Since the beginning of the epidemic, the Iranian regime has been hiding the figures from a population that has lost any confidence in it anyway. According to Radio Farda’s calculations, made on March 31 based on regional data, but broadcast only on April 1st, the country would have more than 70.000 people hospitalized with CoVid-19 symptoms and 4.762 deaths, while the official figures gave at the time 44.606 patients and 2.898 deaths. Significantly, the authorities did not give any figures for the second half of March about the provinces of Tehran and Qom, precisely the areas most affected... Radio Farda has made an estimate of 1.067 deaths in Tehran. Even some members of the Majlis (parliament) said the official figures were far lower than the reality, up to five times according to a WHO expert.
When the health authority stopped the print publication of newspapers for health reasons (supposedly to avoid contagion during printing and distribution), many Iranians interpreted the decision as an attempt by the government to silence criticism of its handling of the epidemic. In Iranian Kurdistan, where the virus has killed at least 400 people and probably infected thousands more, the authorities have focused on suppressing criticism while continuing to repress Kurdish activists. In Kermanshah, the governor filed a complaint against Kurdish journalist Ghulam Raza Alaa after being targeted by an ironic article, and the latter was imprisoned. At the same time, several prisoners were transferred from Mahabad to Urumieh Prison (WKI).
Many Iranian prisons have experienced revolts because of the epidemic. The government announced the release on probation of 100.000 prisoners to prevent the spread of the virus in prisons, but several volunteer journalists reporting for the France-24 television programme “Les Observateurs” (The Observers) said that in reality the bail was so high that few families could afford to pay it... Several local observers pointed to the literally disastrous sanitary conditions in detention, with prisoners sometimes having neither water nor soap to wash their hands, the first recommended measure to prevent the virus from spreading. Prison riots were reported to have been particularly violent in Ahwaz, Khuzistan, where dozens of prisoners were reportedly killed, and in Khorramabad, the capital of Lorestan province. There are no figures for deaths caused by the epidemic in prisons, but according to Amnesty International, between late March and early April, thousands of prisoners in at least eight Iranian prisons, terrorized by the epidemic, staged protests that led to a terrible crackdown by prison staff and security forces. One example in particular has attracted attention: on the morning of the 11th, the Kurdish political prisoner Mustafa Salimi, a former member of the PDKI, was executed. Sentenced to death but left on death row for 17 years, he was one of the prisoners who escaped from Saqqez prison during the riots at the end of March. After several human rights organizations accused the Asayish (security) people in the town of Penjwîn in Iraqi Kurdistan of handing Salimi over to Iran while he had requested asylum, the Kurdistan Regional Government set up a commission to investigate the incident.
On the 6th, Hamid Souri, a member of the “National Centre for the Fight against Coronavirus” said he estimated that at least 500.000 people were infected in the country. On the 8th, while the legal opposition announced having counted 20.400 deaths, President Rouhani called for a gradual return to work. A motion opposing this decision, signed by 80 MPs, calling for a one-month national containment, was rejected by parliament. On the same day, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) published an unofficial Persian translation of the WHO guide on how to avoid the spread of the virus in prisons (https://persian.iranhumanrights.org/wp-content/uploads/WHO-COVID-in-prisons-Farsi.pdf), while calling for the release of non-dangerous prisoners, including those imprisoned abusively for political reasons and those with dual nationality. The CHRI also recalled that avoiding an epidemic explosion in prisons would not only protect the prisoners concerned, but also the entire Iranian population. At the same time, the Kurdish human rights organization Hengaw reported that more than one hundred prisoners in Urumieh were positive and seven of them died.
On the 11th, “low-risk” businesses were allowed to reopen, except in Tehran – a decision criticized by several medical experts and even some members of the government. On the 17th, human rights experts at the United Nations, while calling for a relaxation of the sanctions imposed on Iran to facilitate its fight against the epidemic, called from Geneva for the country to extend its release policy to elderly prisoners of conscience and binationals. On the 18th, when Tehran’s “low-risk” businesses were in turn allowed to reopen, the president of the capital’s city council, Mohsen Hashemi, said the number of infected people was “far higher” than officially announced, and warned that lifting the lockdown prematurely could cause a new wave of the epidemic. The previous week, the parliament’s Research Center reported that the actual number of deaths due to Covid-19 was twice the official figures and that the number of infected people was up to eight times higher... (Radio Farda) On the 19th, the Ministry of Health reported more than 5.100 deaths and 82.000 infected people.
On the 20th, IHRM (Iran Human Rights Monitor) reported that the Kurdish political prisoner Ismail Moradi, sentenced to 10 years in 2015 for “collaboration with Kurdish political parties”, had gone on hunger strike on the 12th in his prison of Dizel Abad in Kermanshah by sewing his lips, to protest after being denied provisional release. The prison authorities banned him from making phone calls and visiting his family. At the same time, two other Kurdish activists were imprisoned in Bojnurd (Qasim Azimi) and Saqqez (Kamaran Abdi) (WKI), and on the same day, the French researcher colleague and companion of Farida Adelkhah, Roland Marchal, was released after nine months of detention.
On the 23rd, the CHRI called on the Iranian authorities to immediately hospitalize environmental activist Sam Rajabi, imprisoned in Evin. Transferred to hospital for urgent surgery, he had been informed that he tested positive for coronavirus. His operation cancelled, he was sent back to prison without any treatment. According to his sister, he shares a cell with 15 other detainees, including other environmental activists. The authorities also refused to test Rajabi’s imprisoned colleagues. All are imprisoned on trumped-up charges of espionage.
On the 24th, the governor of Khuzistan sounded the alarm in the provincial capital, Ahwaz, where, he said, the outbreak had escalated, but he did not want to give any figures. As concerns about a second wave of the epidemic became acute, official figures reached 91.472 cases and 5.806 deaths. The regime also executed at least ten Kurds in April after the mass escape from Saqqez prison at the end of March, and several others were sentenced to prison terms: on the 21st, activist Akbar Goili was given five years in Sanandaj for “collaboration” with the PJAK, and in Mariwan, Ismael Ardawani was arrested by the Etelaat for cooperation with a Kurdish party. On the 29th, the army spokesman said that 3.600 people had been imprisoned by the cyber-police and the Bassidj for “disinformation” about the epidemic (Rûdaw). At the same time, the Iranian president’s decision to lift the confinement in order to revive the economy has been heavily criticised even within the regime, notably at the Ministry of Health. The Iranian Society of Immunology and Allergy even published an open letter to Rouhani, where it estimated the risk of infections at 60 million and deaths at more than 2 million. As for the opposition, it questioned the wealth accumulated by Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei, who controls several “foundations” and billions of dollars, which could have been used in the fight against the coronavirus rather than going to the pasdaran... (La Tribune).
After Iran successfully put its first military satellite into orbit on the 22nd, the US State Department on the 25th called on other countries, and in particular those of the European Union, to “reject” Iran’s action and to extend the embargo on arms sales to the country, which is due to expire next October. The United Kingdom, France and Germany have already condemned the launch.
Turkey and its jihadist mercenaries continue to occupy a large swath of territory in north-eastern Syria and the Afrin region in the west. For several months now, they have also regularly prevented the supply of water to the areas administered by AANES (Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria), causing concern among humanitarian organizations and WHO about the spread of coronavirus in the region. In a report published on 31 March, the human rights organisation Human Rights Watch denounced the use of water against the Rojava River as the epidemic spreads. Ankara dismissed these accusations as a “smear campaign”, accusing the Damascus regime of not providing enough electricity to allow normal operation of the Allouk pumping station, located near the city of Serê Kaniyê / Ras al-Aïn, and originally run by Syrian technicians who have since been ousted by pro-Turkish jihadists. On the afternoon of 2 April, the pro-Turkish jihadists used artillery to damage the pipeline from the station, which served an area inhabited by half a million civilians, including the town of Hassakeh. On 27 March, 49 Syrian civil society and human rights organizations accused in a joint letter Turkey of war crimes in connection with these voluntary interruptions of water supplies.
Despite the ceasefire negotiated in October and recent UN calls for a ceasefire to facilitate the fight against the pandemic, Turkey’s jihadist surrogates continue their attacks on AANES-administered areas, notably near Ayn Issa and Girê Spî / Tell Abyad and the M4 motorway. The President of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), Ilham Ahmed, called on the United Nations to put pressure on Turkey to stop them. Pro-Turkish mercenaries have also attacked several villages held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Aleppo governorate, and Turkey continues its anti-Kurdish ethnic cleansing operations in its so-called “security zone”. According to local sources, on 1st April, 19 buses brought hundreds of families of jihadi fighters from Ahrar al-Sharqiya and the Al-Shamiya Front to Girê Spî / Tell Abyad and Serê Kaniyê / Ras al-Aïn. They are to be resettled in Kurdish houses whose owners had to flee the Turkish attack in October (Kurdistan-24).
On the 26th, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) indicated that Turkey was resuming the policies already used in Afrîn by bringing families from the Ghuta into the areas it controls in Raqqa and Hassakeh, stressing that the jihadist factions of Operations “Peace Spring” and “Olive Branch” are continuing to kidnap and arbitrarily arrest residents, both Kurdish and Arab (Asharq Al-Awsat). On the 27th, a Turkish drone attack targeted an Asayish (Kurdish security) office in Kobanê, causing material damage. AANES called on the United States and Russia to fulfil their responsibilities as guarantors of two separate ceasefires with Turkey and to stop the Turkish attacks. In response, Ankara accused the FDS of seeking to infiltrate the “security zone”, an accusation denied by their spokesman Gabriel Keno (WKI). At the same time, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIR) released its annual report 2020, which recommended the US government “exert significant pressure on Turkey to provide a timeline for withdrawal from Syria and ensure neither its military nor its FSA allies attempt to expand their control in northeastern Syria or engage in religious and/or ethnic cleansing”.
The occupiers also continue both exactions and ethnic cleansing in Afrîn. On 1st April, the Iraqi Kurdish channel Rûdaw reported that in the previous five weeks, three Yezidi women had been kidnapped by jihadist groups, sometimes for ransom, their families having kept silent for fear of reprisals. The city was also hit by a series of car bombings, the first on 8 April, for which Turkey and its jihadi auxiliaries accused the FDS, but several local sources attributed responsibility to internal jihadi clashes, as had occurred in the past. Some of these militiamen, whom Turkey has not paid for two months, feel betrayed. While Ankara wants to send them to Libya, they rather wish to return to Idlib (Kurdistan-24). The OSDH published a mid-month report detailing their systematic looting of the region, when a dozen Kurds had again just been kidnapped by factions of the “Syrian National Army”, a militia despite its name entirely in the service of Ankara. Among the recent horrifying exactions were the murders of an 80-year-old Kurdish woman who was found by her children hanged on the 18th and of a 74-year-old Kurdish man who had been beaten to death by Jihadists of the ‘Sultan Murad’ faction, composed largely of Syrian Turkmen. The “Samarkand Brigade”, responsible for the murder of the woman, then abducted her children and several neighbours. On the evening of the 28th, a new bomb attack killed at least 40 people and injured 47 in Afrîn, leading to suspicions of the responsibility of the Turkish secret service, the MIT. Both FDS and AANES condemned the attack the next day. Mazloum Abdi blamed the “destructive policy of the Turkish occupation”, and the CDS said in a statement that “the Turkish invasion, based on [military] factions with a terrorist ideology, opened the door for terrorist forces to reorganize their ranks and commit cowardly acts under the protection of Turkey”. Hours later, Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of the AANES foreign relations department, again called on the international community to “put pressure on Turkey to leave Afrin and all the areas it occupies”.
But the Turkish occupiers and their jihadist mercenaries are not the only ones carrying out ethnic cleansing in the Kurdish areas. The TEV-DEM coalition, the group dominating the AANES administration, condemned on the 24th the Damascus regime’s attempts to change the demographic composition of several villages in the north of Aleppo province by converting school buildings into quarantine centres for gypsies brought from the centre of the country. TEV-DEM accuses Damascus of seizing the opportunity of the epidemic to resume its “Arab belt” policy of the 1960s and 1970s and calls on the United Nations and civil society organizations to press for an end to the epidemic.
In this difficult context, the unity of the Kurds in Syria is more necessary than ever. On the 25th, FDS Commander Mazloum Abdi called for support for the “National unity initiative”, announcing from Qamishli after a meeting with a delegation representing various political tendencies in the Rojava that “the talks [had] led to positive results that will be announced in the coming days” (RojInfo).
At the same time, the AANES has continued to fight the coronavirus epidemic as far as its resources allow. As the Rojava has only 27 resuscitation ventilators, Kurdish electrical technicians from Amude have undertaken to manufacture them for Rojava hospitals. The CDS representation in Washington has launched an appeal for health assistance. On the spot, AANES criticized Damascus for having taken no measures to screen or quarantine passengers disembarking at Qamishli, whose airport is run by the regime, criticizing the regime’s lack of cooperation, which “[endangers] the lives of the inhabitants of the Syrian North-east”. AANES, not having screening kits, has set up a limited examination for arrivals, only searching for symptoms. On the 8th, there were still no cases in Rojava (Kurdistan-24). On the 9th, after a telephone request from Mazloum Abdi, the neighbouring Kurdistan Region of Iraq sent medical equipment to equip two screening laboratories and trainers (Rûdaw). AANES also renewed its request for assistance to WHO as two travellers arriving from Damascus were quarantined in Qamishli on suspicion of coronavirus infection. On the 15th, the Rojava administration expressed its support for the French President’s call for a global ceasefire during the outbreak.
On the 17th, the AANES announced that WHO had diagnosed a first case of Covid-19 in its region from samples sent to Damascus. The 53-year-old patient had been hospitalized on 27 March at the regime’s Qamishli National Hospital in Qamishli and died on 2 March, but AANES was not informed at the time (Reuters). The head of the AANES health department called this lack of information from the WHO “a crime against five million people”. However, the case was not confirmed by the hospital. AANES has extended the current confinement in Rojava until 1st May. On the 29th, the first two cases were confirmed in Rojava, a woman, again in Qamishli hospital, and a man, quarantined in Hassaké.
During this month, ISIS continued its reorganization in the country, taking advantage of both the Turkish invasion and the epidemic, which is mobilizing energies. Its sleeper cells have gradually resumed their activities, threatening the inhabitants who collaborate with the authorities and relaunching their rackets. Several French prisoners managed to escape from the camps where they were interned in Rojava. One, escaped from the Roj camp, was recaptured, but at least three others, coming from Al-Hol, less well guarded, were not (Liberation). The jihadists killed two FDS members in an attack on the small town of al-Suwar in Deir Ezzor province earlier this month, and also launched attacks on the regime’s forces in the south of the province, where they damaged oil installations. The FDS announced that it had captured four jihadists in a counter-operation conducted with US air support. At the same time, the AANES is continuing its preparations to set up a court to try on the spot the jihadists it has captured.
On 3rd April, Helin Bölek, the Kurdish singer of “Grup Yorum” died at home at the age of 28 after 288 days of a hunger strike that began in prison last spring to denounce censorship and repression. Released after two years of detention with the seven members of the group for “resisting the police, insulting, and belonging to a terrorist organization”, she had continued her fast at home in support of the group’s bassist, Ibrahim Gôkçek, still incarcerated. Founded in 1985 by four students in reaction to the 1980 military coup, “Grup Yorum”, which was intended to serve “the oppressed peoples of Turkey and elsewhere”, was hit by relentless repression. On 11 April, another Kurdish singer, Nûdem Durak, born in January 1988, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for having sung, in Kurdish, the struggle of her people, and was imprisoned in Bayburt .
On 1st April, the Ministry of Health reported that Turkey had registered 15.679 confirmed cases of coronavirus with 277 deaths. But the epidemic increasingly looks like an opportunity seized by the AKP-MHP government to get rid of its political opponents. After having criminalized and imprisoned the opposition, the Turkish government submitted to parliament on 31st March a bill aimed at releasing, temporarily or permanently, up to 90.000 prisoners in order to reduce the prison population. Turkish prisons are overcrowded with almost 300.000 inmates and often unhealthy, which puts prisoners in serious danger of contagion. While the Ministry of Justice still denied in March any cases in cells, local sources reported several prisoners testing positive, such as Nalan Ozaydin, HDP deputy co-mayor of Mazıdağı who had been dismissed and incarcerated, but was released on suspicion of CoVid-19 and placed under house arrest... But the proposed text immediately caused general concern, as it excludes from release those accused of terrorism (including those incarcerated pending trial), which concerns almost all abusively imprisoned opponents. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned these exclusions, and the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) rapporteurs for Turkey’s monitoring have called for the non-discriminatory release of political prisoners.
On the evening of the 4th, the Batman prison experienced a fire and an uprising when Kurdish political prisoners mutinied due to concern about the epidemic. On the 7th, the Free Kurdish Women’s Movement (Tevgera Jinên Azad – TJA) denounced an “announced massacre” in the prisons, and the continued dismissal of HDP mayors, at a time when local elected representatives, constituting an indispensable link in the fight against the epidemic, had begun to put in place measures to protect the health of citizens and provide economic support to the most deprived. Calling for releases without discrimination, the TJA accused the State of failing to take the necessary protective measures: “A single case detection centre has been set up for the whole of Kurdistan, and most of the people who go to hospital are sent home. Discriminatory discourse against the elderly fuels the sexist, racist and religious mentality”.
At the same time, the authorities sought to impose silence on all whistleblowers. Diyarbakir journalist Nurcan Baysal, herself briefly imprisoned for intimidation at the start of the month, reported on the 9th that the doctors she had tried to interview in town had told her: “We cannot talk”. On that date there were (officially) 38.226 cases and more than 800 deaths, with an epicentre in the economic capital, Istanbul, and more than 400 people had been arrested for their messages criticising the management of the epidemic on social media. As Miray Erbey, a cognitive scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Turkey, noted: “Efforts to contain the flow of information have been more important than efforts to contain the epidemic itself”. The Turkish president was also careful to appear to be the only one to act: he quickly banned the fund-raising campaigns launched by the CHP mayors of the two major metropolises of Istanbul and Ankara to assist the economic victims of the epidemic (Ahval).
The law on the release of prisoners, which was contested at the beginning of the month, was approved in parliament on the evening of the 13th by 279 votes to 51 with the support of the AKP and the MHP. One of the lawyers of Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-president of the HDP, who is still in prison along with Osman Kavala, described the new law as “unfair and illegal” (Le Figaro). On the same day, the government had put on the parliamentary agenda the discussion of a law providing for amnesty for rapists of minors if they marry their victims, which caused a veritable earthquake on social networks (Kurdistan au féminin). The next day, the official figures for the coronavirus were at least 61.049 cases and 1.296 deaths, before going up to 90.980 and 2.100 on the 21st, and 115.000 and 2.992 on the 27th... (WKI).
On the 16th, the New York Times reported in its columns the release from his Ankara cell of 67-year-old mafia and far-right leader Alaattin Cakici – a loyal friend of MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli – who had been imprisoned for 16 years for, among other things, incitement to murder, armed robbery, money laundering, leading an illegal organisation and insulting the president. He had decades left to serve, but the new law allowed his release. Two days later, Selahattin Demirtaş’s request for release on health grounds (he had already collapsed in his cell), was rejected by an Ankara court, which did not give reasons for its decision (Ahval). On the 20th, the New York Times again took up the issue of the epidemic in Turkey, denouncing the Turkish president’s “carefully orchestrated propaganda campaign” and published its own calculations, which led it to conclude that the Istanbul figures indicate an epidemic of a much greater magnitude than the official figures admit: according to the American daily’s figures, “the city [of Istanbul] recorded from March 9 to April 12 about 2.100 more deaths than expected, based on weekly averages over the last two years, far more than officials reported for Turkey as a whole during that period. The government announced the first Covid-19-related death in the country on 17 March. But statistics compiled by the Times suggest that even then, the total number of deaths in Istanbul was already considerably higher than historical averages, indicating that the virus had arrived several weeks earlier. However, Mr Erdoğan assured the Nation on 18 March, after the second death was announced, that Turkey had “quickly taken all precautions”.
The spread of the epidemic did not stop the repression of the HDP, which at the beginning of April had left only 19 of the 59 town halls it had conquered in the municipal elections of March 2019 one year earlier. On the 9th, a new charge was brought by the Ankara prosecutor against the mayor of Diyarbakir Selçuk Mizrakli, already dismissed last August and currently imprisoned: “terrorist propaganda", for having gone on hunger strike for three days at the call of the HDP in support of Leyla Güven and for having posted a tweet in support of the Kurdish militant Ramin Hossein, executed in Iran (Bianet). On the 21st, Turkish prosecutors launched a fifth charge against former HDP co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, accusing him of “terrorism”, citing as “evidence”, among other things some of his speeches between 2012 and 2016, a 2016 interview with the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and a complaint filed against him by the Presidency Communication Centre (CİMER) (Duvar English). On the 27th, the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) announced that the government had asked parliament to suspend the immunity of 21 new HDP MPs.
The Turkish army continued its military operations, including in neighbouring Iraq. On the 15th, further violations of the country’s airspace took place, an air strike destroyed a building presented as belonging to the PKK in Rawanduz, where, according to local officials, several telecommunication facilities were destroyed, and Turkish drones killed three Kurdish women near the Makhmur refugee camp. After a delegation from the Iraqi government came to Makhmur to confirm the facts, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad to officially request an end to such violations (Newsweek).
The Turkish military has also once again shown its contempt for any humanity by returning to a mother in Dersim (Tunceli) the remains of her son, a PKK fighter killed by the army in 2017, in a box, before the gendarmes prevented her from attending his funeral. Then on the 24th in Silvan (Diyarbakir), the gendarmes summoned other families of killed fighters to order them to remove the letters Q, W and X, which are not used in Turkish, from the tombstones of their children. As it was impossible to obey without destroying the stones, the soldiers had them removed and broken. Similar cases have been reported to Van and Erciş. Hundreds of bodies have been dug up and removed, without their whereabouts being known (RojInfo).
Still immersed in a political crisis that seems set to continue, Iraq is simultaneously being hit economically by the fall in the price of oil, its main resource with 93% of the state budget. The projected 2020 budget of 135 billion dollars, the highest amount in the country’s history, by which the political leaders hoped to calm the protests and rebuild the infrastructure destroyed in the fight against ISIS, seems less and less likely. Moreover, the health crisis, with the rapid spread of the coronavirus in the country, could have serious social and economic consequences.
On 9th April, the last candidate for Prime minister, Adnan Al-Zurfi, announced he was abandoning his attempts to form a government. His days had been numbered from the moment the Shiite parties dominating the parliament, following the pro-Iranian militias, rejected his proposals. The Kurdish parties took a wait-and-see attitude in this respect, asking the Shiite parties to first agree on a common candidate before expressing their position. On the same day, the President appointed in Al-Zurfi’s place the former head of the intelligence services, Mustafa al-Kadhemi, whose name had been circulating as a possible successor since the beginning of the month... If he is not seen more favourably by Iran, Kadhemi may still have a better chance of success than his predecessor, being, unlike the latter, supported by all the Shiite parties – and by the largest Sunni parliamentary bloc. On the Kurdish side, both the PUK and the KDP (in the person of the President of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani) have announced their support for his nomination. Al-Kadhemi then began the long trek to the formation of a cabinet that would be acceptable to the parliament…
In this complex context, budgetary discussions between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Federal Government in Baghdad continued. Last November, an agreement had been reached to allocate 12.6% of the federal budget to Kurdistan in exchange for Kurdistan’s daily supply of 250.000 barrels of crude oil to SOMO, the state oil company, but the KRG decided to wait until a stable government was formed in Baghdad before starting the supply. On the 19th, after a meeting between a KRG delegation and the Iraqi Oil Minister, the KRG Finance Minister, Awat Janab, announced an agreement identical to the previous one. However, the KRG Planning Minister, Dara Rashid, while renewing his agreement for the supply of oil to Baghdad, also stated that in return, Baghdad had to commit itself to paying the Region’s share of the budget and the payments due to the oil companies operating there... This was a return to the conflict that had been at the heart of relations between the two governments from the outset. In the absence of oil deliveries, Baghdad announced the following week that it would cease payments to Erbil in May. The KRG Deputy Prime Minister, Qubad Talabani, was expected to travel to Baghdad to try and negotiate a new agreement, and on the 28th, the President of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, in a meeting with the Special Representative in Iraq of the UN Secretary-General, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, asked for the mediation of this institution to resolve the dispute.
In the disputed territories, ISIS jihadists continued their nefarious activities, attacking a village in the Daquq district (south of Kirkuk) inhabited by members of the Kurdish minority of the Kakai on the night of the 6th. After clashes lasting several hours, three Iraqi policemen were injured by an improvised explosive device. According to a security source, the Daquq area had already been hit during the previous week by three other attacks causing several deaths and three kidnappings of federal police officers. The next day, two Kurdish pechmergas were killed in another night-time jihadist attack in Garmiyan, prompting KDP Chairman Masoud Barzani to reiterate in a statement that ISIS still poses a threat. On the 14th, the Iraqi army announced that another home-made bomb had killed two fighters of the Yezidi Protection Units in Sinjar (YBŞ) and wounded five others during a joint operation (Kurdistan-24). In Kirkuk, security forces were placed on alert in the last week of the month after several jihadist attacks, while two jihadist military leaders were captured and a suicide attack targeted the Iraqi intelligence office in the city.
The struggle against ISIS also extends abroad, particularly in bringing the murderers to justice. On the 24th, in Frankfurt, Germany, an Iraqi detainee suspected of belonging to ISIS was charged with genocide at the same time as the murder of a five-year-old Yezidi girl he had made his slave. This is the first trial in the world whose indictment includes the mention of “genocide” in relation to the Yezidis. The Falluja couple is accused of having bought, mistreated and tortured the girl and her mother, causing the death of the former in the summer of 2015 (New York Times).
The Kurdistan Region has also been confronted with the spread of the coronavirus. On the 6th, Ziya Petros, Head of the Independent Human Rights Office warned that if the KRG did not take prompt measures to reduce the prison population, a health catastrophe could occur in the Region’s overcrowded prisons. Petros indicated, inter alia, that prisons planned for 900 inmates now house more than 2.000, forcing up to 25 prisoners to be placed in cells of 9... (Rûdaw). On the same day, Iraq announced 1.031 cases of Covid-19 and 64 deaths, while the figures in Kurdistan were 277 cases and 3 deaths respectively, with 41 new cases within three days. The KRG Minister of Health rang the bell in the face of a “serious danger”, indicating that the KRG health system would not hold in the event of a large-scale epidemic. Eleven neighbourhoods in Erbil were placed under containment.
On the 7th, the KRG pronounced the release of hundreds of prisoners in pre-trial detention in order to prevent the spread of the virus, explaining that anyway the epidemic had forced the functioning of the judiciary to a stop. The Ministry of Justice then put the number of releases at 1.474. On 8th April, while Iraq announced an extension of its containment until 18th April, the Kurdistan Ministry of Health announced 14 new cases. Many were contaminated during two funerals held in Erbil in the same district (Kurdistan-24). On 14th April, a further 826 detainees were released. By the last week of the month, the number of confirmed cases had risen to 355 as activities began to resume and the border with Iran was reopened. But on the 28th, Kurdistan announced its fifth death from the epidemic, also the first in Erbil province, and eleven new cases, including ten residents in the Soran district. According to the KRG Ministry of Health, in the previous 24 hours, 1.706 people had tested positive for Covid-19: 1.121 in Erbil province, 158 in Suleimaniyeh, 300 in Dohuk, 25 in Halabja, while 1.602 people were still kept in quarantine in 33 different places in the Region.
Finally, on the 20th, about a hundred Kurdish artists, worried about the tensions developing between Kurdish political parties around the region of Zinê Wertê, appealed to them for a “calming of tensions”, calling in particular to avoid any instrumentalization by Turkey and Iran, and recalling that the Kurds “can only win through the development of national unity and a common strategy”.