Sat. Nov 27th, 2021

Baghdad, Iraq Authorities in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region have promised to provide financial support to university students, according to state media, after days of protests demanding the reinstatement of a monthly grant cut seven years ago.

The move by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) late Wednesday came after several thousand protesters took to the streets of Sulaimaniyah for the fourth day in a row. Security forces fired live shots into the city’s Sara Square to disperse the crowd and wound one student, the local NRT broadcaster reported.

It was not immediately clear how much money the authorities would provide. Prior to 2014, the KRG provided students with a monthly grant of 60,000 to 100,000 Iraqi dinars (about $ 40 to $ 70). However, the grant was then canceled, with the authorities naming the budget allocated to fight the ISIL (ISIS) armed group and the global slump in oil prices.

With ISIL now largely defeated and the oil price recovering, students demanded the resumption of payment.

‘Legal law’

The protests that began on Sunday became increasingly violent as the days passed, with security forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets, as well as water cannons deployed to disperse the protesters who blocked main roads in Sulaimaniyah. Protesters meanwhile threw stones and tear gas canisters at the security forces, and also set fire to a number of government buildings in the city.

Smaller-scale protests have also spread to other cities in the region, including Erbil, Halabja, Kalar and Koya. A solidarity rally attended by several dozen people was also held on Tuesday night in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad.

The hashtag #SulaymaniyahOppresses has also started to trend on Twitter as people shared their frustrations over the government’s response to what they called “peaceful protesters”.

Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Wednesday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck. Security forces entered the site and fired tear gas at students staying on campus, according to an Al Jazeera reporter at the site. Die polisie het ook betogers en verslaggewers met elektriese skokknoppe geslaan, het die joernalis gesê.

“We are asking for our legal right, namely the resumption of the payment of our monthly allowances, but the Kurdish government is responding with the deployment of all these security and Peshmerga forces,” said Awin, a second-year female student at Sulaimaniyah Technical Institute, told Al Jazeera earlier. Wednesday asked that only her first name be mentioned for fear of retaliation.

Awin maintained that the protesters “do not create chaos and violence” and said “it was the Kurdish security forces who confronted the unarmed students”

The KRG did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Peshraw Hama Jan, assistant to the president of Sulaymaniyah University, said the institution “has always supported the legal rights of our students and their claim for scholarship restoration is fully legitimate”, adding that they “have their claims on the KRG stated “. Minister of Higher Education Aram Muhammed ”.

“We urge our students not to allow some fellow students to deviate from the peaceful protests in violence,” Hama Jan told Al Jazeera.

Some officials have also expressed their support for the students in recent days.

Haval Abubaker, the governor of Sulaimaniyah province, wrote on Facebook on Monday that “the province [students’] requested and is against violence and interference ”.

‘Youth increasingly hopeless’

Iraq’s Kurdish region has experienced protests over the past few years over areas dominated by both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the two parties that have effectively enjoyed a political and economic duopoly.

Despite being considered the target for the development of the rest of Iraq, the region has had a long record of corruption and financial mismanagement.

Recently, it has also come under international scrutiny amid the ongoing refugee crisis at the Belarus-Poland border. Many Iraqi Kurds have embarked on a trip to Europe in recent weeks, with a number of them seeking better economic opportunities.

“Students came out and demanded that their rights be granted to them, which is a very modest grant, but they were confronted by unjust forces,” Mustafa Khalid, a resident of Sulaimaniyah, told Al Jazeera.

“And everyone was surprised that we saw migrants on the borders of Belarus – that’s the reason,” he said.

In response to the news about the financial support, Khalid said: “We will have to see if these grants will be realized and that it is not just words.”

“But we must also see the change in our education system and the PUK thugs will be responsible for attacking peaceful protesters.”

Kamaran Palani, a research fellow at the Middle East Research Institute, an Erbil-based think tank, wrote on Twitter that “youth protests in Iraqi Kurdistan are a response to and outcome of their frustration.

“Without viable recourse to mechanisms that can allow the youth to transform their difficult circumstances, young people are becoming increasingly hopeless, and are eager to resist in various forms.”

Shawn Yuan reported from Baghdad, and Dana Taib Menmy reported from Sulaimaniyah.

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