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Residents, public servants protest for fifth consecutive day in Sulaimani’s towns, cities (Videos)

Against deteriorating services, salary cuts and delays ​
A number of protesters including public sector employees block Kirkuk-Sulaimani highway against deteriorating living conditions, salary delays and cuts demanding employment in the factories in the area in Bazian sub-district west of Sulaimani, Kurdistan Region, Iraq on December 6, 2020. (Photo Credit: NRT Digital Media)
2020-12-06

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SULAIMANI — Residents and public sector workers on Sunday (December 6) protested deteriorating economic conditions, lack of public services, and salary delays and cuts in cities and towns in Sulaimani governorate for the fifth day in a row.

In Piramagrun sub-district, northwest of Sulaimani city, protesters blocked the Dukan-Sulaimani highway for the second day in a row. Residents in Takya sub-district near Chamchamal also held demonstrations calling for improvements to basic public services, like water and electricity.

NRT Digital Media reporter Ehsan Sabr said that an NRT reporting team was barred from entering Piramagrun town at a security checkpoint, which prevented them from covering the demonstration live.

However, witnesses told NRT that the security forces fired tear gas at the protesters.

During the demonstration, protesters set fire to the local headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and gathered at the Kurdistan Democratic Party's (KDP) offices.

Videos circulating on social media of the protest appeared to contain the sounds of live bullets being fired near the KDP office.

Head of Sulaimani Emergency Center Directorate Saman Nadr told NRT Digital Media that a policeman was wounded during the Piramagrun protest and transferred to Shar Hospital in Sulaimani city for treatment.  

NRT Digital Media reporter in Ranya district Sabr Abdulla reported that large numbers of security forces had been deployed in the city’s main bazaar and prevented residents from protesting there. There were additional reports that the security forces had arrested protest organizers in the city.

In Bazian sub-district east of Sulaimani, Kirkuk-Sulaimani highway was blocked by a number of protesters overnight calling for job opportunities within the factories in the area.

The Kurdistan Region Security Council said in a statement that the security forces have been given absolute power to implement their “legal duties". 

“We are calling all the sides to keep security and tranquility because the tradition of torching political parties’ headquarters and government institutions will not secure the legitimate rights of the people,” it said.“The security forces will not let the tranquility and movement of people’s business and lives be disrupted and the protection of the government institutions and the political headquarters are the main tasks of the security forces.”

This round of mass protests began on Wednesday when thousands of civil servants, teachers, and local residents gathered in Sulaimani's main bazaar to voice their anger about the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) handling of deteriorating economic conditions and its failure to pay public sector salaries in full or on time. A second day of protests in the city on Thursday was broken up by the local security forces, which left in at least 25 people wounded.

 

STATE OF ERBIL-BAGHDAD NEGOTIATIONS

According to Iraqi state-run newspaper al-Sabah, the KRG and the federal government have reached a “fundamental agreement” regarding the provision of the public sector salaries in the Kurdistan Region. As part of the agreement, the KRG is supposed to submit 250,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) to the federal State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO) along with half of the revenues collected at the border crossings. In return, it will receive a 12.67 budget share, which amounts to an expected 900 billion dinars ($756 million) per month.

The agreement is similar to the one reached during the tenure of former Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi and outlined in the 2019 Federal Budget Law. The agreement will be formalized in the 2021 Federal Budget Law, which needs to be approved by the Council of Representatives, according to the newspaper.

On Saturday, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani met with the government’s High-level Committee on Baghdad Relations to discuss the latest developments regarding negotiations with the federal government. 

“Prime Minister Barzani stressed the government will continue to defend the Kurdistan Region’s financial entitlements, which are enshrined in the Iraqi constitution,” the KRG said in a statement, saying that the KRG “is yet to receive its share of the federal budget for the months of May, June, July, and October, which continues to weaken political stability and unity in the country.”

The KRG also said that negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad have now progressed positively to a mutual understanding on the draft 2021 budget bill.

In April, the federal government cut off all budget transfers to the KRG after the latter failed to send any of the 250,000 barrels of oil per day that it is required to under the 2019 Federal Budget Law. The move placed a heavy burden on the cash-strapped KRG, which was unable to pay its civil servants on time and full over the months.

The two sides reached a temporary agreement in early August where Baghdad would send 320 billion Iraqi dinars ($269 million), in return for bringing customs procedures at the Region’s international border crossings under federal control.

KRG last paid public sector salaries on October 15 with an eighteen percent cut. Salaries paid in July and August were slashed by twenty-one percent, the delayed October salary will be cut by the same amount.

(NRT Digital Media)

*This story was updated at 11:45 p.m. EBL time