At least five people were killed and 29 injured in a suicide car-bomb attack on Wednesday in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region of South Kurdistan in northern Iraq, the Ministry of Health confirmed in a press conference. The attack took place outside of the Governorate building, where vehicles are searched prior to entry.
South Kurdistan is relatively calm, particularly when compared to neighbouring Baghdad, a city subject to daily suicide bombings, mostly in Shiite-dominated areas. The attack generated heated online conversations among Kurdish social media users about the influx of refugees into the region.
It is estimated that 1.4 million refugees and internally displaced people currently reside in the Kurdistan region. The region has been forthcoming in accepting refugees and providing religious minorities such as Arab Christians with a safe haven.
— Osamah Golpy (@OsamaGolpy) November 19, 2014
Despite Kurdistan’s hospitable attitude towards refugees in the region, many people have questioned the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) policy towards refugees. Local Kurds have called for tighter security to control the flow of refugees into the region, arguing that militants belonging to the recently declared ISIS — a notoriously brutal Al Qaeda offshoot responsible for mass killing of Iraqi soldiers, Syrian soldiers, aid workers, journalists and the kidnapping, rape and forced marriage of women — could pose as refugees.
Following the bombing, Kurdish politicians, leaders and activists were keen to shift focus from refugees and internally displaced people to the threat of ISIS regionally and the sacrifices of Kurdish security forces.
The President of Kurdistan’s recently established Middle East Research Institute Dlawer Ala'Aldeen joined the ongoing online discussion about the necessity of Kurdish leadership alongside Arab leadership to take responsibility for the country’s ongoing failure to tighten its security and curb the spread of ISIS militants.
Terrorists kill innocents without mercy &die without hesitation.No one is immune.To defeat them leaders must win public support &stay united
— Dlawer Ala'Aldeen (@Dlawer) November 19, 2014
The Kurdistan Regional Government’s High Representative to the UK, Bayam Sami Rahman, whose father was killed in a suicide bomb attack in 2004, reacted to the Erbil bomb blast by highlighting the region’s growing hospitality and multi-faith community.
Erbil, capital of Kurdistan, city of peaceful coexistence among Christians and Muslims, will continue to live in peace, stand against terror
— Bayan Sami Rahman (@BayanRahman) November 19, 2014
Commenting on the leading local news agency's coverage of the aftermath of the attack, many called for the deportation of Arabs in the region, while others responded to these ultra-nationalist voices with criticism, accusing them of bigotry, racism and discrimination.
Niroj Dosky commented on Rudaw News Agency's Facebook saying, “No Arabs in Kurdistan.” “This is what happens when you let Arabs in to our country,” wrote Kaso Shottas.
The most fair-minded response came from Wazi Aziz, who said, “Ignorance is never the answer. I am Kurdish, and like thousands of others I too had to flee my home because of Saddam regime, but the one thing I learnt […] never judge a person based on what colour or country they come from […] For people to say kick all the Arabs out, do you not realise that by saying that we are just as bad as them?”
The problem with the reactionary response to the suicide-bomb attack puts foreigners, internally displaced people and refugees at the centre of attention. This is particularly the case with anti-Arab sentiment in the region, who are perceived to be idle alongside their leaders in the face of ISIS militants.
On the other hand, ISIS poses a genuine threat to the Kurdistan region, and must be dealt with through appropriate measures. Nothing justifies racism and closing borders for refugees, but putting in place a mechanism to ensure ISIS militants don’t enter the region by posing as refugees is important.
Unfortunate bomb in Erbil today which will impact how locals view non Kurds in Kurdistan.
— Yerevan Saeed (@YerevanSaeed) November 19, 2014
Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Regional Government's Council of Ministers has issued a statement urging the people to remain “steadfast in their high level of shared vigilance and responsibility for security”.