The State of the People's Uprising

by Michele Naar-Obed

The people's uprising against corruption and lack of basic rule of law in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Iraq, has come to an end for now. For 62 days, the people of Suleimaniya Province fought a valiant nonviolent campaign in the form of street demonstrations and strikes which started on February 17, 2011. During these days, the people held "open mike" rallies in the public squares of a number of cities where a host of people from different sectors of society had a chance to express their ideas about how to move forward as a society. They presented a list of demands and structural changes, developed the "Road map to the Peaceful Transition of Power in Southern Kurdistan", and appealed to the international community for backing and support.

Following the demonstration of February 17, the two ruling parties, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) run by Jalal Talabani and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) run by Massoud Barzani, called in their personal military troops to crack down on the demonstrations. The demonstrators appealed to the soldiers to lay down their weapons and join in the people's campaign. They shared flowers, candies, handshakes and hugs with the soldiers and from the open mike, greeted them as " brothers".

The soldiers eventually left the squares throughout the Suleimaniya Province and the people continued the hard work of organizing and defining their voices. They proved themselves to be a real challenge to the ruling powers who often used violent methods to sabotage their movement.

In the end, the authorities won this round of the battle by creating scenarios that allowed for the violent, massive and repressive military crackdown which wiped out all public demonstrations and organizing through the use of live ammunition, beatings, kidnaping, arrests, and psychological terror. The anti-terrorism unit, headed by a member of the Talabani family and trained and armed by the United States, branded the demonstrators as terrorists and used every method available to silence its own people.

Within the two months of demonstrations, ten people were killed and hundreds wounded by the ruling party's armed forces. Hundreds of arrests were made and many were beaten and tortured during their detainment. Soldiers are still present in Suleimaniya City but are slowly returning to their bases.

Now, the struggle is being fought on the political level, but politics is a dirty game as politicians tend to fight for their own agenda, marginalizing the people and paying lip service to their demands.

The demonstrators are currently in a time of healing, physically and psychologically. They are evaluating, strategizing and learning from other nonviolent campaigns. They are in growing pains but firm in their commitment to grow, not by the weapon, but by the mind and heart.

All of us who have ever engaged in nonviolent struggle for change where the common good is more important than the ideology of the few, whether it be religious, economic or political, should embrace the people of the Kurdish north of Iraq in the recognition that we are all part of the same struggle.