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 Kurdish military presence halts protests in Iraq's Kurdistan

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Kurdish military presence halts protests in Iraq's Kurdistan  30.4.2011

April 30, 2011

SULAIMANIYAH, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — The deployment of thousands of heavily armed troops in Iraq's Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah appears to have quelled, for the moment, two months of protests against corruption and authoritarian rule.

The protests in the semi-autonomous northern Kurdistan region were the largest and most sustained of rallies across Iraq, which followed uprisings around the Middle East. Thousands protested every day for months, demanding the removal of their government.

"They failed 100 percent," said Jamal Anwar, commander of a military unit deployed in Sulaimaniyah's main square, where protesters had gathered daily since February. "They thought they could topple the government. Their agendas have all failed."                          

Heavy security forces around the Azadi Square in Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan region of Iraq.
"It was not a demonstration staged by the people. It was staged by opposition parties. We don't allow that," he added.

At least 10 people, including two members of the peshmerga security forces, have died in the protests, and hundreds have been wounded.

Rights organization Amnesty International criticized the Kurdish and Iraqi governments for using excessive force against protesters.

Kurdistan has often been referred to as "the other Iraq" because it was spared much of the violence and sectarian strife that ravaged the rest of the country after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.


The Sulaimaniyah protesters had persisted until this week in their demands that the two long-time ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by the Kurdish president Massoud Barzani,www.ekurd.netand the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, loosen their grip.

The region, funded by 17 percent of Iraq's oil income, has seen an economic boom in the past eight years but Kurds complain that Barzani and Talabani, like other Middle East leaders, failed to use oil riches to build a vibrant economy and democracy.

This week, Sulaimaniyah's Liberation Square, where protesters had camped out for weeks chanting "freedom, freedom, freedom," was a military zone watched over by hundreds of armed forces.

The ruling parties have said the demise of the protests represented a success over "trouble-makers" staging "politically motivated" demonstrations.

"What the authorities did here was beyond expectations," said Asos Hardi, manager of Awene, one of the few Kurdish newspapers not tied to the political parties. "Thousands ... of troops were brought in to suppress civilian protesters, who are students, artists and professors.

"I did not even see as many troops present in 1983 and 1984 while we demonstrated against Saddam," Hardi said.

Nasik Qadir, a protest organizer, accused the Kurdish security forces of hunting, arresting and torturing protesters.

"We can't live under such autocratic rule," Qadir said in a telephone interview. She refused to meet with a reporter out of concern for her safety.

"If we have done anything wrong, let them tell us and we will go before the courts. They don't have to chase us and raid our houses. This looks like mafia behavior."

Since February 17, security forces harassed, arrested, wounded or tortured more than 200 journalists, said Rahman Gharib, manager of the Metro Center To Protect Journalists.

Payam TV in Sulaimaniyah, a channel belonging to an Islamic opposition party that offered extensive coverage of the rallies, has been surrounded by soldiers for eight days. On Wednesday, more than 300 people were living in makeshift tents as a "human shield" in front of the TV station.

"It's the only Islamic channel which tells the truth," said Basoz Ali, 27, who carried a 7-month-old child. "We don't love our lives more than the employees of the channel. If they kill them, let them kill us too."

Hardi said the government's use of military force might maintain the status quo longer, but it would be temporary.

"Losing a battle does not mean losing the war," he said. "Any new revolutionary success in Yemen or Syria could trigger an even bigger protest in Kurdistan."

For the past two months thousands of protesters are gathering daily in Sulaimaniyah and other parts of Kurdistan against corruption and the lording over Kurdistan region by two main parties KDP and PUK. Kurdish protestors demand the ouster of the local Kurdistan government KRG, calling for improving services and living conditions and fighting corruption. 

After 62 days of protests, the Governorate of of Sulaimaniyah has banned unlicensed demonstrations in the city. Huge Kurdish forces deployed in the Sulaimaniyah city to prevent any demonstrations, and still occupying the city center and other parts of Sulaimaniyah.

Most of the demonstrators opposed Massoud Barzani, and the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP. Ten people were killed and more than 700 others wounded and 220 more have been arrested in clashes between demonstrators and Kurdish security forces during a wave or protests that swept Sulaimaniyah. The Kurdish security forces (Asayish) arrested and tortured a lot of activists and journalists.

The protesters demand the Kurdish government and parliament resign to give way for “early transparent elections”. They complain about “monopolizing the economic and political authority,” by the two major parties of Kurdistan. Many observe allegiance to either of the two ruling patties a must to get employed and hence were deprived of the right. Kurdistan suffers from electric power deficiency but after almost 20 years of semi autonomy.

For decades, the KDP of regional president Massoud Barzani and the PUK of Iraq's President Jalal Talabani have lorded over the region.

Massoud Barzani and his relatives control a large number of commercial enterprises in Kurdistan-Iraq, with a gross value of several billion US dollars. The family is routinely accused of corruption and nepotism by Kurdish media as well as international observers.

Iraq's Kurdish regional government has near total autonomy and is funded by a share of the country's oil revenue. The two parties that share power each command former guerrilla militias that have been given the status of regional security forces.

Earlier Massoud Barzani told an Italian newspaper that if 50,000 Kurdistan citizens require him to step down, he will. Afterwards, the opposition parties led a signature campaign and reportedly collected even more votes to oust the president. However, the fate of those signatures is still unclear.

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