Thousands of people in Iraqi Kurdistan took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against unpaid civil service salaries, which they blamed on the central government in Baghdad. The demonstration, which occurred in the city of Dohuk, is a rare display of dissent in a region where activists often accuse local authorities of suppressing any form of protest.
Tensions have been simmering in the region following violent protests in the city of Kirkuk over the weekend, which resulted in the deaths of four people. Kirkuk has long been a disputed territory between Iraqi Kurdistan and federal authorities in Baghdad. The recent protests were sparked by reports that Iraq’s Prime Minister had ordered the handover of a security forces headquarters to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which used to occupy it.
The protesters in Dohuk expressed solidarity with their fellow Kurds in Kirkuk and vowed not to back down in the face of what they perceive as hostile policies from the Iraqi authorities. Many civil servants, like Massoud Mohamed, an administrator in a hospital, have not received their salaries for two months. Mohamed, along with others, believes that Baghdad is deliberately trying to weaken the Kurdistan region.
The financial woes faced by Iraqi Kurdistan can be traced back to a dispute with Baghdad and Turkey over oil exports. Previously, the region had independent funding from its oil exports, which partially covered civil service salaries. However, since the end of March, Iraqi Kurdistan has been deprived of this resource. In an agreement with Baghdad, Kurdish oil sales were supposed to pass through the federal government, and in exchange, 12.6 percent of the federal budget would be allocated to Iraqi Kurdistan.
Although Baghdad recently unblocked a package of 500 billion dinars (about $380 million) for the region’s salaries, the government of Iraqi Kurdistan claims that double that amount is needed each month. The ongoing financial crisis has put a strain on the region’s economy and has left many civil servants struggling to make ends meet.
The violence in Kirkuk has only added to the tensions between Iraqi Kurdistan and federal authorities. Arab and Turkmen demonstrators had staged a sit-in near the headquarters of the Iraqi security forces in Kirkuk province, protesting against the reported handover to the KDP. In response, Kurdish protesters attempted to reach the headquarters, resulting in a violent clash that claimed the lives of four Kurds.
The situation in Iraqi Kurdistan highlights the complex dynamics between the autonomous region and the central government in Baghdad. The dispute over oil exports and the allocation of funds has left many civil servants in a precarious position, with their salaries being delayed or unpaid. The recent protests in Dohuk and Kirkuk demonstrate the frustration and anger felt by the people of Iraqi Kurdistan, who are demanding their rights and fair treatment from the central government.
As tensions continue to escalate, it is crucial for both sides to engage in dialogue and find a resolution that addresses the financial concerns of Iraqi Kurdistan while ensuring stability and cooperation between the region and federal authorities. The livelihoods of thousands of civil servants are at stake, and their well-being should be a priority for all parties involved. Only through open communication and a commitment to finding common ground can a sustainable solution be reached.