IRAQ ANALYSIS: The least reported unarmed revolution in the Middle East

14 April 2011
IRAQ ANALYSIS: The least reported unarmed revolution in the Middle East

by Michele Naar-Obed

[Note: this piece has been edited for CPTnet.  The original is available at]

 Since 17 February 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 has intervened and word came from a reliable source that a phone call from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was able to pull government military troops off the streets and away from unarmed demonstrators.

This scenario is not in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, or Tunisia.  These events have been taking place in Kurdish north of Iraq, where people been just as active in their nonviolent uprising against a corrupt and repressive government, although their efforts have receive almost no coverage from major international media.

Daily, thousands of demonstrators flood the city center—now dubbed “Freedom Square”—of Suleimaniya, Iraq.  There have been eight civilian deaths in Suleimaniya city and scores of injuries resulting from armed government forces opening fire with live ammunition into the crowds.  Government security forces killed five unidentified people alleged to be terrorists outside of Suleimaniya.  During the imposed curfew, government forces and armed militia positioned themselves 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.  The Kurdistan Regional Government's Parliament has held emergency sessions to negotiate the demands of the people, but no agreements have arisen from these sessions.

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 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 of the late 1980's.

Who came to the forefront as leaders of the new Kurdish society in 1991?  Two strong fighters from the Talabani and Barzani tribes were key in leading the Peshmerga (Kurdish soldiers) in the fight against the Ba'ath Party regime.  Jalal Talabani set up his party (PUK); and Masoud Barzani set up his (KDP), and for a while, they shared power within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).  For twenty 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 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 under democratic governments.

There is real possibility that this change can come about without an armed people's revolution.  The international community should pay attention now, and think about how it can support these activists in their nonviolent struggle to end the oppression carried out by the ruling parties—parties backed by the western countries’ foreign policies.  If we pay attention now, maybe our children and our grandchildren will not have to face the decision whether to use military force to drive out yet another entrenched dictator.