Iraq’s instability spreading in Kurdistan Region

The chaos that has had Iraq in its grip since the parliamentary elections of October 2021 appears to be spreading in the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, journalist Marc Daou wrote for France 24 on Friday.

Many have taken to the streets in the relatively peaceful region following a violent crackdown on an anti-government protest on August 6 and arrest of opposition deputies.
The New Generation movement had called for demonstrations to improve living conditions and to hold elections in the region. Six Iraqi deputies from the movement were arrested, alongside a seventh member of the regional parliament. Some 600 people were arrested on the day, including 40 members.
Police targeted at least 60 journalists, 10 of whom were working for the network owned by the founder of New Generation, Shaswar Abdulwahid.
The U.S. embassy in Baghdad expressed concern over the events, while the French consulate general in the region’s capital Erbil called on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to “uphold public freedoms” in a statement.
“For democracy to succeed, 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, and the right of journalists to do their jobs freely and without interference,” the U.S. embassy said.
“The main Western partners of Kurdistan were very quick to condemn the weekend's events because, since 2003, and until recently, the KRG embodied in their eyes an alternative model of stability in relation to the powers that be in the region,” France 24 cited Centre for Research on Iraq (CFRI) director Adel Bakawan as saying.
Kurdistan for decades has cultivated an image of “a land of cultural and political diversity”, Bakawan said. The France-based director added that the political chaos in Iraq could “tip into civil war and directly threaten the security and stability of Kurdistan”.
Other threats to the region include a resurgence of the Islamic State (ISIS), and Turkey’s shelling in Iraqi territory that Ankara maintains targets the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) but has caused many civilian casualties.
The KRG “seems to favour the security approach to deal with a number of issues”, Bakawan told France 24, “to the detriment of dialogue and interaction”.
There are also internal rivalries among the region’s political parties. While supporters of Shiite leader Moqtada al Sadr have been staging a sit-in outside the regional parliament since July demanding early elections, New Generation called for protests. The call was not followed widely, Bakawan said, and demonstrators were mostly limited to party supporters.
Elections were scheduled for October, but have been postponed to a later date before the year is out.
The political line of the New Generation party is not clear, Bakawan said. “Shaswar Abdulwahid strongly supports the Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, while resolutely opposing Sadr’s Kurdish ally, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).”
Abdulwahid is working to position his party as an alternative to the decades-old back-and-forth between the KDP, led by the Barzani family, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by the Talabanis. Barzanis hold the north, while Talabanis are strong in the southern part of the semi-autonomous region.
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