US 'concerned' about Iraqi Kurdistan's violence against protesters

Embassy in Baghdad said Kurdish authorities must review actions following protest in Sulaimaniyah

Erbil city, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan Region. For years, public anger at the Kurdish regional government has been increasing, prompting protests over unpaid state salaries and Turkish incursions into border areas. Getty Images
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The US said on Tuesday it was “concerned” about the Iraqi Kurdistan region’s treatment of journalists and activists during a protest this week.

For years, public anger at the Kurdish regional government has been increasing, prompting protests over unpaid state salaries and Turkish incursions into border areas.

Human rights defenders have in the past said rallies have been met with a heavy-handed response from security forces, especially as reporters have been increasingly attacked across the country.

“We are concerned by reports of the use of tear gas and rubber-coated bullets to disperse protesters and the detention of journalists, civil society activists, and members of parliament in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR),” the American Embassy in Baghdad said in a statement.

It follows protests in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah on August 6.

For democracy to be upheld, “governments must safeguard constitutionally protected and universal human rights and freedoms, including freedom of peaceful assembly and demonstration, freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial with due process,” said the statement.

It said journalists must have the right “to do their jobs freely and without interference.”

The embassy urged Kurdish authorities to “review these actions and reaffirm the vital roles that a free press, peaceful assembly and the rule of law play in democracy.”

A report by the UN, published in May, said activists were living in an "environment of fear and intimidation" because of continued attacks against "protesters, persons seeking accountability for these attacks and activists and critics espousing views critical of armed elements and affiliated political actors".

It said many activists remain relocated inside or outside Iraq out of fear for their safety.

In late 2019, more than 500 people were killed during months of anti-government demonstrations. These erupted under former prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, affecting Baghdad and southern towns including Basra.

More than 7,000 unarmed demonstrators were injured.

In late July, followers of the powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr breached the heavily fortified Green Zone, occupied the parliament building and staged an open-ended sit-in.

They remain in the building, demanding new elections, the dissolution of Parliament and amendments to the constitution, as political infighting stalls a complicated government formation process.

Updated: August 09, 2022, 2:10 PM
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