Iraqi-Kurdish authorities are complicit in the killing of civilians

Political repression has largely increased in Iraqi Kurdistan, with innocent civilians repeatedly shot dead for protesting against corruption and unemployment. Until ruling parties are held to account, this trend is likely to continue.

Families of protesters shot dead by ruling party militias in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq have denounced the lack of justice for their loved ones.

“They killed my son, he was just an innocent shepherd coming back from herding his sheep. He wasn’t a protester. He said to me ‘I’m just going to go get my hair cut’ and he didn’t never came back.” These are the heartbreaking words of the mother of Adham Yahya Ahmed, a 26-year-old Kurdish boy killed on December 7, 2020 in Chamchamal during anti-government protests. He was one of eight killed that day by ruling party militiamen.

Since the Arab Spring, protests have erupted in Iraqi Kurdistan (IKR) against corruption, poor public services and targeted killings of activists and journalists. Authorities used deadly means to limit peaceful protests, with dozens dying in the process.

“The law and the judiciary are not sovereign [in Iraqi Kurdistan]the two parties in power do what they want”

Relatives of the deceased said The new Arabic that to date none of those who opened fire on their sons have been arrested.

Defense lawyers for the victims pointed out that the two ruling Kurdish parties, the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) chose to intervene violently in the region’s judicial system, preventing thus the courts to bring the killers to justice.

“My brother was shot in the chest 15 meters away by gunmen outside the PDK headquarters in Chamchamal. We filed a complaint against PDK officials and guards who shot my brother and others civilians, so far none of the perpetrators have been arrested, despite arrest warrants,” said Halat, Adham’s brother, The new Arabic when we visited their house.

Dressed in black, Adham’s grieving mother burst into tears when she saw the clothes her son was last wearing on the day of his murder. [photo credit: Dana Taib Memny]

“This government is incapable. If it had been competent at all, it would have arrested the killers of my son. Instead, they [the KRG’s ruling parties] harbor them with impunity. It causes untold suffering,” said Rezan Aziz Majeed, Adham’s mother. The new Arabic.

The families also pointed out that, behind closed doors, the authors asked them to achieve tribal reconciliations outside the courts, but the families refused.

The KDP denied killing Adham or opening fire on protesters. The new Arabic contacted the Chamchamal police director, but the official declined to speak about Adham’s case, saying he was not authorized by the KRG to speak to the press.

Thousands of Kurds took part in protests in the provinces of Sulaimaniyah, Erbil, Halabja and Duhok against corruption, unpaid wages and high unemployment rates, but the peaceful protests turned violent, militiamen from the ruling parties of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) responding with live ammunition.

Five Kurdish protesters were killed by Kurdish forces on December 12, 2017 in the town of Rania in Sulaymaniyah.

While the KDP is the absolute ruler in Duhok and Erbil, the PUK is the dominant ruler in Sulaimaniyah and Halabja provinces. The two sides, which fought each other from 1994 to 1998, have separate peshmerga and security forces.

Majeed and Halat said it was difficult to bring the perpetrators to justice due to the “politicization of the judicial system” and the “impunity of the Kurdish authorities”.

Harem Ali, a 13-year-old student from Said Sadiq, 60 kilometers southeast of the city of Sulaymaniyah, was also killed during a protest on December 8, 2020.

“Although Harem was still young, he suffered from the oppression committed by the PUK and the KDP, so he decided to take part in the demonstration. He was martyred by a live ammunition, shot in the back,” said Hamn Ali, brother of Harem. The new Arabic via WhatsApp. “So far, the trial of my brother’s killers has been deliberately suspended.”

“The law and the judiciary are not sovereign [in Iraqi Kurdistan], the two parties in power do what they want. Since we are poor and the killers are affiliated with their parties, there is no need to bring them to justice.”

Despite this, Nariman Talib, KRG Justice Ministry spokesman, said The new Arabic that the judicial system of Iraqi Kurdistan remains independent and is governed by the “independent authority of the judicial council of the region”.

“Every day the government doesn’t arrest my son’s killers is like another death for me,” Rezan Aziz Majeed, Adham’s mother, told The New Arab. [photo credit: Dana Taib Memny]

The new Arabic also contacted the media service of the IKR Judicial Council, but were unavailable for comment.

Shivan Mohammed Shukur, 21, a third-year history student at Kalar Education College, was shot dead on January 10, 2020 during a protest in Kifiri town, Sulaimaniyah province.

Another brother of Shivan was also injured on the same day. His family filed a complaint against Major General Haji Osman, commander of Brigade 136, Unit 70 of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces which were deployed in the city to curb the protests.

Unit 70 is affiliated with the PUK and Unit 80 is affiliated with the KDP. Although both forces are apparently led by the KRG’s Peshmerga Ministry, they take orders from their partisan commanders. The two parties often accuse each other of being behind the protesters.

Two years later, after the case was filed in Kifiri court, the commander and six of his personal guards surrendered to police forces on August 9 to stand trial under Article 406 of the Iraqi penal code.

If they plead guilty, they risk life imprisonment or the death penalty.

“Unfortunately, all of the protesters’ cases were settled out of court. The main reason for this is the author’s ties to the ruling parties,” said Farman Hasan, a pro bono lawyer who defends the families. The New Arab.

All the cases share a common theme: the courts can’t find the killers. But it is a weak pretext since each of the killers is well known to the Kurdish authorities and can easily find them by doing the necessary research.”

Farman clarified that as the courts in the IKR are under the hegemony of the ruling parties, the courts too often fail in their duties. “Local KRG administrations, police and other investigative bodies should cooperate with the courts, but unfortunately they respond coldly, therefore the killers are not easily tracked down or arrested.”

Dana Taib Menmy is the Iraqi correspondent for New Arab, writing on politics, society, human rights, security and minorities.

Follow him on Twitter: @danataibmenmy

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