Kurdistan’s Regional Government will convene this week to debate altering the current salary-saving system, a concept that has been the subject of controversy and negative feedback since its proposal. The Council of Ministers for the KRG holding a meeting is taking place in the wake of mass protests by government employees demanding an abolition of the new salary system are taking place region wide. A member of parliament has already had his convoy assaulted in Duhok despite warnings to protester about the use of force during demonstrations.
Hundreds of protesters gathered to establish a presence in front of Sulaymaniah’s main courthouse where the chanted, “Down with thieves,” in reference to the politicians within the KRG. One banner read, “The solidarity day for Erbil and Duhok,” in reference to the various gatherings of school and hospital based government employees who refuse to work until the salary cuts have been halted by the KRG. An organizer for health workers strikes and protests, Abdullah Mohammed has said, “We will no longer accept the salary saving system,” in response to being questioned on whether or not their group intends to end the strike if KRG reduces the amount of cuts to their salaries. All but one of the hospitals in Sulaymaniah have shut down and none remain open in Halabja presently.
The Kurdish political party Komal’s, an Islamic based party, Minister of Parliament Soran Omar is the leader of Kurdistan’s human rights committee and is claiming that security forces have employed “force” against the protesters. He has stated that over 20,000 men from the Kurdish security services were sent out to prevent the disruptions and many were in, “civilian clothing.” He went on to claim that 2 of his parties high-ranking members were subject to harassment in Erbil and that the faction lead for their Erbil branch was arrested. Komal along with the Gorran and the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) political parties pulled out of the KRG
last year with Gorran partnering up with the Patriot Union of Kurdistan.
The KRG’s official, Dindar Zebrani, said that many of the protestors were arrested at gatherings for not obtaining a permit by the government for the protest and a good amount of them had been charged for encouraging violence. While the right to protest is technically protected by law in Kurdistan, it is typically only respected when it serves the KRG’s interest.
A Minister for Parliament from Gorran, Ali Hama Salih, was beaten when he was attempting to garner support for the anti-government protests earlier this week. The attack took place in Shiladze, a village located in Duhok and hub of control for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) who’s party head, Nechirvan Idris Barzani, is Kurdistan’s current Prime Minister. Salih posted a video later which shows a group of men throwing rocks at his convoy upon entering Shiladze. He claimed to have called upon local Kurdish security forces but they did nothing to prevent it. He later posted on social media, “The security institutions carried out this [attack].”
During the protests in Shildaze a teacher was injured after he was struck in the face, a video later showing him covered in blood from a head wound. Another was injured in Duhok city when fights between protesters and riot police occurred. The teacher in Duhok has filed a complaint against the police department but a spokesman for the Duhok police has refuted the claims, stating that non of the officers had injured protesters and that 2 of their officers were wounded during the clashes.
The main goal of protesters is to obtain full salaries for health care employees and teachers. They began to pop up on March 19th throughout the region. The salary cutbacks were introduced by the KRG in 2016 to fee up funds for combating the Islamic State but have only gradually reduced the gap despite the conflicts resolution and financial stimulation from The United States as well as the Iraqi central government. The problem is also plagued by corruption as government officials continue to skim off the top of funds.
The whole wave of backlash erupted after money was sent directly from Iraq this month to pay government salaries but the garnishment of wages remained in place. Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s Prime Minister, has guaranteed several times that wages would be allocated t0 teachers and public health employees almost exclusively. Despite this, the KRG and Iraqi government have agreed to deal out the funds to all government employees equally and this has many of the later up in arms.
Feature Image Courtesy of By Dans (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons