Thursday, February 24, 2011

Iraq expects wave of demos Friday

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Erbil, Feb. 24 (AKnews) - A wave of public demonstrations is expected to sweep across Iraq Friday with protestors calling for better living conditions, employment opportunities and social justice.Protesters in Baghdad

The Iraqi people have been disgruntled with the government for not being able to assure basic services like electricity, water and promised food subsidies, in addition to allegations of administrative corruption and social injustice.

Campaigners have called for the demonstrations on social network websites and have set February 25 for a day of protests.

Over the past two weeks there have already been public protests in some 14 Iraqi provinces but February 25 has been marked as a nationwide day of protests.

Iraqi officials have warned that insurgents my exploit the occasion to attack the rallies of demonstrators.

The Iraqi Prime Minister said earlier this week that the demonstrations are politicized by "evil-intentioned people" and that through the demonstrations militants can regain their sway over the country.

Similarly, Baghdad Operations Command (BOC) announced on Wednesday that they had intelligence information that suicide bombers are preparing to target the demonstrators.

BOC also announced a ban on live coverage of the event as part of a bid to keep vehicles off the streets of the Tahrir Square area of Baghdad where the biggest demonstration so far is expected to be staged.

However, the move is seen by some as an excuse to head off the demonstrations because the security forces were able to provide security for more than 2 million pilgrims during the Shia ceremonies in southern Iraq in recent months.

The demonstrations, inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, point an accusatory finger at the government and the dominant ruling bloc for the poor level of services provided to the public.

In some parts of Iraq, electricity is available only for 6 hours a day while government corruption, unemployment and social injustice remain widespread concerns.

On Feb. 21, the Iraqi parliament speaker said some US$40 billion was "missing" from a post-Gulf War fund that Iraq maintains to protect from foreign claims.

He said they did not know where the money had gone.

Iraqi PM's annual income is equivalent to that of the President of that United States, if not more, and the Iraq MPs receive some IQD32 million (about US$25,000) a month in a country where the average salary is between US$500 and $600.

Iraqi demonstrators have called for a cut in the salaries of the top government positions and administrative reforms in the government institutions over the past two weeks.

Earlier this month, the Sadrist Current called for the allocation of 15% of the 2011 general budget to the Iraqi people. They claimed they wouldn't vote for it unless the 15% was included in the bill.

The bill, however, was approved by the Parliament and instead of the 15% of the general budget, 20% of the "surplus" was allocated to Iraq's needy families.

Iraq's 2011 budget is suffering from a deficit of US$12 billion.

The demonstrations over the past two weeks have mostly been peaceful but some violent clashes with security forces have erupted.

At least one person has been killed and dozens injured in the protests in the Iraqi provinces other than in the Kurdistan region.

The protests were transferred to Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan's second largest city, last week where protesters called for rooting out corruption in the government institutions, better living conditions, and employment opportunities.

In the Sulaimaniyah protests 3 people were killed and more than 100 were injured when the peaceful demo became violent and demonstrators clashed with guards at the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headquarters.

The Kurdistan Regional Government has taken security measures to protect the protesters and to make sure the demonstrations are peaceful in case the Kurdish cities took to the streets on Friday along with the rest of the country.

Raber Younis Aziz (AKnews)

Thursday, February 24th 2011 1:24 PM

Kurdish parliament condemns violence and orders reforms

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Erbil, Feb. 24 (AKnews) – In an extraordinary session to discuss the recent demonstrations and unrest in Sulaimaniyah city that turned into violent clashes leaving many casualties, the parliament of Kurdistan Region has condemned the use of violent force against the protesters as well as attacks on partisan or government offices.Xopeshandani Slemani

After long hours of discussion between the parliamentary factions on Wednesday evening which lasted until 1 am Thursday, the parliament of Kurdistan Region came up with a 17 points conclusion. It called for grassroots reforms and improved living conditions for the people, social justice, and a broadening of freedoms.

The Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister, the Peshmarga Minister and the Interior Minister will be summoned to attend parliament for interrogation over the incidents in Sulaimaniyah.

During the discussion, all MPs agreed that the use of force against demonstrators or party and government buildings were to be condemned.

In the Sulaimaniyah protests which lasted 5 days, at least 3 people were killed and more than 100 protesters were injured when the peaceful rally turned violent with demonstrators pelting the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headquarters in the city with stones.

The KDP headquarters security personnel in turn fired at the demonstrators in "self-defense". There were also reports that some of the protesters were armed and forced their way to the headquarters.

Demonstrators were protesting against corruption, poor living conditions, unemployment and social injustice.

The agreed conclusion also states that all the detained protesters who participated in the demonstrations be released immediately except for those who committed "crimes" and who should be handed over to the court. And from now on, protesters can not be, by any means, arrested for taking part in demonstrations without a court order.

Some 70 people were arrested in the Sulaimaniyah protests. The Police said earlier that they had released them.

The government would also compensate financially and morally the demonstrators, parties, offices and forces hurt by the violent clashes in the demonstrations.

The conclusion also provides for the appointment of a member of the Appellate Court to head the investigation committee formed to look into the causes of the violent clashes and also to disclose the findings to the public. Also the security and police forces accused of not carrying out their duties professionally during the protests are to be subject to accountability.

Some of the local newspapers and media outlets close to the KDP had earlier accused Iran of standing behind the unrest in Sulaimaniyah, and a leader in the party did not rule out the investigation looking into Iran's role in the demonstrations.

A local weekly newspaper in Kurdistan, Rwber, which claims independence wrote in its Feb. 22 issue that Iran's Quds army was behind the unrest in Sulaimaniyah city "in revenge" for the January stoning of Iran's consulate in Erbil by demonstrators in protest against the execution of Kurdish activists in Iran.

On January 29, angry demonstrators in Erbil city pelted the Iranian consulate over the execution of Kurdish activists in Iran. According to figures, in 2011 alone, Iran has executed more than 20 Kurdish activists, and some 16 others are currently awaiting execution by hanging.

The Peyamner news outlet, close to the KDP, reported that the leader of the Gorran, Nawshirwan Mustafa, had meetings with Iranian officials near the, suggesting an Iranian hand behind the protesters' recent attack on the KDP headquarters.

Moreover, the parliament emphasized again the need for permission from the authorities before protesters can stage a demonstration. The current demonstrations law requires prior permission from the authorities for any demonstration.

The five day demonstrations in Sulaimaniyah were not permitted by the authorities, except for the first day where one teenager was killed and more than 57 were injured. In the following days, enraged demonstrators did not care about obtaining permits.

The law had already sparked a row in December last year when parliament passed it, and the opposition forces still call for reforms to it. They want to change the obtaining of permission for demonstrations to simply "informing" the authorities of planned demos instead.

The authorities said the law was to ensure national security and to give the authorities the time to assign police and security forces to provide security for the demonstrations.

The opposition says the law restricts the right of the freedom to demonstrate because it gives the authorities the power to deny permission to public protests.

Another point agreed on by parliament was not mobilizing troops from one city to another to contain the demonstrations except in the case of a national security threat from an external party.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)'s Ministry of Peshmarga had sent Zeravani forces, Kurdish defense forces, to the suburbs of Sulaimaniyah city from Erbil in a move to control the demos in case they developed into a threat on government offices.

The parliament also stressed on freedom of the press by condemning the attacks on a private TV station, Nalia Radio and TV, NRT, and the Gorran TV station, with urging for the immediate accountability of the assailants.

NRT started airing on Feb. 17 but after only 3 days was stormed by some 50 gunmen early at dawn who destroyed the equipment in the premises with bullets before setting everything on fire. The General Manager of the TV channel Twana Othman says they are receiving ongoing threats from anonymous sources of repeated attacks.

The NRT said on Feb. 22 that it planned to resume broadcasting but was threatened with repeated attacks, therefore suspended indefinitely their transmissions.

Raber Younis Aziz (AKnews)

Thursday, February 24th 2011 10:54 AM