Civil servants and teachers employed by the Kurdistan Regional Government KRG in one of the districts in the disputed territories announced their strike until the timely payment of salaries and resume of promotions and allownces.
The protests started today, Sunday, 6 March, in the district of Kifir and other cities in Iraqi Kurdistan Region IKR due to delay in payment of February monthly salaries, and the participants decided to continue the strike.
Late November, several thousand demonstrators, mainly university students took to the streets of Sulaimaniyah, demanding the reinstatement of a monthly stipend that was cut seven years ago.
The IKR has seen protests during the past few years across areas dominated by both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP led by Masoud Barzani, father of KRG PM and uncle of IKRP Nechrivan Barzani and the Patriotic Union Kurdistan (PUK), led by Bafel Talabani, sone of late Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, the two leading parties that effectively have enjoyed political, security and economic duopoly.
Despite being hailed as the secure, stable, bright and developing part of Iraq, the region has had a long track record of corruption and financial mismanagement.
Shamal Raouf, a teacher in Kifri, and one of the participants in the gathering, told KirkukNow, "The first day of protests was organized in front of Kifri Bank. We demand that our salaries be paid every 30 days without delay, and our other demands are to resume promotions that have been suspended since 2014 under the pretext of The financial crisis."
Kurdistan Regional Government employees have not received salaries for the month of February so far.
According to KirkukNow follow-up, work has stopped today in most schools, the Directorate of Education, the Institute of Fine Arts, the Water Distribution Department, and several other departments, including banks and departments of culture, sports and youth.
Raouf said that the protests have taken two turns, as a section of the protesters gathered in the streets, while another group decided to strike at home, noting that about 700 teachers went on strike.
"We decided not to return to work, and we believe that wasting an academic year for students is better than spending all their lives without a salary to live on," Raouf added.
In December 2020, a wave of deadly violence has swept through Sulaymaniyah province. Protests set civil departments on fire, a curfew and travel ban enforced and the internet cut off.
Locals in this part of the autonomous region have been holding anti-government protests as the local authorities have not paid public sector employees' full salaries since April. The demonstrators, who accuse local politicians of corruption, embezzlement and nepotism, set fire to the headquarters of various political parties as well.
In the last meeting held by the Economic Council of the KRG on Saturday, March 5, under the supervision of Masrour Barzani, KRG Prime Minister, the Ministry of Finance and Economy was assigned to “make the necessary preparations to continue the process of distributing salaries,” without specifying a date for its start.
Ikram Ghayeb, an employee at the Kifri Public Library, told KirkukNow, "The strike included the employees of the various departments. We demand our rights. We do not want the payment of salaries to be delayed.”
“Nawriz (Kurdish New Year) is at the door and our children need food and clothing. What do we live if they are not spent?" If we are not paid, how we are going to survive?... It is not reasonable for us to work every day without receiving our salaries.”
Ikram stressed that the protests will continue tomorrow, Monday, until their demands are implemented, especially the payment of salaries on time and the resumption of job grades.
Kifri is one of the districts located within the disputed territories under the Iraqi constitution and part of Diyala province run by the Iraqi government, while administratively is one of the districts of the Garmian administration.
Garmian local administration which includes several districts and sub-districts between Sulaimaniya and Diyala province is part of Sulaymaniyah Northern Province, one of KRI provinces under the KRG.
The KRG argues that the lack of the monthly budget of 200 billion dinars from Baghdad is the reason for the delay in the payment of salaries, at a time when only 41% of crude oil revenues are allocated to salaries, in addition to local revenues, and despite that, the government cannot secure the salary budget, according to a statement by the KRG a few days ago.
The two parties, who have their own military forces and once fought each other in a civil war early 1990s, disagree over several serious issues including how best to deal with Baghdad.
Compromises and accusations have been constantly exchanged between Baghdad and Erbil for years over finance, oil management and several other sectors.