The Kurdish city of Raniya in northern Iraq has special significance for locals there. It was one of the first urban settlements to rise up against former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein in 1991 - so although only around 15,000 people live there, the city is seen as one of the building blocks of the current semi-autonomous Kurdish region. It is sometimes called “the gateway of the uprising”.
Recently the citizens of Raniya have been protesting again. During December’s anti-government protests, that expressed dissatisfaction with the current ruling elites, with corruption and with a lack of state salaries, Raniya’s protests turned particularly violent, with several deaths.
Raniya’s protests, from around December 18, 2017, indicated the level of dissatisfaction that locals are feeling. “If we had known you would rule us like this, we would never have rebelled against Saddam Hussein”: Signs like this at protests were not uncommon.
During the protests, the demonstrators attacked the headquarters of both of the region’s two leading parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK. They even vandalized and set fire to the offices of political parties such as the Change movement and the Islamic parties, usually seen as opposition parties in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“At first the demonstrations were quiet,” says Yassin Abdallah, who was one of the organizers. “But then when officials simply ignored the protests, things started to get violent.”
The protests continued for five days. Participants begin throwing rocks at the security forces protecting the party offices. One local military man, who wished to be known only by his initials, A.B., told NIQASH that he and his colleagues were attacked without provocation. “The demonstrators were violent,” he says. “I was injured by the rocks they were throwing.”
A.B. did not deny that the security forces fired their guns at the protestors.
This resulted in the injuries of around 85 people and two deaths, including one young man, Mohammed Taha, who had just been accepted at a local university a few days before the protests broke out. His grieving father told NIQASH he was trying to press charges.
After a large force of Iraqi Kurdish military and local police were deployed to the restive town, there were multiple arrests, including that of Abdallah.
“They arrested me and blindfolded me and tortured me,” he told NIQASH. “Then they took me to Sulaymaniyah [a major city nearby] but I was released after two days. The forces that arrested me did not have an arrest warrant from the court,” he explained.
Raniya’s mayor, Hiwa Qarani, confirms that around 80 people were arrested after the demonstrations. However, he argued, “violence does not serve the demands of the protestors.”