From: Michele Naar-Obed <obedsi...@yahoo.com>
Subject: Day 61 of Demonstrations in Suleimaniya Iraq
"Don't Kill the Future" Day 61 of Demonstrations in Suleimaniya Iraq
By: Michele Naar-Obed
A new song was playing on Iraqi Kurdistan radio today, 18 April, 2011.
Two lines stick out: "Don't kill this generation" and "don't kill the
future". While the song played, guns were blasting and tear gas filled
the streets in both Suleimaniya and the KRG capital city, Hawler.
Day 61 of Suleimaniya's daily demonstrations against corruption and
tribal rule in Iraqi Kurdistan started early this morning. The CPT
team arrived at 11AM. Music was playing from the stage and small
groups of people were gathering. Two CPTers decided to use the quiet
time to grab a cup of coffee and juice in a cafe next to the square. A
few of the demonstration organizers were doing the same.
Meanwhile, the armed soldiers, anti-terrorism unit and police were
positioning themselves around the square. They actually formed a ring
about 500 meters back from the square. They were waiting, armed with
guns, tear gas, water cannons and riot gear.
When the two CPTers and organizers left the cafe, a group of about 20
young men were talking about confronting the soldiers and police. Some
were talking about throwing rocks. Others told us the soldiers would
throw the first round of rocks to provoke a fight. Still others told
us that the government pays some of these young men to throw the first
stones in order to provoke an escalation of violence. The organizers
and CPTers gave an impromptu workshop on nonviolence. Some of the
young men decided to stay in the square. Others were having no part of
it and were ready to confront the soldiers. One young man said he
needed the money.
By now, the demonstration was beggining to grow. The speakers gathered
around the stage. An announcement was made that Hawler's first large
public demonstration took off like wildfire. Maybe a thousand took to
the streets. The Suleimaniya crowd cheered. They have been carrying
these demonstrations for 2 months because the repression in Hawler has
been so much worse.
Next, news came to the square that the Suleimaniya University students
were sitting in the street. For the second day, they were stopped by a
ring of soldiers. Today, they were not able to enter into the square.
A crowd gathered on one of the streets exiting the northeast corner of
the square. And then the mayhem began. It started with tear gas. The
people who were closest to it came running back towards the square
with swollen eyes and faces. Some couldn't breath. Ambulances were
nearby and ready to treat them. News came that the soldiers were
moving closer to the square. The stench of the tear gas permeated the
streets. The demonstrators set up barricades on the street and began
burning tires in order to keep the soldiers from breaking into the
The sound of gunfire was prolonged and getting closer to the square.
Shops along the street began to close down. Pedestrians ran towards
the square to get away from the worst of the tear gas and the
shooting. The team made contact with the US Consulate by phone and
stayed in contact throughout the day.
The organizers appealed to the people to stay in the square and to
remain nonviolent. Most of the people listened. Then the shooting
began on the other side of the square and soldiers were set up in
sniper positions on rooftops. Nobody knew where to go as the shooting
was coming from all sides. People crouched down behind stone walls.
Others began breaking up huge blocks of cement to make baseball-sized
rocks. The organizers appealed to the people to sit down. Many did and
all the while shooting was going on from all sides. Again, the team
kept in constant contact with the US Consulate. The representative
could hear the shooting over the phone and said they were in contact
with the highest level of KRG authority. Nobody seemed to know who was
giving the orders to shoot.
There was a call for the demonstration to end. Many people, including
the CPT team left although it was difficult to find a safe exit. At
6PM, the team received a report that approximately 500 to 700 people
were still in the square. The soldiers and police came in with guns,
batons and tear gas. 81 people were injured and taken to the hospital.
The armed forces set the stage on fire and also burned down all the
art displays set up on the wall in the back of the square.
At 9PM, 200 young people went back to the square and were immediately
surrounded by armed forces. The young people chanted, "you broke the
square, but you can't break us".
The Suleimaniya University students are planning to demonstrate in
front of the courthouse tomorrow, 19 April, 2011.