Violence in Zakho and Kurdistan’s Response

A fiery sermon after Friday prayers in Iraq’s Kurdistan region sparked two days of violence as about 100 Kurdish youth burned businesses belonging mainly to Assyrians and Yezidis. The sermon given by Ismael Osman reportedly called on worshipers to attack a Chinese massage parlor, which was destroyed by the rioters before they moved on to burn several liquor stores and hotels. In all, the attacks affected more than 30 liquor stores and bars, three hotels, the massage parlour, and reportedly a women’s hair salon just in Zakho. According to the Ishtar Broadcasting Corporation, the violence spilled into Dohuk, Sumel, and Mansouriyah when rioters attacked Assyrian homes, churches and social clubs. Sumel also saw four liquor stores burned down as well.

A video emerged on YouTube shows the smoke rising from the damage and people congregating near the attacks.

Thirty people, including 20 members of the police forces, were reported injured.

The violence continued when a group of rioters aligned with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) accused the Islamist party Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) of being responsible for the first wave of attacks. In retaliation, they attacked KIU headquarters in Dohok and Erbil early on Saturday.

Response to the Attacks:

The Kurdistan government immediately released a statement about the attacks, saying “We condemn all these inhuman and illegal acts, and demand the Kurdistan people to follow and respect the principles of national and religious co-existence,” and claiming the attacks had been planned in advance by the KIU. President Masoud Barzani also announced a “special committee [that] will investigate Friday’s incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

The KIU also condemned the attacks, and refuted any claims that they were responsible. Instead, they blamed the attack on their headquarters on the KDP, and claimed the riots themselves were a cause of KDP’s poor security management. A KIU activist cited the fact that the two KIU imams in Zakho had long been fired, and that the imam under fire for his comments is supposedly a member of the KDP.

Members of both the KIU and the KDP have accused the other of pre-planning the attack, citing the multiple groups of rioters in multiple towns as proof of a conspiracy. The response to the days of attacks has revealed the increasing tension between all of Kurdistan’s important political players, and particularly the KIU and KDP.

Who the original rioters were supporting and who they were sponsored by is still a hotly contested question, and between the arguing between the KDP and KIU, the mainly Assyrian and Yazidi victims of the riots have been sidelined. A website dedicated to reporting from Kurdistan’s mainly Assyrian Christian town,, has reported that owners of the shops that were burned in Zakho on Friday have received pamphlets threatening their business and their lives should they reopen their shops once again. The distributors of the pamphlets are unknown.

President Barzani’s committee has been established in order to find the identity of the perpetrators, and it remains to be seen what the results of the committee will be in the coming weeks. The political bureau of the KPD endorsed President Barzani’s decision, saying “We, the Political Bureau of Kurdistan Democratic Party, support the work of the committee which has been appointed by the President of the Region for investigating this matter and offer them our full support.”

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