Iraqi security forces appear to have opened fire on demonstrators without prior warning in Kirkuk on Sept. 2, killing at least four people and injuring 16, Human Rights Watch has found. The violence comes amid months of increasing tensions between Kirkuk’s Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen populations. An inquiry into the incident opened by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani should be independent and impartial in its investigation of allegations of excessive use of deadly force by Iraqi security forces, HRW urged. “Time and again, the Iraqi government has responded to protests with lethal force and arrests of journalists,” said HRW Iraq researcher Sarah Sanbar. “The government needs to take concrete steps that result in accountability for these actions.”
The tensions center around a building in Kirkuk that once served as the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the largest party in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The building has been occupied by Iraqi federal security forces since 2017, when central government forces seized Kirkuk in response to the Kurdish independence referendum. The tensions flared after Prime Minister al-Sudani ordered the return of the building to the KDP on Sept. 1 under an agreement made with the KRG when al-Sudani formed his government in October 2022.
On Aug. 28, Arab and Turkmen protesters staged a sit-in in front of the former KDP headquarters, calling for a halt to the handover of the building and the resumption of the party’s operations in Kirkuk. Protesters erected a tent and blocked the main road connecting Kirkuk and Erbil, the KRG capital, hampering movement between Kirkuk and the Kurdistan Region. Tensions escalated with the arrival of Kurdish counter-protesters, culminating in the deployment of Iraqi security forces and possible use of excessive and deadly force to disperse protesters. (HRW, Sept. 8)
See our last report on the struggle for Kirkuk.
Map: UNHCR via ReliefWeb