Arsons spread across Iraq's Kurdistan
December 5, 2011
Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — The attacks against
liquor stores and massage parlors that started in
Zakho, in Duhok Governorate near the Turkish border,
on Friday are spreading across the Kurdistan Region.
Another parlor was set on fire late Sunday evening,
this time in Sulaimaniyah, near the Iranian border.
The massage center in Sulaimaniyah's Maliki Mahmoud
Street was set on fire at around 11 p.m. local time
(8 p.m. GMT) by unidentified protesters, who smashed
the windows and threw bottles with gasoline into the
house. The building burnt down, no one has been
A scene from Zakho's Friday riots. Photo Hawlati
Sulaimaniyah Mayor Zana Hamasalih said the incident
was plotted by "saboteurs" who want to destabilize
Sulaimaniyah, a large and secular city in the east
of the Kurdistan Region.
According to Hamasalih, it was not the first attack
on the parlor. "A few days ago, some people threw
stones at the center. Investigation into the
incident is ongoing and once we have found the
people who are responsible, we will bring most
severe legal punishment on them."
Three days ago, after Friday prayers, dozens of
rioters burnt down more than 30 liquor stores, four
massage centers and three hotels in Zakho. Reports
say at least 32 people were injured. Rioters were
allegedly encouraged by a Muslim preacher,www.ekurd.net
Ismael Osman of Zakho's Rasheed Mosque, who
reportedly has ties to the opposition group
Kurdistan Islamic Union. Although KIU, which is
inspired by the controversial Muslim Brotherhood,
denied having any "preachers to be exploited as the
instigators of the events", counter-rioters set the
KIU headquarters in Zakho on fire.
The arsons continued yesterday in Duhok Governorate,
when 20 to 30 young men set fire to four alcohol
stores in Deraluk town and broke into a number of
other stores to smash liquor bottles at around 8
p.m. local time (5 p.m. GMT). Police rushed to the
scene, arresting four people for arson.
On Saturday, government officials still claimed that
the arsons in Zakho were local incidents and that it
was unlikely they would spread to other cities.
Erbil Governor Nawzad Hadi said he had no fear that
the events in Zakho would be repeated in Erbil. "The
situation in Erbil, from all respects, is stable,"
he said. Earlier, Erbil police chief Abdul Khaliq
Talaat shared the governor's view. "Since we do not
feel any fear about such events happening in Erbil
province, we have not taken any measures and have
not put any force on alert," he said.
Only hours later, these statements were proven
wrong, when police chief Talaat announced that
police prevented KIU from holding a gathering.
Talaat said the measures were "only to maintain
security and stability in the city."
Eyewitnesses had already reported that late Friday
evening, armed security forces took up position in
Erbil’s Christian neighborhood of Ainkawa, where the
city's liquor stores, bars and nightclubs are
placed. According to one witness, four pickup trucks
each with up to ten armed men were rushing into
Ainkawa at about 10 pm on Friday evening.
The riots have widened the gap between ruling and
opposition parties in the Kurdistan region. The
Kurdistan Regional Government, run by the Kurdistan
Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan, quickly blamed an imam with ties to the
oppositional KIU. Salahaddin Mohammed Bahaddin, head
of KIU, claimed that the cleric was "a KDP man".
Observers believe that there could be more about
Friday's events than just sectarian tensions between
conservative Muslims and alcohol-consuming
Christians. Iraq and the Kurdistan Region did not
play a role in the Arab Spring, both have not seen
protests like in neighboring Syria. However, there
have been smaller protests in February, calling for
reforms and demanding KDP and PUK loosing their grip
Despite the fact that the Kurdistan Region appeared
to be "the better Iraq" -- the autonomous region
enjoys foreign investment, economic growth and a
stable security situation -- many Kurds demand a
greater share of the region's wealth. The events in
Zakho might be linked to frustrations over public
services and the perceived shortcomings of the
Kurdistan Regional Government, the KRG.
It is difficult for media outlets to receive
information from Zakho these days, since journalists
can not work freely. "In 48 hours, 6 media offices
have been torched, 6 journalists have been put in
jail and 16 more journalists have been subjected to
attacks," Metro Centre, a press freedom
organization, said in a statement.
Metro condemns the torching of the media offices and
the detention of journalists calling on the
authorities to bring those responsible for incidents
to justice. All the six media offices set on fire,
and cited by the Metro statement, belonged to the
Also in Sulaimaniyah journalists complained that
they were denied access to the site. Kamal Nouri, a
correspondent for the Iran-based Kurdish Sahar TV
said, "We were blocked by the security forces,
attacked and then our camera and equipment were
By Karzan Karim and Dilshad Saifaddin.
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