IRAQ: Fires, broken bodies, arrests, and chaos at Freedom Square in Suleimaniya

7 March 2011
IRAQ: Fires, broken bodies, arrests, and chaos at chaos at Freedom Square in Suleimaniya

On 5 March 2011, thirty-five-year-old Ayoub joined with approximately 200 young people for an all-night vigil at Freedom Square in Suleimaniya.  At midnight, he lay down in his tent to rest.  Ayoub had been on a hunger strike for the past twelve days and planned to continue until the government answered the demands of the people who had been demonstrating for eighteen straight days.

 At 2:30 a.m., the morning of 6 March, Ayoub heard people yelling “Wake up, wake up” For a moment, he thought, “Parliament has come with good news.”  Within seconds, he knew there was trouble.  “When I woke up, I didn't want to believe the Kurdish authorities would do this,” Ayoub said.

 Men dressed entirely in black with ski masks over their faces, carrying guns, batons and electric cables began rounding people up and taking them away.  Other eyewitnesses said they could have been from the Anti-Terrorism Unit.  Men in plainclothes also carrying guns, batons, and electric cables, began to beat people.  Ayoub tried three times to get away and each time, his assailants beat and stunned him with the electric cable.  He showed CPTers the marks on his hands and said he was bruised and bloodied all over his body.

The men in plainclothes began to set tents on fire.  One tent was occupied when it went up in flames.  The victim remains in the hospital, according to another eyewitness.  Ayoub's tent was burned to the ground along with all of his papers and a few cherished books.

 When Ayoub was able to finally get up and run away, a man in a teashop took him inside and kept him safe for the night.  Ayoub returned to Freedom Square at 9 a.m.  The burned tents were gone and the square was clean.  In addition to the destruction of the tents, the demonstrators’ sound system and the stage set up for the speakers who come daily to the demonstrations were destroyed.

 Other eyewitnesses reported that members of the Asaish (Security Police) were present during the attacks but did nothing to intervene.

Ayoub, a contractor who does road and masonry work has made many complaints in the past to government authorities about the corruption he has seen.  “I have reported directly to our Prime Minister, Dr. Barham Salih that poor quality materials are used, causing a big problem,” he told CPTers.  Ayoub believes that the government cannot reform because of the corrupting influence of political parties.  Ayoub has also written to the Minister of Higher Education and the Parliament with a list of concerns he has about the violation of human rights on the people of Iraqi Kurdistan.  He has yet to receive any answers.

 “I am on a hunger strike now and if the people don't receive answers to their demands soon, I will do something else,” Ayoub said.  He did not share what that something else is.

As of yet, the international media has given little attention to the crisis in the Kurdish north of Iraq and sinister deeds continue to happen in the dark.

More photos are available here