Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Keeping Sulaimaniyah Safe

Eagle-eyed residents get on the phone the moment they spot anything they think might be insurgent activity.
By Frman Abdul-Rahman

Sulaimaniyah security officials credit vigilant residents for ensuring this northern city stays free of the violence that plagues the rest of Iraq.

Up to 70 people call the authorities each day to report suspicious incidents. Though some tips don’t check out – such as the car with blood on its tires that turned out to be from the chicken slaughtered in honour of the new vehicle – others have saved lives .

In August 2004, a suicide bomber in a black BMW was planning to hit the popular Sulaimaniyah Palace hotel where many foreigners stay, IWPR was told by a security official who wished to remain anonymous. It was information from hotel guards, residents and security forces that foiled the attack, the source said.

“The citizens contact [us] when they observe any abnormal, suspicious acts and we respond to their call very quickly,” said Brigadier-General Khoshawist Jamal, who manages the communications centre for the Sulaimaniyah administration's security department. “The citizens are like an alert eye for us in protecting Sulaimaniyah.”

Shop owner Raheem Sabir is typical of those determined to keep the city, the seat of the administration run by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main Kurdish parties, free of bombings and bloodshed.

“If I have the slightest suspicion about any strange or abnormal car or person, I will inform security officials immediately,” said Sabir.

Adil Ali, media relations manager with the interior ministry, said although some tip-offs like the car with tires covered in chicken blood prove to be a waste of time, most are made with good intentions.

“Although [that] incident [was] funny, it showed how sincere people in Sulaimaniyah are about informing the security forces of anything suspicious,” said Ali.

Iraqi Kurdistan is relatively stable compared with the rest of the country though cities like Erbil, the seat of the other Kurdish administration, run by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and Dohuk have not been immune to attacks. On May 4, a suicide bomber killed more than 60 people at a police recruiting centre in Erbil.

Sulaimaniyah’s security chief Sarkawt Hasan said that in addition to cooperative citizens, the city has remained safe because his officers are well trained and qualified to do their job. That includes gathering information on all newcomers, particularly those arriving in Sulaimaniyah to look for work.

As a result, foreigners are sensing that it is safe enough to invest here, such as one contented Turkish businessman who told IWPR Sulaimaniyah was "a secure and protected city".

Frman Abdul-Rahman is an IWPR trainee in Iraq.