Iraqi Kurds take to the streets for lack of funds

Kurdish protesters run away from tear gaz during a rally against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq. (Reuters)
Updated 19 December 2017

Iraqi Kurds take to the streets for lack of funds

BAGHDAD: Thousands of Iraqi Kurds took to the streets in the Kurdish region on Monday to protest the lack of funds and basic services. The demonstrators also demanded the resignation of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), eye witnesses and officials told Arab News.

Riots broke out when protesters set fire to a number of government buildings and party headquarters in Sulaimaniyah, including the offices of the two ruling parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Police opened fire, using tear gas to disperse demonstrators. Scores were injured in multiple demonstrations in Irbil and Sulaimaniyah, local officials told Arab News.

TV footage, circulated by several Kurdish channels, showed demonstrators carrying small white banners with one word written in red "Go"; others carried red cards. Other footage showed dozens of jubilant protesters gathered in front of a KDP headquarters engulfed in flames.

Kurdish security services are on high alert as the demonstrations are expected to spread to other areas within the region, officials said.

"People are protesting delays in payment of their salaries which have not been paid for months; protesters are also angry about the absence of basic services in the region," Ghayath Al-Suraji, a senior PUK leader in Kurdistan, told Arab News.

"The (Kurdish) region has been facing a serious financial crisis due to the disagreement between Baghdad and Kurdistan," Al-Suraji said.

Regional sources told Arab News that government officials had only received 25 percent of their salaries for the past two years. In addition, basic daily services, specifically electricity and fuel supplies, have been reduced. These punitive measures were imposed by Baghdad in response to the controversial referendum on independence by the KRG in late September and have worsened the situation, officials said.

Baghdad has banned international flights to and from regional airports and has coordinated with Iran and Turkey to close border crossings into and out of Kurdistan. The revenues from the internal airports and the smuggling of oil seized by the KRG after 2014 were the backbone of the region's economy.

"The KRG has not paid even a penny to government employees in the region for three months," a senior Kurdish official told Arab News.

"The punitive measures (taken by Baghdad) have divided the oil exports of the region in half and the shutdown of the border crossings has deprived the region of the fuel which is vital for life in this mountainous area," the official said. "We were exporting crude oil to Turkey and Iran via the main pipeline network, but now we are exporting it through tankers which means decreased quantities and increased expenses."

Iraq lays cornerstone to rebuild iconic Mosul mosque

Updated 2 min 15 sec ago

Iraq lays cornerstone to rebuild iconic Mosul mosque

  • More than a year after Daesh lost control of Mosul, the iconic mosque still lies in ruins
  • In June 2014, it became infamous as the site where Baghdadi declared Daeh’s “caliphate” just days after the extremists seized Mosul in a lightning assault

MOSUL: Iraqis on Sunday laid the cornerstone in rebuilding Mosul’s Al-Nuri mosque and leaning minaret, national emblems destroyed last year in the ferocious battle against the Daesh group.
The famed 12th century mosque and minaret, dubbed Al-Hadba or “the hunchback,” hosted Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s only public appearance as Daesh chief, when he declared a self-styled “caliphate” after the extremists swept into Mosul in 2014.
The structures were ravaged three years later in the final, most brutal stages of the months-long fight to rid Iraq’s second city of Daesh.
On Sunday, dozens of government officials, religious figures, United Nations representatives and European ambassadors gathered in the large square in front of the battered mosque to see the foundation laid.
Abu Bakr Kenaan, the head of Sunni Muslim endowments in Nineveh province, set down the stone in a simple ceremony.
It bore a black Arabic inscription: “This cornerstone for the rebuilding and restoration of the Al-Hadba minaret and the Great Al-Nuri Mosque was laid on December 16, 2018.”
More than a year after Daesh lost control of Mosul, the iconic mosque still lies in ruins. The stone gate leading up to its courtyard and the greenish dome now covered in graffiti are virtually the only parts still erect.
All that is left of the minaret is part of its rectangular base, the rest of it sheared off by fighting.
Kenaan told AFP remnants of the minaret would be preserved, while other parts of the mosque would be built afresh, along with a museum about its history and adjacent homes.
The five-year project will be financed by a $50.4 million (44.6 million euro) donation from the United Arab Emirates.
The first year will focus on documenting and clearing the site, while the next four years will see the physical restoration, the UN’s heritage agency UNESCO has said.
The mosque’s destruction “was a moment of horror and despair,” said UNESCO Iraq representative Louise Haxthausen.
“Today as we lay the foundation stone of the Nuri mosque, we are starting a journey of physical reconstruction,” she told those gathered.
The mosque takes its name from Nureddin Al-Zinki, who ordered it built in 1172 after unifying Syria and parts of northern Iraq.
Its cylindrical minaret, which featured several levels of ornamental brickwork capped by a small white dome, started listing centuries ago.
It is featured on Iraq’s 10,000-dinar banknote and gave its name to countless restaurants, companies and even sports clubs.
But in June 2014, it became infamous as the site where Baghdadi declared Daeh’s “caliphate” just days after the extremists seized Mosul in a lightning assault.
That capture prompted three years of ferocious fighting to wrest back Mosul and other Iraqi cities overrun by Daesh.
In June 2017, as Iraqi forces closed in on a shrinking Daesh-held pocket in Mosul’s Old City, the extremists blew up both the Al-Nuri mosque and its leaning minaret.
Daesh itself blamed a US-led strike for the destruction.
When the rest of the Old City fell back under state control, Iraqi forces celebrated at the mosque, holding Daesh’s black flag upside down and tauntingly calling out, “Where is Baghdadi?“