A curfew was lifted in the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk on Sunday, following protests that led to the deaths of four people, according to authorities.
Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani had imposed the curfew on Saturday evening after rival demonstrations between Kurdish residents and Turkmen and Arab groups spiraled into violent clashes, despite the presence of security forces.
Tensions had escalated for almost a week in the northern city, which has long been a point of dispute between the federal government in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan region. "The situation is now stable throughout the city," General Kawa Gharib, the police chief in Kirkuk, told AFP.
Sudani has ordered the establishment of a commission to investigate the incident. According to the most recent information released on Sunday by local police spokesman Amir Shwani, four Kurds were killed and 15 people were wounded during the clashes on Saturday. At least three of the victims were shot dead; however, it remains unclear who is responsible for their deaths.
Security forces had been positioned between the rival groups and had to fire warning shots to disperse Kurdish demonstrators, an AFP correspondent reported.
Arab and Turkmen protesters had initiated a sit-in near the headquarters of the Iraqi security forces in Kirkuk province on August 28. The sit-in was reportedly in response to media claims that Sudani had ordered the facility to be handed over to KDP.
Kurdish protesters attempted to approach the headquarters on Saturday, leading to a rapid deterioration of the situation. On Sunday morning, Kirkuk's top security official, General Jabbar Naeema Al-Taee, stated that the disputed building was "under the control of the army" and that the sit-in had ended.
The KDP and Kurdish peshmerga forces had controlled Kirkuk, a key oil-producing region in northern Iraq, since 2014. However, they were ousted by federal troops and pro-Iran militias in autumn 2017 amid tensions over a referendum on Kurdish independence.
3. September 2023 12:53
First person account of last night's protest by a Kirkuk Now correspondent
Almost 90% of those who were there were residents of the Rahimawa neighborhood. Their faces were not strange, and I saw most of them daily. In general, they were street vendors and students, and among them were also affiliated with the Peshmerga. Most of them were ordinary people whom do not have strong affiliations with the parties. Rather, they were affected or dissatisfied with the closure of the Kirkuk-Erbil road, but some of them fell under the influence of political and ethnic chants.
Before noon today, September 2nd, I knew that a demonstration would take place in the Rahimawa neighborhood of Kirkuk. I knew some of the organizers of the demonstration, two of whom were already affected by the cut off of the Kirkuk-Erbil road. Expectations were that the demonstration would last
3. September 2023 12:48
Late Saturday night, PUK leader Bafel Talabani received a phone call from Sudan. According to a statement released by Talabani's office, both leaders agreed to launch investigations into the causes behind the unrest and the killing and injuring of several Kurdish youths.
Talabani stressed the importance of maintaining harmony and coexistence in the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk. He urged Prime Minister Sudani to take swift and necessary actions to prevent further escalation of the volatile situation. Specifically, Talabani called on Sudani to ensure that those who opened fire against Kurdish demonstrators be brought to justice.
The death toll in the city rose after three more Kurdish protesters died in the hospital from bullet wounds, bringing the total to four killed. At least fourteen others were wounded.
Readout from the PUK leader's office
Bafel Jalal Talabani, President of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), received a phone call from Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia' Al-Sudani.
The two spoke about the situation in Kirkuk and highlighted the necessity for quick action to restore normalcy to the city. They agreed to look into what led to the skirmishes, which resulted in the deaths and injuries of a number of Kurdish adolescents.
President Bafel emphasized the necessity for Kirkuk to remain united and peaceful during the call, and he urged the Iraqi Prime Minister to take all necessary precautions to thwart any attempts to divide the city and jeopardize the lives of its residents. He also emphasized that justice must be served on those who injured and martyred Kurdish youths.
Prime Minister Sudani is set to meet with members of parliament today to discuss the volatile situation in Kirkuk. "We call for an investigation into the recent incidents and demand accountability for those who have been negligent in their duties," said Sabah Habib, a deputy in the Iraqi parliament. The MP emphasized that those affected should be compensated and considered martyrs if they were killed during the demonstrations.
Four people were killed and over 20 injured in recent incidents, including confrontations between protesters and security forces. Police spokesman Lieutenant Amir Shwani confirmed that four were killed and 15 others injured in yesterday's demonstrations. The MPs plan to discuss measures to address the ongoing tension, including compensating those affected by the violence.
Najwa Kakeyi MP (KDP) also spoke out. "We demand accountability for those who instigated the riots and killings over the past few days. The acting governor is one of those who has neglected his duties" she told Rudaw,
3. September 2023 11:55
Authorities lifted the 24-hour curfew and reopened the main highway into the city on Sunday morning, according to local police. Violence had erupted in the multi-ethnic city following days of protests that blocked the Erbil-Kirkuk highway.
The clashes intensified after Arab and Turkmen demonstrators staged a sit-in near the headquarters of the Iraqi military's Joint Operations Command (JOC). They were protesting an order from Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani to evacuate the headquarters and two other buildings, thereby allowing the KDP to return to its offices in Kirkuk. Protesters, reportedly from the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, had set up tents near the JOC headquarters since last week, effectively blocking the highway and causing severe disruptions.
3. September 2023 11:33
Roundup of responses by Kurdish politicians to Kirkuk protests and clashes
KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani
Prime Minister Masrour Barzani strongly condemned the incidents in Kirkuk as being "against democratic values and peaceful coexistence." He expressed deep sympathy and strong denouncement of the chauvinistic attacks leading to the death and injury of several Kurdish citizens. Barzani called on Prime Minister Sudani to intervene immediately to protect lives, public property, and demonstrators. "We cannot allow irresponsible individuals to escalate and exacerbate the situation," he stated. He urged Kurdish citizens in Kirkuk to exercise restraint and refrain from violence. Additionally, he called upon the Arab and Turkmen populations in Kirkuk to resist the influences of outsiders aiming to destabilize the city.
Nechirvan Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region
President Nechirvan Barzani pointed out that the blockade of the Erbil-Kirkuk highway had been in place for six days and labeled it as "illegal." He expressed disappointment that the Kirkuk administration had not yet addressed the issue, which had adversely affected the lives of the city's residents. He said the situation turned worse when Kurdish citizens protested against the blockade and were met with violence, leading to the death of a young man and injuries to others. He strongly condemned the use of live ammunition against civilian demonstrators and stated that "inciting chaos in Kirkuk poses a serious threat to coexistence, security, and stability." Barzani called on the relevant parties in the Federal Iraqi Government to take immediate action, stressing that it's the duty of security forces to protect all communities in Kirkuk without discrimination.
PUK leader Bafel Talabani
Bafel Talabani expressed his deep concern about the rising tensions in Kirkuk, specifically pointing to the death of a Kurdish youth and the injury of several others as particularly troubling. "You, the proud people of Kirkuk, deserve unbounded respect and meaningful service, not to be used to solve political problems or sacrificed for personal benefit," he stated. Talabani emphasized that those responsible for the death and injuries must be brought to justice.
He called upon all parties involved, particularly the Iraqi government, to prevent further bloodshed and to bring an immediate end to the current situation. Talabani urged everyone to approach the issue with the utmost responsibility to avoid sowing discord and divisiveness among the diverse ethnic groups and communities in Kirkuk.
Masoud Barzani, KDP leader and former president of the Kurdistan Region
Masoud Barzani focused on the roadblocks that had disrupted normal life between Erbil and Kirkuk, accusing the perpetrators of creating an unstable and dangerous situation for the residents.
He criticized the inactivity of the security forces and Kirkuk police, stating that they had not prevented these disruptions. "But today, they have used violence and brutality against the Kurdish youth of Kirkuk and shed the blood of Kurdish youth.
This type of behavior is in no way acceptable and will have very bad consequences," he warned. Barzani emphasized that the inaction by security forces in the face of disruptions but quick use of force against protesters is unacceptable and warned that the shedding of Kurdish blood will have a high cost.
3. September 2023 11:19
What Happened: Overnight protests and clashes in Kirkuk result in deaths and injuries
The multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk has been rocked by protests and violent clashes, resulting in at least three deaths and multiple injuries. The events escalated after Kurdish protesters took to the streets on Saturday, objecting to the closure of the Kirkuk-Erbil road by some Arabs and Turkmens.
The protests came on the heels of an Iraqi government decision to hand over the headquarters of the Joint Operations Command in Shoraw neighborhood, formerly a main office of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), back to the party. The KDP insists that this headquarters is rightfully theirs, and according toMassoud Mullah Parwez, head of the party's Kirkuk branch, the decision by Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi armed forces, reached Kirkuk 20 days ago.
This decision sparked a sit-in and road blockade by Arab and Turkmen demonstrators, primarily opposing the KDP's return to the building. These groups have accused the KDP of committing violence against Kirkuk residents, including Arabs, during the period they were in control of the headquarters.
Kurdish demonstrators set fire to a street and blocked the road in protest of the closure of the Kirkuk-Erbil road. Tensions reached a boiling point when "the Kurdish demonstrators were shot at, several vehicles were burned and their windshields were broken."
Police and hospital sources report that three Kurdish protesters were killed—two were shot in the chest and one in the head. Among the injured, the casualties include Kurds, Arabs, and three members of the security forces. Injuries were caused by gunfire, stones, or glass.
In response to escalating tensions, Prime Minister Sudani ordered a curfew in the city and called for a commission of inquiry into the incident. His office has pledged that those responsible would be held accountable.
Ethnic tensions in Kirkuk
Kirkuk, an oil-rich city with an ethnically diverse population of Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Arabs, and Turkmens, has long been a hotbed for ethnic and political strife. These recent events underscore the complexity and volatility of the city's social fabric.
The prime minister and community leaders have called on all parties to play their part in preventing strife and preserving stability in the region.