Huge crowds thronged the streets of Sulaimaniyeh on Sunday, protesting against frozen salaries, pay cuts and corruption in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Thousands of people, many of them teachers and civil servants, took part in rallies and marches in Sulaimaniyeh, the provincial capital, voicing their anger and frustration at years of austerity measures and unpaid salaries. The demonstrators carried placards and banners denouncing corruption and pay cuts. One such placard read: “We are against all oppression. We are against all corruption” .

Demonstrators also announced their intention to visit the parliament and Council of Ministries to present their demands as representatives of Iraqi Kurdish teachers.  They vowed to continue their strike until their demands are met. Significantly, the protests have spread to other major Kurdish cities in northern Iraq, such as Irbil and Duhok, for the first time.

The protests took place against a backdrop of Iraqi federal government recently resuming salary payments of Kurdish civil servants and Peshmerga security forces.  These had been frozen earlier in the wake of tensions between the central government in Baghdad, and Kurdish authorities, over a non-binding Kurdish independence vote.

The referendum on secession of the Iraqi Kurdistan region was held on 25th September last year, despite strong opposition from the central government in Baghdad, the international community, and Iraq's neighbours, particularly Turkey and Iran. Baghdad says the holding of referendum was unconstitutional and illegal -- a viewpoint endorsed by much of the international community, as well as Iran and Turkey.