While the corporate media in the U.S. have offered some coverage of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, they have almost completely ignored the massive protests sweeping Iraq, led by ordinary people fed up with government corruption and repression. U.S.-backed security forces have responded violently, with dozens of deaths reported. Duluthian Michele Naar-Obed is currently in the Kurdish north with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and has been able to send home regular reports. Below is a recent summary of events. You can read more and see photos from the protests on the CPT website.
The Voices of Iraqi Kurdistan Will Not Be Silenced
By Michele Naar-Obed
Neither military forces firing indiscriminately into crowds of unarmed demonstrators, nor arrests, torture and disappearances of protest organizers nor empty promises made by government leaders have deterred the Kurdish people from continuing their demonstrations demanding an end to what they call a corrupt government run primarily by tribal parties.
Having watched the people of Tunisia, Sudan and Egypt force the step down of dictators, the people of the Kurdish north of Iraq are following their example and the wave of uprisings has washed over this land. Since 17 February, 2011, thousands of people flood the city center of Suleimaniya now dubbed “Freedom Square”, for daily demonstrations.
Since the demonstrations began there have been deaths and injuries of unarmed civilians by military and security forces, imposed curfew, armed militias positioned throughout the city of Suleimaniya and surrounding Freedom Square, an independent television station burned to the ground, hundreds of organizers arrested and disappeared, Suleimaniya students studying in Erbil universities sent back to Suleianiya, roadblocks set up around the city of Erbil not allowing Suleimaniya cars to enter, KRG Parliament emergency sessions to negotiate the demands of the people, assassination attempts against religious leaders who advocate for this nonviolent revolution, five unidentified people assumed to be terrorists, shot dead by Kurdish security forces outside of Suleimaniya city. and scores of demonstrations occurring regularly in the sub districts throughout the Suleimaniya governorate.
The White Group formed consisting of unarmed individuals forming a human peace wall standing between the thousands of soldiers and the thousands of demonstrators in order to create a safe environment for both demonstrator and soldier.
Both the Erbil and Dohuk governorates have banned demonstrations. Both of these governorates are KDP party controlled. Most people there appear too frightened to break the ban.
The people who have found their voice are not willing to be silenced again. The demonstrators talk of a hunger strike followed by a general strike to force Mr. Barzani to step down from his position as KRG president and to force immediate elections for an interim government. Nobody knows how long this will take or what new efforts will arise to drive out this current government if these demands aren't met.
It is clear that the current government and party leaders are feeling threatened of losing their positions of power that they have held since 1991. They have been fighting, often with dirty tactics, to regain control. If they do, the opposition people are sure that they will be killed, tortured, disappeared, arrested, and broken. The stakes are high.
There has been little reporting outside of the highly controlled local media outlets and there is a plea to not let this struggle die in vain.