The delay and the cut of salaries have caused demonstrations in towns and villages in Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdistan region of Iraq for consecutive days against the authority and its major parties, but experts say that the crisis is much deeper. Is the Kurdistan region witnessing a "Kurdish spring"?

Sulaymaniyah Governorate is usually one of the safest areas in Iraq.

But during the past week, violent protests swept through Sulaymaniyah, interspersed with the burning of party buildings, and in return, the authorities imposed curfews and travel and cut off Internet service.

Since early this month, residents have been organizing protests against the local government, as local authorities have not paid the full salaries of public sector employees since last April.

Protests continue despite the ban on demonstrations, and last Friday hundreds of people demonstrated in front of the Sulaymaniyah Governorate building.

The headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan after it was burned during the protests in Sulaymaniyah (Reuters)

Last week's demonstrations were violent, and the demonstrators - who accuse local politicians of corruption, embezzlement and favoritism - set fire to the headquarters of the various political parties, including the headquarters of parties not participating in the local government.

According to several sources, the security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition against the demonstrators, and arrested many people.

By Friday morning, 10 people were killed, including a 16-year-old boy, and about 65 were injured.

A curfew and travel bans were imposed between the cities of Sulaymaniyah Governorate, and the Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Masrour Barzani, gave a speech accusing "outside forces" of infiltrating the protesters.

Journalists were harassed, the Internet was blocked, and social media sites were blocked.

Saleh expressed concern about developments in Sulaymaniyah (Reuters)

Exchange of accusations

The Iraqi President Barham Salih, who occupies his position in the capital, Baghdad but hails from Sulaymaniyah, expressed his concern about these developments, as did the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and representatives of the French and British governments.

The reasons for non-payment of salaries to employees are complex, and they are part of the accumulated political problems for years.

Iraq earns nearly all of its national revenues from oil sales, and the Kurdistan Region authorities are supposed to deposit money from oil sales in their region in the national treasury in Baghdad.

In return, the federal government in Baghdad should give the Kurds their share of the national budget, through which they can pay salaries.

However, this agreement did not succeed at all, with each road party accusing the other of wrongdoing.

Baghdad says that Erbil was benefiting from the oil deals, and on the other hand, Erbil (the Regional Government Center) says that Baghdad is withholding funds for political reasons and blames the federal government for not spending the money.

What makes matters more complicated is the political situation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, because the region is divided between the two main political parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Erbil, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Sulaymaniyah.

The two parties differ on many issues, and they previously fought in a civil war in the 1990s.

Among the points of difference between them is the best way to deal with Baghdad.

Concessions and mutual accusations have been affecting for years the foundations of the relationship between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan.

These are not the first protests of their kind in Iraqi Kurdistan either.

Tahrir Square, the main center of protests in Baghdad for more than a year (Anatolia)

North and South Harmony

However, locals and observers agree that this round of protests is different from what preceded it.

A new generation of young people wants to enter the workforce, and they often cannot find jobs for them.

Local journalist Zanko Ahmed adds that it was these who participated in these protests.

He says that most of those on the street are young men, and that many of them are not even state employees.

In previous elections, young people used to express their anger through the ballot box, but now there are no effective opposition parties, so they are expressing their anger by burning the headquarters of political parties and the homes of officials.

Zanko Ahmed asserts that there is certainly a connection to the anti-federal government protests that have taken place in Baghdad and in southern Iraq.

"They are a catalyst. The reasons are almost the same."

A recent poll by the Chatham House Policy Institute, based in London, supports that connection.

The director of the Iraq Initiative at the institute, Renad Mansour, notes that "even in Sulaymaniyah there was great sympathy for the protesters in southern Iraq."

What is different now between the demonstrations in Iraqi Kurdistan and central and southern Iraq is the circumstances.

Mansour says, "The demographics and the economy are making this a storm."

During a protest against non-payment of salaries of public employees in Sulaymaniyah (Reuters)

Economic difficulties

Private enterprises are relatively few in Iraq, and the government is the main employer of the population.

Salaries and social welfare payments are estimated at around 80% of total government spending.

Renad Mansour explains that the decline in oil prices since 2014 and the demographic changes that will add more than a million new job seekers over the next few years in Iraqi Kurdistan, mean that the budgets of the regional government are very small and insufficient to keep pace with the changes.

In addition to this, the spread of the Corona epidemic, which has greatly affected the local economy, which means that it is no longer possible to buy the loyalty of citizens by employing them in government jobs.

“(The authorities) cannot use the old ideologies - Kurdish nationalism or party loyalties - so they may rely on some form of repression. This is what we are starting to see,” Mansour said.

Senior researcher at the Institute for Regional and International Studies in Sulaymaniyah, Zamakan Ali Salim, agrees that the protesters are losing confidence in the regime.

"They see their fathers struggling to put bread on the table. They understand the gap between them and the elites, and they are very angry."

A Kurdish Spring

Could this be the beginning of a larger movement similar to the ongoing protests in Baghdad, or a "Kurdish Spring" as some have described it?

Local residents indicate that so far the conflict has been confined to the Sulaimaniyah region controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

There have been calls to expand the protests to areas controlled by the KDP in Erbil and Dohuk, and if that happens, it could have a more serious impact, they say.

"But at the present time this movement is spontaneous and without leadership," and "it could expand or it might die," Salim explains, noting that some outstanding salaries have already been paid to medical and security workers, and to teachers after that.

But Saleem concludes, "I think it is over the salaries now. People here are intent on protesting."