Hundreds of people from Iraqi Kurdistan took the streets on Monday and Tuesday to violently protest the region’s financial problems, urging the autonomous government to combat corruption, pay state salaries in full, and restore public services.
People have been protesting for at least two days in the northern Iraqi provinces of Sulaimani and Halabja.
On Monday, a wave of violent protest targeted various cities in the two provinces, including Piramagrun, northwest of Sulaimani where angry protesters set ablaze offices of Kurdistan’s five largest parties, members of the coalition government, and at least three government buildings. They also set at least five cars on fire.
The Kurdistan Region has been suffering from an ongoing financial crisis since early 2014 due to budget cuts by the Iraqi government, a drop in oil prices and the war against ISIS [Islamic State]. The KRG’s [Kurdistan Regional Government] revenues have hit a new low when it lost control of the salaries oil fields in Kirkuk in mid-October, slashing its revenues by almost half.
According to Rudaw, the KRG has cut salaries, delayed paychecks for over a year, and failed to provide essential services like electricity.
“Their anger is also fueled by allegations of widespread corruption within the government and ruling parties,” notes the Kurdish news outlet.
Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), acknowledged that the protesters’ frustrations are justified, but added that there is no need to resort to violence.
“These are challenging times for our region. Your frustrations are understandable, and I hear them,” said the PM, adding that he supports the “peaceful expression of views” as a legitimate democratic right, “But violence is never acceptable. I call on all of you to conduct your protests peacefully.”
The protesters reportedly engaged in clashes with riot police and Kurdish security forces.
In response, Kurdish security forces shot live ammunition into the air to disperse to demonstrators.
Rudaw learned from Taha Mohammed, spokesperson for a local public health department, that the violent demonstration in Raniya city resulted in the death of at least five protesters and injury of 80 others on Tuesday.
“We are very sad that once again demonstrations in the Kurdistan Region, unlike the majority of protests in the world, have resulted in a lot of martyrs and injured,” declared Ali Bapir, leader of the Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal), on Tuesday.
“There are no grounds for killing people,” he emphasized, adding that people were justified in being upset because of “financial woes and the intense financial situations of the people.”
He urged “calm,” noting, ”Any side turning to violence only causes damage to all sides. Therefore, storming shelters and offices and public institutions, public or private properties will, of course, have no effect or result, but destruction and damaging this country’s infrastructure.”
The violent situation comes as the autonomous KRG continues to face threats from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
Moreover, the Iranian-backed Iraqi government has been applying military pressure on the Kurdistan region over its approval of an independence referendum back in September.
Israel and to a lesser extent Russia are among the very few countries that back the Kurds’ independence efforts.
The United States joined Baghdad, Iran, Turkey, and Syria in objecting to the move.
PM Barzani reminded the people of Kurdistan they continue to face challenges in a “violent and fragile region” where just on Tuesday the region’s security forces engaged ISIS jihadists.
“Of even more concern is that we are tracking movements by Iraqi forces in Makhmour,” he added.