ERBIL-Hewler, Kurdistan region ‘Iraq’,— Protesters attacked several offices of the main political party in Iraq’s Kurdish north on Saturday in a third day of violent unrest that threatens to destabilize the region at a time of war with Islamic State militants.
The demonstrations that began on Oct. 1 initially targeted the autonomous region’s government, which many Kurds blame for an economic crisis that has left them struggling to pay the bills.
But the anger took a partisan turn on Friday when protesters in the city of Qaladize torched an office of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) after at least one demonstrator was killed.
The region’s president, Massoud Barzani, called for calm but young men blocked a main road in the town of Said Sadiq on Saturday and pelted a KDP building with stones, said Farouq Abd al-Karim, a local party member who was present.
Live footage from Said Sadiq broadcast on Kurdish channel NRT showed riot police holding back protesters, some of whom wielded slingshots. Shops were shuttered and a tire burned in the street.
There were also protests in the city of Sulaimani and the town of Kalar, where demonstrators threw stones at a KDP office.
The pattern of unrest reflects long-running political divisions in the autonomous region of three provinces that have been exacerbated by a power struggle over the presidency of Barzani, who is also head of the KDP.
Sulaimani province, where the protests are taking place is dominated by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party and former opposition movement Gorran, which are seeking to weaken the KDP’s grip on power.
In Erbil and Duhok provinces, where the KDP is strong, security was tightened around offices of the PUK and Gorran to avert any retaliatory attacks.
The KDP, Gorran, PUK and two of the region’s other parties have been wrangling over the terms of an extension of Barzani’s tenure since it expired on Aug. 20.
The stalemate has polarized Kurdish politics and compounded an economic crisis that began in early 2014 when Baghdad slashed funds to the region. A drop in oil prices has pushed the region further towards bankruptcy.
Massoud Barzani has led Kurdistan region as president from 2005 for two executive terms and his last term was extended in 2013 by ruling KDP and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) for two more years on the condition that he can no longer run as president.
Iraqi Kurdistan parliament speaker, Yousif Mohammed Sadiq said in August “Extending Barzani term is against the laws in Kurdistan. Law No. 19 passed in 2013 … clearly says the president’s term ends on Aug. 19 and cannot be extended,” Sadiq added.
Political risk analyst Kirk Sowell said in August that “If it were a stable democratic system in Kurdistan, they would just vote him (Barzani) out of office. But it’s not,”
In April 2014, Massoud Barzani has sets condition to leave power, he told Sky News Arabic that he was ready to leave power only if the Kurdish enclave parties reach an agreement over the way to govern Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan.