Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Don't forget Kurdistan, or Iraq

THERE were two demonstrations in London yesterday. Libyans aghast at the reported killings of demonstrators in their homeland gathered outside their embassy.

But also thousands of Kurdish people marched to condemn the killing of protesters in Iraq-Kurdistan "and in solidarity with peoples protest movement against militia rule, corruption, poverty, lack of social justice and freedoms", writes Houzan Mahmoud "We started form 8Am in front of the office of the so called Kurdish Regional Government and marched through the streets of Edgware Road, all the way to Parliament. This was the biggest protest in Europe against these atrocities commited by Barzani militias.. People chanted slogans such as Barzani is terrorist, Militias out out, Barzani, and Talabani out out, long live freedom and equality, and down with Barzani and many more. Also photos of Barzani and Talabani were burnt down by protestors".

The Kurdish region of northern Iraq has been billed as a democracy since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, and the British government and others have forcibly repatriated Kurdish refugees. But the region remains under the control of the two rival Kurdish nationalist parties which fought Iraqi rule, and their two leading families, the Barzani-led Kurdish Democratic Party(KDP) and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Jalal Talabani is also president of post-invasion Iraq.

It was reported from Sulaimaniya at the weekend that demonstrators had thronged the streets on Saturday to demand justice over a deadly shooting at a protest earlier that week. In Baghdad, hundreds of orphans and widows rallied to call on the government to take care of them.

The demonstrators in Sulaimaniya demanded that those responsible for a shooting two days earlier that killed two people and injured nearly 50 be held responsible. The crowds shouted: "Down, down, with Massoud Barzani!" referring to the president of the three provinces that make up the autonomous Kurdish region.

On Thursday, hundreds of protesters had demonstrated in front of the offices of Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party in Sulaimaniyah,. They pelted the building with stones, and Kurdish guards on top of the building opened fire. The KDP claimed its guards were forced to defend themselves from the crowd; Barzani has appealed for calm and vowed to investigate.

The demonstrators were angry with the tight grip with which the two main ruling parties in the Kurdish north dominate the region and its economy. They say it is impossible for people not affiliated with either one to find a decent job or start a business.

Saturday's rally was largely peaceful, but at one point security forces fired shots overhead to disperse the crowd; an official at the hospital said 12 people were treated after being hit by stones, indicating some scuffling had gone on. The official did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Earlier at the city's university, about a 1,000 students also rallied to demand Barzani apologize.

In Baghdad, MPs loyal to Barzani got in a shouting match with a representative from Goran, a new opposition party in the Kurdish region. As the Goran member was describing how the protesters were not armed and carrying out a peaceful protest, a Kurdish MP shouted: "This not true!"

About 1,500 people rallied in Baghdad in a demonstration organized by non-governmental organizations looking to highlight the plight of some of Iraq's most vulnerable citizens. Hundreds of thousands of women who lost their husbands in wars over the decades or children who have lost parents are particularly vulnerable.

One of those in attendance was 9-year-old Ahmed Nasir, who lost his father in 2006 in a roadside bombing in western Baghdad. "We have seven children at home," he said. "My mother takes care of us by sewing clothes, and we have no salary."

In a statement, the organizations behind the demonstration said they want the government to give each orphan a monthly stipend.

Media Attacked
An Iraqi television channel that carried live footage of protests in Kurdistan was attacked early on Sunday, its owner said.
"At 2:00 am (2300 GMT Thursday) in Sulaimaniyah, a group of masked men carrying weapons entered the building of our television channel," said Tuana Othman, owner of the Nalia station.

"They wounded the guard with a gunshot before firing their weapons onto our equipment and then fleeing."
Othman said that while the channel was not fully up and running, it had aired live images of protests on Thursday in Sulaimaniyah, the second-biggest city in Iraqi Kurdistan, to carry out testing.

It is also reported that immediately after the protests, looters targeted seven offices of the Kurdish opposition Goran party, despite the bloc's denials that it was involved in the protests at the KDP offices

In NEW YORK, Human Rights Watch has said Iraqi authorities should open an independent and transparent investigation into the reported shooting of several protesters in demonstrations on February 16 and 17 They should recognise the right to free assembly and use only the minimum necessary force when violence occurs at protests, Human Rights Watch said.

On February 16 Iraqi police in Kut, southeast of Baghdad, opened fire on angry demonstrators outside the governorate of Wasit province, killing three and wounding more than 50, according to various news reports and a protest organizer.

"Iraqi forces and their commanders have a lot of explaining to do to justify the use of live ammunition on demonstrators," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Similar behavior by security forces in this tense time in the region has only ignited more powerful and angry popular reactions."

Iraqi oil workers have also been engaged in strikes and demonstrations in the south of the country. They are complaining of poor pay and conditions, and also threatening not to allow foreign companies to enter the Rumaillah oilfield.

The London demonstration called on the Kurdish Regional Government to release people arrested on Thursday in Sulaimaniyah and bring to justice thoseresponsible for opening fire on demonstrators.

Dashty Jamal of Freedom Umbrella , a coalition of British-based Kurdish organisations and supporters involved in yesterday's demonstration, said: "The British and US government want to present the KRG as a success to legitimise their wars, but here is the reality. There is rising unemployment, the government has no respect for women's rights or workers' rights. People are angry," he said.

"Protests have since spread across Iraqi Kurdistan as people call for increased freedom and civil liberties, jobs and an end to political corruption," he said. "The ruling parties have responded to this by increasing the presence of armed militia in cities and shooting on more demonstrators and arresting activists."

Refering to KDP rule since 1991, Mr Jamal added: "People in Kurdistan are fed up with 20 years of military dictatorship."


The Stop the War Coalition, which mobilised huge demonstrations against the US-British invasion of Iraq, has called for support for a demonstrations today and Friday, but over Libya and Bahrain:

> ST
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There is also an Iraqi demonstration on Friday, against the Iraqi government and the suppression of demonstrators in Iraq. The call says:

"Support our Iraqi brothers and sisters who will be demonstrating on
25/11/2011 in Baghdad and let us demonstrate against the horrific crimes
against our people in London.

The "War on Terror" has stripped us off our basic rights, stolen our freedom
and robbed our lives. Let us unite in the face of this farce democracy of a religious dictatorship
and occupation and protest for our rights!

Join us for the sake of humanity and demand basic rights, freedom and true democracy!

The US strongly supported the protests in Egypt and Tunisia yet they have not condemned the attacks on the Iraqi protesters- Resist the occupation!"

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