ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Sufferers of medical conditions, later joined by wounded Peshmerga fighters, demonstrated in front of the United Nations (UN) compound in Erbil on Monday and Tuesday, complaining of medicine shortages and economic hardship caused by embargoes imposed on the Kurdistan Region by Baghdad.
“Your lies make our wounds more severe,” read a poster in Kurdish raised by a chronically ill patient.
The demonstrations are expected to continue for a week to push UN to pressure Baghdad on lifting embargoes.
Leaders of the group said they were there to ask the United Nations to pressure Iraq’s Federal Government to lift the measures, enacted after the Region’s Sep. 25 independence referendum.
Other signs held and statements made to the press criticized Baghdad for blocking much-needed medicines, the national budget allocation for Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) employees’ salaries, and international flights to airports in the Kurdistan region.
On Monday, the crowd was largely made up of medical patients and their families, but on Tuesday, wounded and disabled Peshmerga members joined the protest, bringing added publicity to the cause.
Kan’an Abdullah, who suffers from a medical condition, told Kurdistan 24 on Monday, “The impact of the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s sanctions on personal lives of people in the Kurdistan Region continue to increase, day after day. The international flight ban and missing public civil servants' salaries have ruined people’s lives.”
Under the flight ban, the Kurdistan Region is unable to import medicines from abroad through the airports, including those related to chronic illnesses for which patients need daily or weekly treatment.
Said another medical patient named Ali Abdullah, “We have no hope in Iraqi government because Abadi himself is not doing anything for Iraqi Arabs, who are his own people. What is he supposed to be doing for us [Kurds] whom he views as his enemies.”
Among the demonstrators, there were also some internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were ethnically Arab and currently live in the Kurdistan Region.
Kamal Jabbari, a representative of those protesting, repeatedly highlighted the hardships experienced by those who urgently need medicines which have run out.
“Lift the sanctions, our cries are reaching to the sky,” another poster read.
Prime Minister Abadi has repeatedly pledged in recent months to release the portion of the national budget for KRG salaries, but without a clear date being specified.
On Tuesday afternoon, Peshmerga fighters, many wounded in the fight against the Islamic State (IS), came out in numbers and became the main component of the demonstration.
One fighter missing both hands told Kurdistan 24, “I have lost my organs for protecting the honor of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. Baghdad should have so far shown some sincerity by lifting sanctions and sending our salaries to decrease our pains, not making us look at our empty pockets and wonder how we will feed our children and family.”
A Peshmerga fighter who lost both legs on the frontline with IS held up a sign with said, “We sacrificed our life for humanity… Then humans let us down.”
He told Kurdistan 24 that he was unable to fly abroad to for crucial surgery on his legs due to the flight ban.
Another wounded fighter said, “It was Kurds who defeated IS on behalf of the world. It was Kurds who gave sacrifices in the fight. Why now is the world and the Global Coalition against IS not questioning Abadi’s actions against the people of the Kurdistan Region?”
Editing by John J. Catherine