Mar 26, 2011

The Least Reported Unarmed Revolution in the Middle East | Common Dreams

The Least Reported Unarmed Revolution in the Middle East

The Least Reported Unarmed Revolution in the Middle East | Common Dreams

Since February 17, 2011, military forces have fired indiscriminately into crowds of unarmed demonstrators. There have been hundreds of arrests, torture and disappearances of protest organizers, and empty promises made by government leaders. Amnesty International and Human Rights have intervened and word came from a reliable source that a phone call from US Vice President Joe Biden was able to pull government military troops off the streets and away from unarmed demonstrators.

This is not Libya, Yemen, Syria, Egypt or Tunisia. This is the Kurdish north of Iraq which has been just as active in their nonviolent uprising against a corrupt and repressive government, but has been the least reported on by major international media.

Daily, thousands of demonstrators flood the city center of Suleimaniya Iraq now dubbed “Freedom Square,” There have been 8 civilian deaths in Suleimaniya city and scores of injuries as a result of armed government forces opening fire with live ammunition into the crowds. Five unidentified people alleged to be terrorists were killed by government security forces outside of Suleimaniya. During imposed curfew,government forces and armed militia were positioned throughout the city of Suleimaniya and surrounding Freedom Square. An independent television station was burned to the ground. Suleimaniya students studying in Erbil universities were sent back to Suleimaniyah and government authorities set up roadblocks around the city of Erbil to prevent Suleimaniya cars from entering. There have been assassination attempts against religious leaders advocating for this nonviolent revolution. Kurdistan Regional Government's Parliament, have held emergency sessions to negotiate the demands of the people. To date, no agreements have been made.

The Kurdish people of northern Iraq have been under foreign control and dictators for centuries and have been living in a semi-autonomous, self-governed region in Iraq since 1991. They fully believe that they were only able to get this far because of the establishment of the UN no-fly zone in 1991 after Saddam Hussein killed hundreds of thousands of Kurds and destroyed most of their villages in his vicious Anfal campaign during the late 1980's.

Who came to the forefront as leaders of the new Kurdish society in 1991? Two strong fighters from the Talabani and Barzani tribes who were both key in leading the Peshmerga (Kurdish soldiers) in the fight against the Baa'th Party regime. Jalal Talabani set up his party (PUK) and Masoud Barzani set up his (KDP) and for a while they shared 50-50 power within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

If the phrase “power corrupts” is a universal truth, these 2 are no exception to the rule. For 20 years, they have corrupted all aspects of the government with tribal party rule.

The Kurdish people of northern Iraq have found their voice and they are screaming for change. Some of the people who are screaming the loudest are the artists, poets, religious leaders, women, the youth, the doctors, the engineers, the scholars, and the many that have lived abroad having the opportunity to experience life outside of a tribal society.

There is real possibility that this change can come about without an armed people's revolution. It would behoove the international community to pay attention and to think now about how to join with them hand in hand in their struggle for justice and an end to oppression which is carried out in the ruling parties current domestic policies and backed by the western country's foreign policies. If we pay attention now, maybe our children and our grandchildren will not have to be faced with the decision to use military force to drive out yet another entrenched dictator where more killing will be one of the few tools left to stop killing.

Michele Naar-Obed works with Christian Peacemaker Teams, a human rights, violence reduction organization with a team based in Suleimaniya Iraq since 2006. When not in Iraq, she lives with her family in Duluth MN.
She can be reached at For more information about Christian Peacemaker Teams see

Mar 13, 2011

Day 25 of Demonstration: The truth has been unleashed

From Demonstrations- Suleymania
(photo: Friday prayers at Sara/Azadi square, May25 2011)

“The truth has been unleashed”; protest organizers arrested, disappeared, threatened
March 13th, 2011

“The truth has been unleashed,” a young protester told CPTers today (Sunday), “and cannot be silenced, not even by more soldiers.”

“Even if there are only fifteen people left at this square,” said another, “I will never leave until this corrupt, unjust government is finished.”

Additional security forces deployed to Suleimaniyah yesterday. According to one protest organizer, their intention was to take Sara Square by force overnight. The organizer said apparent foreign diplomatic intervention stopped them from doing so at the last minute. In a conversation between Jalal Talabani and U.S. vice-president Joe Biden, later that night, the latter reportedly urged Talabani not to deploy additional security forces to Sara Square.

“If these soldiers come to the square to attack us, much blood will be shed,” a protester told CPT.

In previous weeks, security forces had withdrawn from Sara/Azadi Square. Since 17 February, security forces have killed at least five protesters and wounded many dozens in confrontations. In a threat to the status quo, however, many soldiers publicly expressed their support for the protests, or at least their refusal to fire at them.

Apparently unwilling or unable to rely on regular troops from Suleimaniyah, the regime appears to have resorted to illicit actions, including anonymous threats, disappearances and attacks by unidentified thugs. CPTers spoke to one man who said that after speaking at the open microphone at the protest, he was arrested by security forces and beaten for eight hours before a number of journalists could secure his release. Last week, plainclothes individuals, whom many believe were sent by the regime, brutally attacked protesters camping in Sara Square overnight.

Protest organizers are currently on high alert, sleeping at different houses each night and moving in the constant accompaniment of volunteers to increase their safety. Overnight protests have not taken place for some days.

The protests in Sara/Azadi square are now in their fourth week.

Mar 5, 2011

Day 17 of Demonstration: Fires, broken bodies, arrests, and chaos

From Sulaymaniya Protests, 6 March
Fires, broken bodies, arrests, and chaos at Freedom Square in Suleimaniya

On 5 March 2011, thirty-five-year-old Ayoub joined with approximately 200 young people for an all-night vigil at Freedom Square in Suleimaniya. At midnight, he lay down in his tent to rest. Ayoub had been on a hunger strike for the past twelve days and planned to continue until the government answered the demands of the people who had been demonstrating for eighteen straight days.

At 2:30 a.m., the morning of 6 March, Ayoub heard people yelling “Wake up, wake up” For a moment, he thought, “Parliament has come with good news.” Within seconds, he knew there was trouble. “When I woke up, I didn't want to believe the Kurdish authorities would do this,” Ayoub said.

Men dressed entirely in black with ski masks over their faces, carrying guns, batons and electric cables began rounding people up and taking them away. Other eyewitnesses said they could have been from the Anti-Terrorism Unit. Men in plainclothes also carrying guns, batons, and electric cables, began to beat people. Ayoub tried three times to get away and each time, his assailants beat and stunned him with the electric cable. He showed CPTers the marks on his hands and said he was bruised and bloodied all over his body.

The men in plainclothes began to set tents on fire. One tent was occupied when it went up in flames. The victim remains in the hospital, according to another eyewitness. Ayoub's tent was burned to the ground along with all of his papers and a few cherished books.

When Ayoub was able to finally get up and run away, a man in a teashop took him inside and kept him safe for the night. Ayoub returned to Freedom Square at 9 a.m. The burned tents were gone and the square was clean. In addition to the destruction of the tents, the demonstrators’ sound system and the stage set up for the speakers who come daily to the demonstrations were destroyed.

Other eyewitnesses reported that members of the Asaish (Security Police) were present during the attacks but did nothing to intervene.

Ayoub, a contractor who does road and masonry work has made many complaints in the past to government authorities about the corruption he has seen. “I have reported directly to our Prime Minister, Dr. Barham Salih that poor quality materials are used, causing a big problem,” he told CPTers. Ayoub believes that the government cannot reform because of the corrupting influence of political parties. Ayoub has also written to the Minister of Higher Education and the Parliament with a list of concerns he has about the violation of human rights on the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. He has yet to receive any answers.

“I am on a hunger strike now and if the people don't receive answers to their demands soon, I will do something else,” Ayoub said. He did not share what that something else is.

As of yet, the international media has given little attention to the crisis in the Kurdish north of Iraq and sinister deeds continue to happen in the dark.

Mar 1, 2011

Day 13 of Demonstration: Protests turn to public mourning

Protests turn to public mourning, White Group continues strategizing
March 1st

For the past two days, the protests in the central square of Suleimaniyah, redubbed “Freedom Square,” have taken the form of public mourning. P1020591 Last Saturday, 26 February, the protest resulted in two deaths and eleven wounded as security forces opened fire on the crowd shortly after a sound bomb apparently went off behind the stage.

After Saturday's violence, protesters and security forces publicly reconciled, with many soldiers reportedly throwing down their weapons, crying they would not shoot at their brothers. The protest on Monday saw a vastly reduced military presence.

Protesters on Sunday attached lists of names—of those killed, wounded, and arrested during demonstrations for the past two weeks—to a wall on one end of the square. Next to these lists is a list of lawyers working pro bono to defend those arrested. The lawyers' group is also working with Amnesty International, which last week called on the Kurdistan regional government to rein-in militias affiliated to political parties responsible for the deaths.

The White Group, which had been forming a line between protesters and security forces, continues to meet each day to strategize and adapt to new realities. On Sunday, these meetings resulted in the decision to join the protest as normal participants. The protest organizers invited them to form a human “peace wall” again starting Wednesday, 2 March.

Also on Monday, a parliamentary delegation visited the demonstration to listen to protesters' demands. The ruling parties, however, were not represented in this delegation.