Thursday, March 16, 2006

Kurds Turn Violent in Protest Against Their Leaders - New York Times

Kurds Turn Violent in Protest Against Their Leaders - New York Times:
By ROBERT F. WORTH

HALABJA, Iraq, March 16 — For nearly two decades, Kurds have gathered peacefully in this mountainous corner of northern Iraq to commemorate one of the blackest days in their history. It was here that Saddam Hussein's government launched a poison gas attack that killed more than 5,000 people on March 16, 1988.

So it came as a shock when hundreds of stone-throwing protesters took to the streets here on the anniversary today, beating back government guards to storm and destroy a museum dedicated to the memory of the Halabja attack. The violence, pitting furious locals against a much smaller force of armed security men, was the most serious popular challenge yet to the political parties that have ruled Kurdistan for the past 15 years.

Coming on the day the new Iraqi Parliament met for the first time, the episode was a reminder that the issues facing Iraq go well beyond fighting Sunni Arab insurgents and agreeing on cabinet ministers in Baghdad.

Although Kurdistan remains a relative oasis of stability in a country increasingly threatened by sectarian violence, the protests here — which left the renowned Halabja Monument a charred, smoking ruin — starkly illustrated those challenges even in Iraq's most peaceful region.

Many Kurds have grown angry at what they view as the corruption and tyranny of the two dominant political parties here. They accuse their regional government of stealing donations gathered to help survivors of the poison gas attack. The town's residents chose today to close off the town's main road and rally against government corruption. When government guards fired their weapons over the protesters' heads, the crowd went wild and attacked the monument."

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