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The Least Reported Unarmed Revolution in the Middle East

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.


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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

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

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