Iraq -- When hundreds of rioters ransacked and
torched the Kurdistan Islamic Union office in this
northern Iraqi city last week, their message seemed
as clear as the electric-blue graffiti left on the
building's blackened shell.
Spray-painted across a stone facade dimpled with
hundreds of bullet holes were the words "Long live
730," the numerical ballot designation for the
political alliance led by Iraq's two largest Kurdish
parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and
the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Along a
stairwell, someone had written "traitors."
Mobs carried out similar daylight attacks in four
other cities in normally tranquil Dahuk province on
Dec. 6, destroying offices of the Islamic Union,
which quit the alliance last month to field its own
candidates in Thursday's parliamentary elections.
Four party members were killed, including two shot
in the head here in the provincial capital who died
of their wounds Saturday. Dozens were injured, many
of them police officers.
Although U.S. officials consider the semiautonomous
Kurdish region of northern Iraq a model of what the
rest of the country could someday become, the
attacks last week were another reminder that Iraqis
have been slow to discard the politics of force and
intimidation in the country's lurch toward
democracy. They also suggest that as Iraqis prepare
to choose their first full-term government since the
ouster of Saddam Hussein, some of the deepest social
fissures lie not just among its large communities,
but within them.
"Is there any doubt the big parties punished us for
leaving the coalition? It is impossible that
anything like this can happen here without their
hand in it," said Omar Badi, an Islamic Union
candidate for parliament, standing beside the
wreckage of 21 cars set ablaze that day. "This had
to be organized. It did not happen spontaneously."
Local officials and police said the KDP, the
dominant power in the province, had not orchestrated
the attacks. Public animosity had built for weeks
against the Islamic Union, a Sunni Muslim party, for
portraying the coming election as a clash of
believers and nonbelievers in a region known for
secularism and religious tolerance, politicians and
"The Islamic Union must share blame. They stirred
this up. Their ideology led to an incident we didn't
want," said Dahuk Gov. Tamar Ramadan, who, like the
province's police chief and most members of the
provincial council, is a member of the KDP. "We
wanted to stop it, and we tried to. But it is
impossible to stand against a crowd so large."
The following account is based on information from
several witnesses to last week's violence and two
videos provided by the Islamic Union, as well as
interviews with party officials from all sides
involved, police and independent election monitors
in Dahuk, a city of about 400,000 people less than
50 miles from the border with Turkey.
Dahuk city is nestled in a lush valley ringed by
bald, craggy peaks. The undisputed local power is
the KDP, led by Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish
regional president, whose pugnacious style draws
comparisons to Hussein. A hulking statue of
Barzani's father, Mustafa, a revered Kurdish
separatist leader who founded the KDP in 1946,
stands at the edge of the city.
Campaign Heats Up
While the KDP and the PUK have occasionally fought
for control over the Kurdish independence movement
they jointly lead, they and other Kurdish parties
formed a united slate for last January's
parliamentary elections. But this time, frustrated
by its lack of influence within the alliance, the
Islamic Union decided to run on its own, members
"The rights of the Kurds in Iraq were secured, and
we wanted to work on other issues," said Badi. "We
are a separate party and we have the freedom to do
The Islamic Union soon began airing advertisements
on a party-owned radio station calling the local
government corrupt and comparing the coming election
to Uhud, a 7th-century battle between early Muslims
"They called us agents of the Americans and the
Israelis," said Ali Nirwaie, provincial head of the
KDP. "They have the right to advertise for their
party, but they don't have the right to talk badly
about the others."
Badi said the KDP mounted its own media offensive
against the Islamic Union, which receives funding
from religious groups in several Arab countries.
People posted signs in Dahuk accusing the party of
"working with the Arabs against the Kurds," an
inflammatory charge in a region where animosity
toward Arabs runs deep. Posters depicted an Islamic
Union member shaking hands with a man in an Arab
Rumors of an Attack
The week before the attacks, Islamic Union members
said, they heard from friends in the KDP that
trouble might be coming their way. Badi went to see
U.S. Army Maj. Calvin Robinson, a civil affairs
officer assigned to Dahuk.
"We passed his concerns up the chain of command, but
they were only that -- concerns," Robinson said.
"After that, we monitored the situation the best we
On Dec. 1, five days before the attacks, Badi and
Sayid Ali Abu, the local party head, wrote a letter
that they said was hand-delivered to the provincial
government. "We have received information from a
multitude of sources on the intention of some
members and supporters of the Kurdistan Democratic
Party to stage a demonstration targeting our party
offices, storming them, as well as harming our staff
and vandalizing our property," it said. "We
respectfully ask you to provide the necessary
protection for our offices in the following cities:
Dahuk, Zakhu, Amadiyah, Aqrah, Bardarash."
Dahuk's police chief, Waadallah Muhammed Selky, said
that Ramadan, the governor, "called and told me, you
will be responsible for anything that happens."
About 11 a.m. on Dec. 6, dozens of students -- some
as young as 10, others from the local technical high
school -- gathered outside the Islamic Union
headquarters, a four-story stone building festooned
with a giant flag of Kurdistan that sits along a
main highway. Other locals joined them, and the
crowd quickly grew, with estimates ranging from
5,000 to 10,000.
"At noon, people from the Islamic Union called me by
phone and said things were getting out of control,"
Selky said in an interview in his office, where he
keeps a photograph of himself shaking hands with
Barzani by his desk. "I sent some cars over there
and then I went myself."
When Selky and Ramadan arrived, with a company of
soldiers from a local army branch, police and
soldiers made a ring around the building to protect
it from attack. "The crowd had one request," Ramadan
said. "They wanted the Kurdistan flag taken down
from their front wall."
Azad Omar Haji, 36, a restaurant worker in Dahuk who
joined the crowd, said later: "We wanted them to put
up the Saudi flag or the Egypt flag, since that is
who they are."
Ramadan sent a delegation, including the city's
mayor, inside about 1 p.m. "We asked them to just
take it down for a half-hour, so everyone would calm
down and go away," the governor said. The request
Meanwhile, people began breaking through the police
cordon, smashing rocks against the building's front
door and throwing bricks through windows. Others
overturned cars and set them on fire. When the fire
spread to the building's lower floors, party members
took refuge on the roof.
On the video provided by the party, some soldiers
can be seen attempting to stop people from entering
the building. Others stand by and watch. "They let
it happen," said Othman Younis, an Islamic Union
member who said he had been trapped inside the
'Everything Went Crazy'
"We tried as hard as we could to keep the crowd
back, but there were too many of them, and the
people on the roof were playing with the nerves of
the crowd, pouring oil on the fire," Selky said. On
the roof, Islamic Union members waved election
posters as rocks hurtled past. They pointed to the
south, where Iraq's Arab population lives, and
clasped their hands in solidarity.
In the mounting chaos, a shot rang out and a bullet
struck a policeman in the right ankle. Several
witnesses said it was fired by a party member on the
roof. Party members said they had no weapons on hand
and did not fire a shot that day.
"Someone shouted, 'They are killing the police,' "
Selky said. "Then everything went crazy."
Armed members of the crowd opened fire on the
building, riddling it with bullets from all
"We hid behind walls and crouched on the floor,"
said another Islamic Union member, Khalil Kocher,
his head still bandaged from a bullet that
ricocheted off a wall and struck a glancing blow
above his temple.
Dozens of people stormed the building, emptying
containers of gasoline inside and igniting them.
With the structure now engulfed in smoke, Islamic
Union members scrambled out the back entrance and
pushed toward cars or taxis to take the wounded to a
Three men had been shot in the head, another in the
stomach. Two of the gunshot victims died Saturday in
In addition, 12 police officers and seven civilians
were wounded, including two young girls.
Meanwhile, in cities hundreds of miles apart across
Dahuk province, Islamic Union offices were also
In Zakhu, on the Turkish border, two Islamic Union
members inside their office died when a crowd opened
fire with machine guns and rockets, Badi said.
Eleven other party members were jailed for three
days. In the towns of Amadiyah, Bardarash and Aqrah,
"it was different theaters, but the same play," Badi
said. "It was the KDP's plan."
Asked to explain the apparent coordination of the
attacks, the governor, police chief and local party
head gave nearly identical answers. Each reached for
a cell phone and held it aloft.
"People started making calls," Ramadan said. "They
called their friends and relatives and told them
what was happening, and it just grew like that. It
is not so hard to imagine."
So far, police in Dahuk have made three arrests, all
of them Islamic Union members identified by people
in the crowd as having shot at police and civilians.
"The big question is whether or not the events that
took place could happen like that without being
orchestrated. I don't know, but you can read between
the lines," said a Western diplomat in Kirkuk who
has investigated the incidents and spoke on
condition he not be named. Asked about allegations
that the KDP had played a role, he said, "It's hard
to disagree with that assessment."
"Perhaps some people think we were behind this,"
said Nirwaie, the local KDP chief. "But the truth
is, these types of things happen in elections in
many places, random incidents. We are the ones in
power here. We will get almost 100 percent support.
Tell me, why would we make trouble?"