Iraq: It hits the fan in Kurdistan

March 16, the first day that Iraq’s fragile new parliament formally met, was met not only with a new US offensive in the Samarra area that the Arab press is already comparing to Fallujah (Khajeel Times, UAE, March 19) but, perhaps more importantly, a social explosion in Kurdistan, which has heretofore been a relative haven from the chaos in the rest of Iraq. Illustrating the depth of disgust with the Kurdish leadership, it came on the anniversary of the Halabja massacre, and left the official monument to the victims destroyed. Most Western press accounts have not noted that the repressive violence from the PUK security forces left at least four Kurdish youth dead. This account from Kurdish Media:

Halabja Day: A formal ceremony to mark the 18th anniversary of Halabja by the Kurdish administration was cancelled as violent demonstration erupted in the town, demanding compensation for the victims of Halabja and better services for the town.

A source in the PUK administration blamed “foreign hands” for the protest. However youths of Halabja said that they demand compensation for the victims and better services for Halabja.

AFP stated, “A 14-year-old boy was killed in the clashes as some 7,000 protesters, including relatives of the 5,000 victims of the March 17, 1988 aerial attack, set up road blocks, attacked government offices and set fire to a memorial built to honour the dead.”

Rahman, who was not taking part in the demonstration in Halabja, told that whenever there is a protest against their corrupt [Kurdish] authorities, foreign hands are blamed. The Kurdish administration can only see more protests like these, he added. The Kurdish administration use Halabja as business to get more cash, Rahman believes.

The monument of Halabja was totally destroyed as the protesters set fire to it.

It was reported by residents of Halabja that 40 students have been arrested and 4 are shot dead by the authorities. However, a local doctor told Radio Nawa that 10 people have been injured, six of them with minor wounds and four are still in the hospital. One body was brought to the hospital; he was shot dead, the doctor told Nawa. He was named by other sources to be Kurda Ahmed.

The violence in Halaja erupted while the Kurdish leaders, Talabani and Barzani, were hundreds of miles away in Iraqi Arab region, trying to unite Shiia and Sunna Arab to rule Iraq.

The Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, and the President of Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, sat in the Iraqi Assembly in Baghdad, three months after the Iraqi election. Halabja is controlled by the Talabani’s party PUK.

The PUK is displaying a disturbing authoritarian tendency recently. From Kurdish Media, March 18:

The PUK arrested the correspondent of the Kurdish weekly Hawlati in the Kurdish town of Koysanjaq on Friday.

According to Hawlati their correspondent, Hawez Hawezi, was arrested as a result of writing a report in Hawlati, which was critical of the Kurdistan’s administration. Hawezi was arrested on Friday by the PUK Asayish in Koysanjaq and transferred to the PUK Asayish [security Services] prison in Sulemani on the same day.

It was also revealed that Omar Fatah, the head of the PUK authorities, ordered the arrest of the Hawlati correspondent Hawzi.

Hawlati is one of the rear independent papers in Kurdistan.

See our last posts on Iraq and the Kurdish struggle.