Casualties rise as disgruntled locals march over
poor services, unemployment and corruption.
February 19, 2011
Protests about poor services, corruption and
unemployment have erupted in Iraq, where at least
six people were killed and hundreds injured in local
demonstrations this week.
Scattered rallies held across Iraq in recent weeks,
with residents apparently emboldened by the
uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, have now spread
across the country and been met with a harsh
Twelve of Iraq’s 18 provinces have witnessed
demonstrations, and bloody protests rocked the
eastern city of Kut and the Kurdish city of
Sulaimaniyah, where troops were deployed following a
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called on the security
Kurdish protesters chanted, "Government resign",
"Work for the unemployed" and "The corrupt must face
justice". Sulaimaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan region.
17 Feb. 2011.
act with restraint as the country
braced itself for fresh demonstrations, including a
large protest planned in Baghdad’s Liberation Square
for February 25.
In an apparent attempt to quell increasing unrest
over services and economic woes, Maliki this week
pledged to create more government jobs, improve the
food rationing system and fix chronic electricity
shortages within 12 to 15 months.
“I told ministers to go out and listen to the
people’s demands, and respond to them by doing
whatever they can,” Maliki said. “Most of the
people’s demands are legitimate and basic and can be
Maliki dispatched federal and military leaders to
negotiate between Kut officials and protesters after
security forces on February 16 opened fire on crowds
who had set three government buildings on fire. Five
people were killed and 60 wounded, according to a
local hospital source.
About 1,000 protesters continued to hold a sit-in in
front of two charred provincial council offices on
February 18, calling for the resignation of the
governor, Latif Hamad al-Turfa, and the release of
nearly 50 protesters who were arrested during the
The governor’s future appeared unclear. Asked
whether the governor would be forced to resign,
Haider Jasim Mohammed, a cultural adviser to the
governor, told IWPR, “Yes, we are responding to the
protesters’ demands.” He declined to elaborate
Kut intelligence chief Lieutenant-Colonel Mohammed
Hewedi said the federal government had deployed an
additional 200 security forces and that the
shootings would be investigated. A vehicle ban and
nighttime curfew were imposed in the city.
The protest was spurred by the local government’s
decision to purchase 42 armoured cars at a cost of
74 million Iraqi dinars (62,000 US dollars) each,www.ekurd.netaccording
to a local official who asked not to be identified.
The decision enraged citizens, who complained of
long-standing corruption and said that the funds
should have been used to improve services.
In Sulaimaniyah, security forces opened fire on
protesters throwing rocks and chanting
anti-government slogans in front of the Kurdistan
Democratic Party, KDP, office on February 17,
killing a teenage boy and injuring nearly 60 other
people. Three remained in critical condition on
February 18, according to a Sulaimaniyah hospital
Kurdistan region president and KDP head Massoud
Barzani called for the authorities to investigate
The main Kurdish opposition movement, Change, denied
allegations that it had incited the demonstrations
and reported that four of its offices in KDP-controlled
Erbil and Duhok provinces were set on fire or looted
on the evening of February 17.
The following morning, security forces including
anti-terrorism brigades patrolled the city, shutting
down the main road and using water cannons to break
up a small gathering in the city centre. One protest
organiser told IWPR he had gone into hiding, fearing
arrest, and a shop owner said he saw riot police
rounding up three young men. Rizgar Sabir, riot
security chief, denied that any arrests had been
Anwar Haji Osman, deputy minister of Kurdish
military forces, told IWPR that his ministry had
sent 1,000 troops to Sulaimaniyah from the regional
capital, Erbil, to reinforce security.
Troops were stationed outside the city, awaiting
permission from local authorities to enter
Sulaimaniyah, according to local press reports. The
city is governed by the Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan, PUK, a former rival of the KDP.
Fearing a potential attack on Change offices in
Sulaimaniyah, hundreds of people gathered in front
of the movement’s headquarters on February 18.
Serkot Sabir, a 25-year-old Sulaimaniyah resident,
said he was concerned about escalating tensions and
“I am worried that the peshmerga (Kurdish forces)
will get involved in the problem and will not stay
impartial, [unlike] what happened in other
countries,” he said, in an apparent reference to
In oil-rich Basra on February 18, about 500
protesters shut down a local bridge, demanding
better services, housing and reconstruction.
Throughout the week, protesters had demonstrated
over unemployment in front of Basra’s provincial
"We have valid demands,” said Saad Abdul-Razzaq, a
50-year-old teacher. “Even if our protests are
peaceful now, they won't be later.”
Small-scale demonstrations over services,
unemployment and corruption were also held in
several other provinces this week, including Anbar,
Kirkuk and Nasiriyah, where protesters burned down a
local government building.
“The demonstrations were peaceful at the beginning,
the protesters did not raise any political demands,
they asked for better services,” Kadim al-Meqdadi, a
media studies professor and analyst in Baghdad,
said. “But when they saw no response they became
disappointed and then the demonstrations turned
Meqdadi said that protests were gaining momentum
nationwide because citizens felt that local and
federal authorities were “intentionally neglecting
their needs. They have been inspired by the
revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt”.
The rally planned for Baghdad next week calling for
political reform and action against corruption “will
be a big one, and might be a starting point for
civil disobedience if people’s demands aren’t met,”
he warned. “It could be the start of something
similar to what happened in [Egypt’s] Tahrir
Maliki in a speech on February 18 said that better
services and economic development required
stability, warning citizens who were considering
protesting to “check every poster. You will discover
there is a motive behind it that is not related to
the Iraqi people's interests”.
Reporting by IWPR-trained journalists Shorish
Khalid in Sulaimaniyah, Ali Hasani in Kut and Ali
Abu Iraq in Basra. Additional reporting by IWPR Iraq
editorial staffers Mariwan Hama-Saeed and Abeer
Mohammed in Baghdad.
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