The shooting incident of the son of a senior official from Sulaymaniyah’s leading party was still fresh in minds when another child from the party turned the city’s Sarchinar Street into a battlefield.
A video footage that circulated on social media showed a force firing several types of weapons, including DShK and PK. A battle that almost lasted 20 minutes in the city of Sulaymaniyah on a late night of June 21.
The daughter of Kurdistan Region’s vice president and a senior Kurdistan Patriotic Union (PUK) official, Sheikh Jaafar Sheikh Mustafa, gets into an argument with members of a temporary checkpoint on Sarchinar Street made up of joint Asayish and local forces. The daughter recruits her father’s armed forces with a phone call, according to PEREGRAF sources familiar with the matter.
The armed forces known as the Golden Force, under the command of Sheikh Mustafa and affiliated with PUK’s Unit 70 of Peshmerga forces, get into clashes with force upon their arrival, which results in the injury of ten members on both sides.
In addition to worrying residents of the city, the incident was met with widespread disapproval on social media – once again sparking debates on the personal use of armed forces by the Kurdistan Region’s parties and their children.
"We came to power after the revolution, although the world has developed and progressed but we are a nation that has not mostly been able to take advantage of these developments. These problems have existed and they will continue to exist unless the law prevails and we can govern in a progressive way," Balanbo Kokoi, a member of the Asayish committee in the Kurdistan Parliament said.
According to Kokoi, one of the reasons similar incidents have increased is the widespread use of guns and its importation from the borders, which needs to be banned by law and problems must be resolved legally, not with tribal reconciliation.
No legal complaints were filed after the incident but reconciliations were made, commander of Unit 70, Mustafa Chawrash, announced a day after the incident. Explaining that the issue was resolved with mediation from Sheikh Mustafa’s son and security officials.
"We have followed up as the parliament and what happened was wrong ... it was misunderstandings and was not planned," a member of the Asayish committee said.
Following the incident Sheikh Mustafa voiced his worry, confirming that his force was used by his children without his knowledge.
"The driver did not abide by the legal regulations and that is where the problem started, and then she used an armed force illegally that attacked the security forces who were on duty, they were met shooting," Sulaymaniyah’s Asayish said in a statement following the incident, not disclosing any names.
This comes as efforts to transfer the only two party-affiliated Peshmerga units – PUK’s Unit 70 Unit and Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) Unit 80 – onto the Ministry of Peshmerga, of which is Sheikh Mustafa's is one.
This is an issue within both ruling parties, especially in the PUK which has many other senior officials with their own brigades, regiments and forces and under their direct command, without answering back to Unit 70 or the Ministry of Peshmerga, even though their salaries and equipment are provided by the government.
"We have received reports from the United States and Britain who say these forces are party-affiliated forces. More dangerously, they are about to be taken off their hands to become personal forces," Daban Mohammed, a Kurdistan Region member of parliament told PEREGRAF.
"In the first meeting of the Kurdistan Parliament, which was attended by the government, the Peshmerga minister did not hide the danger and said these forces are now more than just party forces, they now are becoming forces for the individuals and certain groups within the parties," he added.
According to Mohammed, the party-affiliation exists also within the Ministry of Interior – such as KDP’s Zeravani forces and PUK’s Civil Defense and Rescue forces – and there is no will to solve the issue while "if these forces are not national, the law doesn’t prevail and citizens are not protected, there is always a possibility of a similar incident, and even worse will occur again."
The fifth cabinet of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in 2006 promised the formation of a united army. Four cabinets and three prime ministers later, most of the Peshmerga forces are still controlled by parties.
"There is interest for the parties and groups of people in preventing these forces to become national forces that is for their power survival, as well as financial and non-financial interests. The KDP and the PUK are the ones most responsible for this," Mohammed stated.
The MP adds that a law has been passed to reform and unify the forces, which is the first step the government should implement, but "unfortunately it has not advanced further than that yet."
PEREGRAF contacted a number of senior administrative officials in Sulaymaniyah province, as well as the PUK and the KRG spokesperson on the Sarchinar incident, but they were not willing or unavailable to comment.
Under Law 17 of the year 1993, the possession of weapons by a group outside the Ministry of Peshmerga, the Ministry of Interior and Asayish, is illegal and that group would be considered a militia, according to Abubakir Haladni, a member of the Peshmerga committee in the Kurdistan Region Parliament.
Haladni believes that the problem does not only stem from the possession of unlicensed weapons, but that the crimes committed are mostly by those who are not aware enough or are not nationally educated enough. "Those gunmen are party educates, and are beholden to irresponsible gang-like people and groups. That’s why we see more tragedies and disasters day by day."
This is not the first time shooting and use of armed forces by children of happens in the city, this latest took people back to a similar incident earlier this year.
The son of Qadir Aziz, a member of the PUK politburo launched an attack on the house of a defense and rescue force officer on February 5, using his father’s force.
Many shots were fired, resulting in injuries and again, worry for the people in the neighborhood. After a while, they turned a blind eye and what happened to the case is unknown.
"This happens because of a lack of good governance, armed forces are not controlled by the government or government institutions, they are controlled by parties and their children, and they are used in personal and party conflicts. We saw how a lady with no official rank, no one know who she is, is able to use power and use heavy weapons," Aziz Rauf, a writer and university teacher, told PEREGRAF.
Rauf, who is outspoken on the issues in Sulaymaniyah says, "In the past twenty years, we have criticized this phenomenon which is ever growing. There was some sort of armed struggle by their so called revolutionary fathers in the past twenty years, but we are not seeing this now, we are seeing spoiled children who shoot whenever they like, use these forces and drunkenly fire bullets on the streets."
Following the incident of Aziz’s son, co-leader of the PUK Bafel Talabni spoke up on the issue, saying "they will not allow similar incidents to happen again and the son of Qadir Aziz will be handed over to the court," threatening the people of Sulaymaniyah not to pull these stunts. This time, however, he chose silence.
Even after these threats, similar incidents have yet many times occurred. Namely the attack on Ghalib Mohammed, an MP in the Iraqi parliament in Sulaymaniyah, as well as the knife fight in Tasluja checkpoint between Sheikh Musttafa’s force and security members, which lead to one death.
Rauf believes these incidents will once again occur, as "there is no one to prevent it, large numbers of forces are brought into the city, the city belongs to them and they will use it in their interest – they will be on the streets, shooting whenever they want. When there is weapon, there is shooting."
"This will lead us to a serious question: where is parliament, law, court and the government? The prime minister and the Minister of Peshmerga should have resigned because of this incident."
The criticism, satire and news on this incident will have made "any other government leave their place," said the university teacher thinks.
Last year in August, the son of Mala Bakhtyar, a member of the PUK Supreme Political Council fired shots in the village of Ghamza near Sulaymaniyah, using his father’s forces. A wide area of gardens and vineyards was burnt, which led to protests from the local people. Bakhtiar later apologized and promised compensation.
"Despite the fact that each has their own special force living off the public budget, there are about 70,000 guards in our small region, their [accumulative] salary is 60 billion dinars a month, even the bullets being fired to insult us are paid with the public’s money," said Ali Hama Salih, a Kurdish MP said.
The KRG is helpless against these party officials and their children. No one witnessed the arrest of any official from these political parties for their shootings and violations, so that they are brought before the court and are enforced by law.