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 Kurds terrorized by armed groups in Iraq's Diyala province

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Kurds terrorized by armed groups in Iraq's Diyala province  8.7.2012  

Residents of Jalawla waves banners condemning terrorist acts and supporting the deployment of Kurdish Peshmerga forces in their area. September 2011. Photo: albawaba net See Related Links
July 8, 2012

NORTH DIYALA, Iraq, — A Kurdish resident of Sadiya, in northern Diyala province complained that it is not even possible to go out to get vegetables. “Here, it is like Kandahar!” After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, 43 percent of areas historically claimed by Kurds were considered "disputed" and put under Article 140 in the constitution.

Kurdish residents of this region receive threatening letters or text messages from radical terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Qaeda.

Salih Mahdi, a council member in Saadiya, says, "Before they were just asking us to leave. Now they have a list of demands."

A Kurdish resident Rudaw spoke with said the Iraqi government in Saadiya is only a facade, and the citizens pay a heavy price if they choose not to obey the demands of armed groups.

"Here, terror is in charge. All residents have been notified by letter. Anyone who chooses not to obey their rules after being notified will get killed in a short time. Here, being brave means to stay out of harm’s way," he says.

Masked gunmen appear in town most nights, usually an indication that someone will be killed, according to residents.

"They are so willing to kill Kurds. We have no choice but to obey them to save our lives," says a 45-year-old female resident of Saadiya.

Some of the rules these terrorists groups insist upon include prohibiting any celebrations, the sale or use of alcohol, taking pictures or removing headscarves.

Abdulkhaliq Garib, director of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) committee in Saadiya, said that some photographers complained that they had been ordered not to take photos. He said, "People here do not dare breaking the rules because it will cost them their lives."

Garib added that, while the PUK committee can listen to the stories of suffering, they remain helpless. "We cannot do anything. When the 34th Brigade was in Sadiya, life was good; but when they left in 2008, nothing remained as it once was," said Garib.

In 2008, Peshmerga forces retreated after Kurdish homes and residents were targeted by armed groups.

The presence of the Iraqi police in Saadiya has not helped Kurdish families at all.

"They do not want to get harmed so they keep silent. They would not move even if it meant the lives of hundreds of people like us," said a Kurdish resident.

Protection money is also a large problem in the area. People here tend to repeat the phrase: "I pay money, I am protected."

Muhammad is a shopkeeper who cannot open his shop for more than five hours a day because of terrorist groups. "Those groups extract money from owners of restaurants and gas stations and in return they are allowed to do business in Saadiya," he said.

Jasim Muhammad, a security officer in Saadiya, confirmed this statement, saying, "But Arab residents carry out their businesses unhindered, while the terrorists groups keep a list of all the wealthy residents and Kurdish shop owners."

He complained about the restrictions to his authority: "We cannot do anything. The Iraqi government has restricted our activities and we can only be spectators."

None of the wealthy people in Saadiya dared to speak to Rudaw for their own security.

"People are afraid to go out of their houses to buy their daily necessities. I know many people who will only go to Khanaqin to buy 2 kilos of tomatoes. The bazaar of Saadiya has become a terrifying place and people avoid it," said Mahdi.

"The shops of five Kurds have been destroyed with explosives so far. The latest victim was Shukur Faraj’s teahouse which was destroyed last winter," added Mahdi.

"No one has paid as heavy a price as the Kurds did over identity in this region," said Hassan Abdulrahman, a Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official in Saadiya.

KDP headquarters are sought out every day by Kurds who come and plead for help.

"We also are fed up with the situation and cannot wait anymore," added Abdulrahman.

Saadiya is a small town of approximately 47,000 people -- Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs -- 40 kilometers from Kalar. Its population has been subject to shifts since 1975 due to the Arabization process, resulting in a steadily decreasing number of Kurds. Kurds now constitute 12 percent of the population, while in 2003 they made up 38 percent.

“After the fall of Saddam, 480 Kurds were martyred and around 200 of these were cadres and Peshmerga members – not to mention the 1,200 families who have deserted this town," Abdulkhaliq explained.

By Nawzad Mahmoud - Rudaw

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