill you.”  Ismail responded, “If there was a demonstration right now, I’d do it again.”  One of them took his finger and broke it.  Ismail lost consciousness.  His attackers then drove him about twenty-five kilometers outside the city, and dumped him. 

 A month later, Ismail’s health is improving.  He has had surgery to fix the bones in his nose.  Leaders in government, society, and security forces talked with him, assuring him the investigation for his abductors will continue.  Ismail says they either do not know who did it, or they are lying.  “The people come out on the streets peacefully,” Ismail says.  “The (government) forces come out with violence.  We don’t want to become like Syria.  We don’t want violence and civil war.”