Religious tension turns violent in Iraqi Kurdistan

In the northern Iraqi Kurdish city of Zakho, a group of people attacked shops selling alcohol, beauty salons, hotels, and a massage parlour. In response, pro-government crowds all across the region attacked the offices of the Kurdistan Islamic Union political party in retaliation.

More specific details of the chronology of events, and the prescription of responsibility, is being hotly debated. But subsequent to the initial riots, crowds attacked the offices of the Kurdistan Islamic Union in nearby Duhok, and as far away as the south-eastern city of Sulaymaniyah. Scores have been injured.

Zakho is historically a very plural city, which until recent decades had large populations of Jews and Christians, which have since migrated to other parts of Iraq or abroad.

The Kurdistan Islamic Union has a very strong presence in the northern Kurdish cities. However, the area is also the traditional stronghold of the ruling secular-nationalist Kurdistan Democrat Party, or KDP, of Kurdish President Massoud Barzani.

Images broadcast on local media of Qurans being burnt along with the Islamic party offices, are not going down well with the devout of the region.

Behind me you can see the Kurdistan Islamic Union headquarters in Erbil, which has thankfully not suffered from any of the attacks or arson, as have its other offices across Kurdistan. The situation is quite fluid, and in front of me are hundreds of riot police that we have not been given permission to film. They are here in anticipation of some kind of demonstration in approximately one hour’s time.

The massive security presence ended up preventing any gathering near the KIU office, as security forces blocked off the nearby streets from all traffic and pedestrians. No one from the ruling parties was willing to grant an on-the-record interview, and when we attempted to film the riot police and security formations, a high-ranking soldier threatened to smash our camera.