IRAQ: CPT delegation meets with organizers of Suleimaniya demonstrations

27 April 2011
IRAQ: CPT delegation meets with organizers of Suleimaniya demonstrations

by Annika Spalde

[Note: This piece by a CPT delegate was written before the 18 April 2011 crackdown by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which banned all demonstrations.]

On Monday 11 April, the four of us from the CPT short-term delegation accompanied the CPT Iraq team to the central square in Suleimaniya to meet the demonstrators and the people organizing the demonstrations.

As soon as we entered the square, we were surrounded by twenty-thirty men of different ages. One of them started asking CPTer Michele Naar Obed, "Have CPT done the report that you were talking about? What are you doing to tell the world about what's happening here?"

I started talking with a young man standing next to me. He had been a student at the university, but was now unemployed. "Our leaders are worse than Saddam," he said, with a tired voice. "They have learnt from Saddam. There are no human rights for us here." In his opinion, many of those who come to the square each day are unemployed. "It is very difficult to get a job if you don't have a connection to one of the parties, PUK or KDP.  And if you don't have a job, you have no money.  You can't even afford to buy a cup of tea."

Michele told one of the men questioning her that Amnesty International would publish a report on the repression against protesters in Iraq and Kurdistan the following day.  He said they would mention this from the stage as an encouragement to the people that the information is getting out.

After a half hour we met with two organizers of the protests in a café.  One was a journalist, the other works for an international non-governmental organization. They told us how, in mid-February, the demonstrations started in a very spontaneous way, with inspiration from the people's nonviolent fight for democracy and human rights in Tunisia and Egypt. After just a few days of demonstrations, representatives from different sectors of society  created a committee to coordinate activities and to think strategically.  One decision they took early on was to always follow the principles of nonviolence. Another was to have an "open mike" at the square, where anyone could share his or her opinions and experiences.

The demonstrations at the square in Suleimaniya have become a daily event for almost two months. Demands to the government that it prosecute persons responsible for the killing of unarmed protesters, have not been met. There is no dialogue between  the demonstrators and the authorities. The ad hoc committee organizing the demonstrations is thinking about its next step. They have written and published a "Roadmap for a peaceful transition of power in Southern Kurdistan," where they would call for the resignation of the president, among other things.

Walking out of the café and across the square I felt deeply moved by the willingness of these people to stand up for what they believe in, despite risks. The two young men have received threats, but they say they will stay with this struggle until there is real democracy in the KRG.

Members of CPT's April 1-13 delegation to northern Iraq were Claire Bent (Purley, Surrey, England), Khristo Newall (Perth, W.A., Australia), Kathleen O'Malley (Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA), Amy Peters (Hanley, Saskatchewan, Canada) and Annika Spalde (Mjölby, Sweden).