Photo: Mala Star’s Facebook page.

Sulaymaniyah shootout involving lawmaker and CEO leaves two wounded

Heavy gunfire erupted in a Sulaymaniyah housing project on Sunday, involving guards of Hawre Mala Star, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) member of Kurdistan’s regional parliament, and the CEO of South Kurdistan Group, owner of the project situated in the city’s northern area. The incident left two injured, with conflicting accounts of the events that unfolded. 

Two individuals, believed to be Mala Star’s guards, were injured in the confrontation with the project’s security staff. Following the incident, South Kurdistan Group issued a statement accusing Mala Star of attempting to abduct their CEO, Saman Haji Fayaq, during the raid on Shary Daik. Although Fayaq maintained a relatively low profile until this event, it is suggested that his family and company may have had connections with PUK during the late leader Jalal Talabani’s time in charge. Conducting business in Kurdistan often requires links to high-ranking officials. 

Hawre Mala Star has familial ties to influential PUK figures, being the son-in-law of Mala Bakhtiar, a high-ranking party official, and the brother-in-law of Bafel Talabani, the PUK’s president (and son of Jalal Talabani). 

Shary Daik, described by the company as a luxurious settlement project, is situated in an impressive location within Sulaymaniyah City, near the Malik Mahmood ring road. The development faces Mount Goizha and is adjacent to Chaviland, the largest amusement park in Iraq. South Kurdistan Group claims that Mala Star’s guards raided the project following initial threats made by the MP against their CEO over the phone and that he requested a discount on his apartment purchase deal. 

In response to the incident, the PUK-controlled Sulaymaniyah security forces directorate (Asayish) released a statement, characterizing the shooting as a dispute between “some people” over a “social issue.” The statement confirmed that Asayish forces detained the gunmen from both parties involved and that the investigation is ongoing. 

A day after the incident, Mala Star held a press conference, accusing the company of plotting an assassination attempt due to a disagreement over his apartment purchase. He denied asking for a discount and presented what he claimed were documents supporting his position. The MP hinted that some of the gunmen were professionals, allegedly directed by his fellow party members to target him and his guards. He noted that one injured individual is in critical condition. 

Hawre Mala Star told NRT English that his suspicion stemmed from the company’s unlikely access to such professional gunmen. “There are rumours that some individuals within my own party, whose identities remain unconfirmed, may be involved in this because the [South Kurdistan] company isn’t a security firm.” He also added that he is currently investigating the matter and will publish any findings if it turns out his party was behind the incident. 

Sulaymaniyah has been a battleground for social, economic, and political disputes in recent years. Between 2021 and 2022, five politically-motivated assassinations took place in the city.  

The city is known to grapple with security issues, with clashes occurring between various forces, particularly those closely connected to politicians. It is not uncommon for politicians and officials in the region to maintain their own militias and specialized armed forces.  

Exerting influence, both hard and soft, is an increasingly pressing issue in the region, with land corruption and failed investment projects widespread in Sulaymaniyah and the rest of the country. 

In the aftermath of the shooting, the Kurdistan Investors’ Union issued a striking statement accusing Mala Star of “threatening one of its investors” and “using his influence with Bafel Talabani to orchestrate raids and attacks on people.” However, the same union later released a second statement, entirely retracting its initial claims. 

Speculation on Kurdish social media suggested that the retraction and re-issue were due to threats from PUK officials.  

NRT English reached out to Yasin Mahmoud, head of the Union in Sulaymaniyah, to verify the authenticity of each statement. He maintained that the initial statement was fabricated by a former MP to “incite violence and hate,” without naming the individual. Mahmoud emphasized, “We are a non-governmental organization; it is not our position to attack any person or be involved in these matters.” 

NRT English also spoke with Balanbo Mohammed, a PUK MP and member of the Internal and Security Committee in Kurdistan’s regional parliament, about any parliamentary investigation into the shooting. He emphasized that no one is above the law and that if Mala Star is found guilty, he should be removed from his position and expelled from his party. 

Mohammed added, “Parliamentary immunity cannot protect him if he is found guilty of trespassing and attacking citizens.”