Nonviolent Demonstrations End and Military Occupation Begins in Suleimaniya Iraq
Today marks the fourth day since Azadi (Freedom) Square in Suleimaniya Iraq was violently overthrown by military forces following 62 days of primarily nonviolent protests against corruption by the two ruling parties, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). After demands to end corruption were not met, the demonstrators called for the resignation of the KRG president, Massoud Barzani, the Prime Minister, Dr. Barham Salih and the Speaker of the Parliament, Dr. Kamal Kirkuki.
On April 18, the stage from which daily speeches at the demonstration were made was burnt to the ground. Over 1000 demonstrators and many pedestrians caught up in the square trying to flee the tear gas were shot at with live ammunition and rubber bullets, tear gassed, beaten, arrested, and threatened. This author contacted the US Consulate in the capital city, Erbil, by cell phone in the midst of the mayhem. The human rights officer at the consulate could hear the shooting over the phone. The officer gave assurance that Washington was being informed and they were in dialog with every high level official in the KRG.
Since Tuesday, April 19, 2011 the city of Suleimaniya has been occupied by well over 10,000 armed soldiers. Azadi Square and the surrounding streets and alleys are filled with soldiers and rings of soldiers are spread out throughout much of the city. The markets close to Azadi Square are open to citizens but people must keep walking and if anyone appears to group together and approach the square, they are immediately subject to beating by clubs and arrest.
During the day of April 21, thousands more soldiers were called in and a ring of military bases and some tanks formed around the outskirts of Suleimaniya city. Jalal Talabani, president of Iraq and head of the PUK party appealed to Nouri Al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister for 3000 more Iraqi troops to be sent to the Suleimaniya province according to a recent report in the Washington Post.
There have been hundreds of arrests in Suleimaniya city these past four days and most people have been released quickly but only after having been beaten and threatened by the security police. Many women have been arrested in this sweep. Journalists have been targeted for arrest and torture and one of the opposition party's TV channel KNN has been tampered with causing it to shut down for periods of time.
According to a reliable source, the teachers of Suleimaniya city submitted a demand for the forces to leave the city within 48 hours or they would strike beginning midnight Saturday, April 23.
The religious leaders are calling for all political parties and lists to resolve this situation immediately.
The United States continues to hold to its policy to support nonviolent demonstrations and denounces the use of violence against unarmed demonstrators by the KRG forces. However this statement makes a mockery of these basic human rights considering the current situation in this region. The US Consulate human rights officer has been kept apprised of the situation on a daily basis by either phone or email since April 17. The only answer to date is the arrival of more armed troops and tanks and what appears to be closed eyes on the part of the US.
The cities of Halubja, Rania, Qaludze, Kalar and ChamChamal in the Suleimaniya Province are also under military occupation.
Human Rights Watch which recently released their report on demonstrations in Iraq stated, "Iraqi authorities in Kurdistan and Baghdad need to rein in their security forces and protect the right to protest peacefully," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.