Although Iraqi Kurdistan’s power needs are met by the natural gas reserves in the area of Chamchamal, the people actually living in the area don’t see a lot of the benefits of their natural resources. Which is why a group of locals decided to protest this situation on January 2.
Then that evening unidentified individuals launched rocket propelled grenades at the gas-fuelled power plant that provides Iraqi Kurdistan with around half of all of its energy needs. The plant was not damaged.
Strangely, after the attack on the power plant, the energy being supplied to locals in Chamchamal increased. Households there had been getting about two hours of power after midnight. Now they were getting an uninterrupted supply between 10pm and 8am. Many locals said that there was a connection between their new electricity schedule and the rocket attacks.
On local social media, people started making jokes about the incident. “Fire a rocket and get 24 hours of free power,” read one witty comment. “This offer is valid until the government wakes up again.”
Patience has limits. You don’t know what to expect from angry people.
Some locals suggested that a local hero of sorts, Abdullah Kwekha Mubarak, was behind the rocket attack. Mubarak lived in Norway for almost a decade and returned to Iraqi Kurdistan in 2008; he more or less founded the Chamchamal branch of the Change movement, an opposition party that has campaigned on an anti-corruption platform in the past. In the recent past he has taken what may best be described as staunch positions.
Early in 2016 Mubarak threatened to cut a gas pipeline in Chamchamal if the area didn’t get a better power supply. On January 29, the gas pipeline going from the Khor Mor gas field to Erbil was bombed leading to a disruption in work at other power plants that rely on natural gas. The region’s Asayesh - the security forces responsible for internal regional security – said that the pipeline had been bombed with TNT explosive and that two meters were damaged. Mubarak denied any responsibility for the attack.
Nonetheless locals connect his name to any attacks on gas pipelines, describing the new electricity supply as “Abdullah power”.
“We invite Mubarak to launch a rocket from Chamchamal city toward the Erbil power plant,” wrote another wag on Facebook. “Maybe we will finally get 24 hours’ worth of electricity.”
All joking aside though, it is possible that this may well be the first manifestation of real violence in the Iraqi Kurdish region, coming after months of protest, financial crisis and locals believing that those in power pay their complaints no heed.
Mubarak told NIQASH that while he was all for demonstrations to show the government how angry locals were, he did not condone the destruction of gas pipelines.
“People are aware of their rights and they will not accept injustice,” he said. “But it is against our principles to resort to this kind of action.”
Latif Fatih Faraj, a local journalist, says that Chamchamal people, who have a reputation as tough fighters, are simply reacting to what they see as the injustice of the situation. “When the power plant was built, they were promised that they would benefit from it,” Faraj explains. “But those promises were not fulfilled. the electricity produced in Chamchamal is simply being sold onto other districts and this angers people.”
“The problem is that the Iraqi Kurdish authorities say they want to decentralize power,” adds the mayor of Chamchamal, Amanj Jabari. “But those who are actually in charge have a more centralized mentality. That is why they won’t respond to the demands of the people.”
The controversy over the rockets being fired at the power station has caused a lot of debate in Iraqi Kurdistan. Are the demands of the people of Chamchamal legitimate? Could they cut off the gas pipeline if they are pushed too far? Could they cut off the road and not allow oil tankers to pass?
There have been other incidents in Chamchamal too. Security cameras for traffic safety were shot out twice. Apparently, this happened because locals were angry that the security cameras cost a lot of money.
“Patience has limits,” Riwas Faik, an Iraqi Kurdish politician and member of the local Parliament's Industry, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told NIQASH. “You don’t know what to expect from angry people. They may resort to violence, they may not allow tankers to pass. They may stop the gas supply and they might even attack government buildings. If the government doesn’t try and find solutions to the problems that are upsetting people, things could get worse. People may turn to violence and direct confrontation may happen,” she cautions.