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Iraqi Kurdistan: the Middle East's Next Uprising?

Iraqi Kurdistan: the Middle East's Next Uprising?

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Published by Christopher Watt

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Published by: Christopher Watt on Mar 09, 2013
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Iraqi Kurdistan: The Middle East
s Next Uprising?Christopher WattFebruary 22, 2011
 Kurds are now demonstrating against thei
r own leaders, but they’ve been demanding freedom for a long 
women in the region have started throwing rocks at government offices. This time it’s in the geographical centre of 
the area, southern Kurdistan. The government of Iraqi Kurdistan created martyrs last week in the town of Sulaimaniyah, near the Iranian border, after  security forces opened fire on protesters, killing two.  The locals in question were accosting a Kurdistan Democratic Party building. This is important. KDP leader andIraqi Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani hails from the legendary fighting Barzani clan but does notcommand the heart and minds of Sulaimaniyah residents, who generally side with the rival Patriotic Union of 
Kurdistan, led by current Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, another survivor of the Kurds’ long fight against centralised
rule and Saddam Hussein. This struggle resulted in the deaths of perhaps 100,000 Kurds in the late 1980s,when
Baghdad sought to end its “Kurdish problem” once and f 
or all.After decades of resisting domination by the capital, Iraqi Kurds, who control three northern provinces along an arc bordering Syria, Turkey and Iran, are now the subjects of two leading parties that operate largely as feudal concerns.Both the KDP and the PUK divide the spoils of autonomy while urging patience to a young, underemployed andincreasingly pissed-off populace.The two parties and their patriarchs go way back, but the KDP
’s current powerbase is in Erbil, the capital of the
autonomous Kurdish region. Sulaimaniyah, on the other hand, has always been the last city in the region to submitto foreign interlopers
 —of which there have been many in the bloody history of what’s now Iraqi
Kurdistan.Iraqi Kurds are no strangers to revolt, and an internal challenger to the two-party system has emerged. The GoranList
 —goran means “change”— 
is led by  Nawshirwan Mustafa.During a visit to Iraqi Kurdistan several years ago, I visited the fortified compound overlooking Sulaimaniyah that Mustafa established after breaking with the PUK. Hehas serious intellectual and guerilla warfare credentials. It was said that in the 1990s Mustafa could set Kirkuk 
acontested city on the border of Iraqi Kurdistan and the other Iraq
on fire with a single phone call.Goran fared wellin recent elections, attracting a large chunk of the youth vote
the Tea Party with a vastly different purpose anddemographic profile.The other night I received two Facebook messages from a Toronto-based visual artist named Shillan Jabbar 
explaining that a casualty of last week’s fighting in Sulaimaniyah was a tee
nager named Rezhwan Ali, apparently
only in grade eight. Shillan’s brother, a noted Iraqi Kurdish writer named Aso Jabbar,
Kurdish leadership’s relationship with the American military, one that has included talk of basing rights
all is said and done in Iraq to the south.For this and other crimes, like starting a union for the unemployed, Jabbar was forced to flee Kurdistan with hisfamily. He now accumulates dozens of friends on Facebook each day while awaiting word on whether the United Nations will consider him a refugee, while Shillan tries to bring attention to the Kurdish plight.
 Iraq apparently garners about 1 percent of US media coverage after nearly a decade of war, according to a recentPew report.Less frequent now are stories of beheadings and roadside bombs; war of all against all has given way to protests for or against a relatively stable government, plus demands for normal things like better state servicesand
 —since Iraq hasn’t quite been lib
erated from socialism
government jobs.Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki addressed the Sulaimaniyah protests at a press conference in
faraway Baghdad. “I am happy to see the Iraqis are able to protest,” Mr. Maliki said. “But the protesters sh
ould notset fire to a building. We should express our demands in a civilized
 In Kurdistan, alongside a great deal of skepticism about Maliki, demand for a whole new politics has grown in
recent years. Still, despite Goran’s recent challenge to th
e ruling parties, a lite version of the Syrian model has
largely remained: we’ll protect you from the wolves, just shut up for now, and if you like democracy so much, move
to Iraq.
Kurds learned these lessons all too well during Saddam’s time in power .
detailing how Kurdistan’s security forces operate, kidnapping offenders, beating them up and dropping them
off in some ditch somewhere. Lawsuits are the cost of doing business for independent papers like
. This
happens in the name of keeping Kurdistan safe from “terrorists” (read: Arabs) from the south, though more often itdefends Kurdistan’s ruling barg
ain of government monopolies and outright corruption.The Kurds have been struggling for freedom for a long time, but public protests against their own Kurdish

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