Iraq's Kurds Seek Government Reform

In the north of Iraq, a growing number of Kurds are calling for an end to what they see as a corrupt and authoritarian government.

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More than three months after national elections, negotiations to form a new Iraqi government remain deadlocked over Shiite insistence that Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafary be named again.

Opposition parties have criticized him for failing to stop the insurgency, letting Shiite death squads run rampant, and doing little to improve reconstruction.

Among those opposing Jaafary are Iraq's Kurdish leaders. But they have their own problems up North, where a growing number of Kurds are calling for an end to corrupt and authoritarian government.

NPR's Anne Garrels has our report.

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

Kurdish security forces have been rounding up dozens of people for participating in a violent anti-government demonstration earlier this month, and hundreds of young people have reportedly fled their homes, hiding out in other cities and remote villages.

Kurdish officials in Halabja have denied they've detained people, but Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the Kurdish Council of Ministers, contradicts this, and he says security forces are using material confiscated from journalists to identify the demonstrators.

The demonstrators attacked a museum dedicated to the memory of 5,000 Kurds who died in poison gas attacks ordered by Saddam Hussein. The demonstrators said the party that runs Eastern Kurdistan, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, has used the memory of Halabja to raise money which is then pocketed.

Kurdish officials say the protest was inspired by Islamists, but there are no signs they had a role in organizing the protest. By all appearances, the attack was an authentic expression of popular rage.

Kurdish politicians are growing increasingly sensitive to accusations of corruption. Today a Kurdish writer was sentenced to a year and a half for accusing Kurdish leader Masud Barzani of abuse of power. Kamal Karim had originally been sentenced to 30 years for defaming Barzani, but following an outcry from international human rights groups, his case was reopened and his sentence reduced. Another Kurdish journalist also faces unspecified defamation charges.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has said the Kurdish government's arbitrary and heavy-handed treatment of the press shows its reputation for toleration of free media is undeserved.

Here in Baghdad, U.S. pressure to form a new government continues. A group of visiting U.S. Senators voiced alarm this weekend about rising sectarian violence, telling Iraqi leaders they need to form a national unity government quickly. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq has criticized the continued operation of militias, many of whom are linked to Shiite political parties. He says more Iraqis are now dying because of them than by terrorists.

Sectarian violence goes both ways. Shiite against Sunni, Sunni against Shiite. And in the Shiite city of Najaf, officials have now registered 875 families who've been forced to flee other towns. They're making preparations to receive as many as four thousand.

Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad.

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