In two separate incidents in Karbala in southern Iraq and Pirmargrun in northern Kurdistan Iraqis protested against the government in late-December 2009.
First, on December 23, the town of Pirmargrun in Sulaymaniya province in Kurdistan spontaneously erupted into street protests that quickly turned to rioting. The cause of the disruptions was a speech given by the town’s mayor on TV the day before who complained that inhabitants of Pirmargrun didn’t appreciate the local improvements that he was responsible for. The next day people began gathering in the streets and shouting slogans against government corruption and the lack of services. Half the town allegedly has no water supply, and the other part only receives water for one hour ever couple days according to a local policeman. The protestors went to government buildings and began throwing rocks at them, and eventually blocked off entrances to the town with barricades. The head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the town and the district chief were both assaulted. Police were called in from the neighboring city of Sulaymaniya, but they were not enough, so the Asayesh security forces and riot police had to be deployed. Seventeen policemen were eventually sent to the hospital, and two armored personnel carriers were destroyed.
On December 24, the mayor apologized for his comments on the air, but that only led to another street protest to his office, which was again struck by rocks and other objects. That march was broken up by gunfire from the PUK headquarters across the street. Pirmargrun was built in 1988 as a refugee camp for Kurds expelled by Saddam’s Anfal campaign in northern Iraq. The inhabitants have been unhappy with their situation for quite some time, and overwhelmingly voted for the Change List in the 2009 Kurdish elections, a new political party that promised better services, and an end to the cronyism and corruption of the two ruling Kurdish parties. These were the largest protests in Kurdistan since 2006 when rioting erupted in Halabja that was also about a lack of services.
A few days later on December 26, around 5,000 Shiite pilgrims to the holy city of Karbala organized protests against the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Thousands of Shiites were coming to the city for the Ashura ceremony. They were greeted by a march, slogans, and signs complaining about corruption in Baghdad, and complaints about the Iranian takeover of a oil well in the Faquil field in Maysan province. The government allegedly tried to block these protests from being broadcast on TV.
Both demonstrations may be a sign of things to come as Iraq heads toward the March 2010 parliamentary elections. Better governance and ending corruption were key issues in the 2009 provincial elections, and many Iraqis seem upset with their current leaders who have done little to address these issues. The likely result is a wide range of parties getting votes in 2010, which will make it all the harder to put together a new ruling coalition.
McDermid, Charles and Rath, Tiare, “Kurdish Town Swept by Day of Rioting,” Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 12/23/09
Mizher, Qais, “Anti-government protests held in Iraq,” Washington Post, 12/27/09
Najm, Kamaran, “Focus on Kurdish Riots,” Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 12/24/09
Roads To Iraq, “Thousands of Shiite pilgrims chanted Anti-Iraqi government slogans,” 12/26/09