Baghdad, Iraq – Iraqi President Barham Salih called for an end to “corruption, looting, looting and smuggling” after a sixth day of protests in the Kurdish region of Sulaymaniyah province in northern Iraq.
Protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against political leadership, high unemployment and lack of public services.
They also demanded that their salaries be paid in full.
Local media reported that at least six protesters were killed in clashes with security forces.
“Violence is not a solution to meet the legitimate demands of citizens,” President Salih said in his statement on Tuesday.
“The will and demands of peaceful protesters must be respected. We demand that the security forces behave in accordance with the law and refrain from the use of violence. “
Internet access was temporarily limited to just 48% of its regular level on Monday evening, according to the Netblocks Internet Observatory, while local television channel NRT News was taken off the air.
Last week, demonstrators set fire to several government buildings, including offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK) and the Kurdistan Patriotic Union (PUK), which they accuse of corruption.
In a series of tweets on Monday, Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said the current economic crisis was forced on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) “by external events”.
“Although the KRG has shown all the willingness and flexibility possible in seeking a settlement within this framework, the federal government has yet to release our fair share of the budget,” Barzani wrote.
However, not everyone blames Baghdad for the problems.
“The Iraqi government is not responsible for Kurdistan’s salary,” said Hiwa, 30, a protester from Chamchamal, a town west of Sulaymaniyah.
Hiwa, a KRG employee, joined protesters in his hometown on Monday to demand his full salary, which he said was cut in half, leaving his house financially strained.
‘Social contract broken’
On Tuesday, the main Kurdish parties meet in Erbil to discuss the wage delays.
Protests in the Kurdish region of Iraq, the semi-autonomous enclave, have taken place over the years.
“The protests are likely to reappear over the same issues that sparked them over the past decade,” Shivan Fazil, researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told Al Jazeera.
“The social contract is broken, [and the] KRG is no longer able to fulfill its end of the market as it once did, providing jobs and services in exchange for consent.
In October 2015, five people were killed in a wave of similar protests north of Sulaymaniyah. Protests resumed in 2016 and 2017 due to unpaid wages.
“Historically, since 2011, residents of the Iraqi Kurdistan region have protested against corruption, along with calls for transparency and accountability, and, more recently, against austerity measures, late payments and cuts in the wages of public sector employees as well as poor governance, ”Fazil said.
“We can see that solutions are unlikely, which means the protests will return. The impact of COVID-19 and the KRG’s response, coupled with budgetary conflicts and low oil prices, will only exacerbate the problems that have strained state-society relations.