This photo from photographer James Longley captures the exuberance of today’s Iraqi youth, full of promise and ambition. Their story is told brilliantly in Longley’s award-winning documentary, “Iraq in Fragments”, a poetically rendered film as seen through the eyes of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish youth. (Available on Netflix here)
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When some of the Sulaymaniyah protesters threw rocks at the KDP headquarters at the February 17th demonstration, KDP security forces guarding the building responded with automatic gunfire, killing one teenager instantly and fatally wounding two other young protesters. Since then, unrest has continued in Kurdistan and clashes between protesters and Kurdish security forces have resulted in at least three more tragic–and preventable–deaths.
KDP security forces and hired milita used live ammunition against protesters during the February 17th demonstration, a violation of United Nations principles that state lethal force should only be used when absolutely necessary to protect human life. An independent investigation into the deaths of these protesters must happen immediately, those who are found responsible must be held accountable, and the government must ensure undue deadly force is not used against protesters again.
The Kurdish Regional Government’s crackdown on protesters at the February 17th demonstration fueled a massive turnout in Sulaymaniyah on February 25th for Iraq’s nationwide “Day of Rage.” While about 100 people turned up at a protest in Fallujah, the protest in Sulaymaniyah brought out at least 2,000 and perhaps as many as 4,000 people.
In Baghdad, the central government attempted to cur
tail the size of protests by banning cars in the city and placing blast walls on pedestrian routes to the Green Zone. Despite its efforts, nearly a thousand protestors gathered to confront the government over their grievances with corruption and the lack of basic services. Protesters frustrated by the government’s containment tactics moved to tear down the blast walls. The New York Times’ At War blog reports:
After several attempts, the walls toppled with a boom, and the protesters surged onto the bridge. But there they confronted another wall – this one a barrier of security forces blocking their way across the bridge.
The protesters tried to push their way through the security forces, but were prevented. So they began throwing stones.
After that, “security forces moved in to clear the area, setting off sound bombs, firing water cannons and wielding clubs against protesters.” While there are conflicting reports, and certainly instances of excessive force occurred, it appearssecurity forces in Baghdad showed more restraint than those in Sulaymaniyah, especially up against aggressive protesters.
But while demonstrators in Iraq and across the region draw inspiration from protests in Tunisia and Egypt, they must recognize that Tunisians’ and Egyptians’ revolutions were built on a foundation of peace. Inciting violence against the state puts more lives in danger. Peaceful protests put the power in the hands of the people. If protests in Iraq continue over the next week as some activists have vowed, it’s essential that both demonstrators and security forces act responsibly to prevent a further loss of life.