1991 Uprising’s 20th anniversary marked

In March 1991, all Kurdistan cities and towns, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, stood united against the Iraqi security forces of Saddam Hussein, thereby liberating many Kurdish cities. The Uprising came after the Iraqi army was defeated by multinational forces led by the United States, after the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

Every year, Iraqi Kurdistan remembers the Uprising with pride and festivals, but this year the region is witnessing a number of anti-government protests in Suleimaniya province, inspired by uprisings in Arab countries. The protestors call for government reforms and a fight against corruption. Protests began three weeks ago when Gorran (Change) Movement, the main opposition party in the region, demanded that government and Parliament resign. Gorran demanded a transitional government be formed until the next election. Gorran’s demands were strongly rejected by the two ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

“This authority did not come to power by force, but got the majority of votes in the democratic elections that took place in 2009,” said Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani while standing atop Erbil’s 8,000-year-old Citadel in front of tens of thousands of the ruling parties’ supporters who had gathered to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Uprising. When Saddam Hussein was in power, Erbil city was Iraq’s northern military and intelligence headquarters. From Erbil, Hussein’s army orchestrated genocide against Kurds and fought the Iranian army in the northern front.

On March 11, 1991, Erbil residents, including Peshmerga (Kurdish guerrillas mainly from the KDP and PUK), attacked Iraqi security buildings and liberated the city in less than 12 hours. Now the veterans of that day cite the Uprising with pride, but many of the new generation know little about Saddam Hussein’s brutality.

“People are angry; there is a lot of corruptions and social injustice,” said Diyar Abbas, 25, sitting in Shanadar Park in Erbil city. He did not attend the rally. “Look how Europeans live compared to us; life is difficult here,” Abbas added.

Barzani, also head of the KDP, said he supports the protestors and their demands, adding that opposition parties want to exploit the current situation to achieve their own interests. “Changes will come only through ballet boxes, not through illegal ways,” said Barzani. He is ready to call for early general elections, and he promised to carry out reforms in the region’s government during the next four months. The last general election was held on July 27, 2009. Opposition parties won 35 out of 100 seats.

Jalal Abdullah, a veteran who fought against the Iraqi army for years, said the new generation doesn’t understand or appreciate the freedom they enjoy under Kurdish rule. “Young people now have absolute freedom; they are not obliged to do military service, and they have a very good life. Look at Erbil city. It used to be like a village, and now it is a very big, beautiful city.”

Hersh Majeed, 26, said that lack of social equality is the reason so many young people are angry. “People who are well-connected to the ruling party have good lives while we struggle to get good jobs.”

Suleimaniya: two different stories

Suleimaniya city was liberated from the Baath Regime on March 7, 1991. This year’s Uprising anniversary was completely different from the past years. On March 7, protestors backed by opposition parties staged their grievances in front the Saray Gate, while two streets down from the Gate, in front of PUK headquarters, was a rally supporting the PUK.

PUK General Secretary Jalal Talabani, who is also President of Iraq, addressed the rally. “We are neither upset nor afraid that hundreds or thousands of people are protesting in front Saray Gate, demanding their natural rights. Actually, we support them and their rights.” He said his party supports every peaceful and legal demonstration. Talabani praised Suleimaniya city and its history for more than half an hour. “Suleimaniya has always been the pioneer of uprisings against tyrants. Now, Suleimaniya is the symbol of democracy and freedom of speech in all of Iraq.”

Observers pointed out that the main reason for PUK to organize the rally was to show the opposition parties, in particularly Gorran Movement, that PUK remains strong and has many supporters in the city. In the last parliamentary election in Kurdistan, held on July 27, 2009, Gorran Movement earned more votes in Suleimaniya city than PUK. However, in Suleimaniya rural areas and villages, PUK earned more votes than Gorran.

Talabani called for immediate reforms in government and social equality, and he demanded that the KRG listen to protestor’s demands. Moreover, he called the opposition parties to act in a responsible way and to not destabilize the region’s security and economy situations.

He said that there are still many strategic objectives that Kurds must reach. “So far, the disputed areas have not reached Kurdistan Region – above them, our beloved Kirkuk city, the Jerusalem of Kurdistan.”

As Talabani addressed the rally, more people joined the protestors at the Saray Gate. Spirits lifted when they saw a group of more than 200 veterans, some wearing medals, join them.

Meanwhile, a group of protestors demanded that Gorran Movement, Kurdistan Islamic Union and Kurdistan Islamic Group not politicize the protest. The group said the opposition parties were trying to control the people’s protest. “We demand they leave the Saray Gate,” said the group in a statement.

 

The Kurdish Globe
Qassim Khidhir- Erbil

March 13, 2011

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