Top Iraq Kurd leader offers to resign amid demos

Sulaimaniyah, April 20: A senior politician in Iraqi Kurdistan has criticised missing freedoms in the autonomous region and offered to step down from the party leadership, as new rallies Tuesday left seven hurt.

Near daily demonstrations in Sulaimaniyah province and the eponymous provincial capital, the region’s second largest city, have been calling for an end to official corruption and the resignation of the regional government.

“The current leadership of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is not able to go along with the new situation,” Kurdish regional prime minister Barham Saleh wrote in a letter to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a fellow Kurd.

“I am ready to resign from the leadership of the party in order to renew it and the political bureau,” Saleh said in his letter, a copy of which was seen by AFP.

“There have been mafia-style practices used against the free media in the region,” he said in an unprecedented attack by a party insider on the regional government.

“The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party must carry out a complete ministerial change and form a technocratic government,” he added, referring to the two main parties that have ruled the region for decades but that also stand accused by protesters of nepotism and corruption.

Meanwhile, protesters ignored a ruling by Kurdish authorities banning demonstrations from Tuesday.

Rallies in Sulaimaniyah left seven demonstrators injured, including one who suffered a gunshot wound, according to Raykot Hama Rashid, head of the city’s main hospital.

He said earlier that clashes between protesters and security forces on Sunday and Monday had left 95 people wounded, including 16 by bullets.

Parents of detained university students in Sulaimaniyah staged their own protest on Tuesday to demand news on the whereabouts of their children, but Kurdish security forces dispersed them by firing into the air and using sticks, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders on Tuesday condemned “the many cases of journalists being physically attacked or arrested while covering demonstrations” in cities across the Kurdish region.

“In some instances, live rounds have been used to fire indiscriminately on protesters and journalists. This is unacceptable,” the Paris-based watchdog said.

Protests in Iraq against poor supplies of basic services such as electricity and clean water grew after uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt toppled entrenched regimes in those countries and spread across the Arab world early this year.

Since then, protests have erupted in different parts of Iraq at least every week, especially in the Kurdish north.

But unlike the unrest and uprisings in other Arab countries, protesters in Iraq have not been demanding regime change, only reforms and better living conditions.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International urged Iraqi authorities to stop intimidation and the use of lethal force against peaceful protesters demanding reforms, jobs, better services and an end to corruption.