On 10 September, hundreds of Mandali residents conducted a demonstration in front of the Mandali Mayor’s office. The individuals denounced the planned inclusion of Mandali in the Kurdish independence referendum as announced the day prior. Over 100 gunmen reportedly affiliated with Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) breached the office, attacked the statue of a Kurdish martyr Lt. Jwamer, and removed the Kurdish flag from the site and other government buildings in the town, burning them and replacing them with the Iraq flag. The Diyala Governor and police units responded to these events in order to bring the situation under control.
Mandali Mandali local council member Haidar al-Mandalawi stated the demonstration transitioned into a sit-in, with demonstrators demanding the removal of Mandali from the referendum vote, and the replacement of Mandali Mayor and Mandali Council Director. Diyala governor Muthanna al-Timimi placed Mandali Mayor Abdulabbas Hussein Masir on a leave of absence in accordance with these demands. Kurdish officials have strongly denounced these actions and AAH involvement, and are coordinating with Hashd al-Shaabi and Iraqi government counterparts in order to reconcile the situation. Some officials stated voting offices could be opened in Khanaqin for Mandali residents.
On 11 September, Haider al-Mandlawi stated that the sit-in conducted by Manadli residents was ended after most of their demands were met. The Mandali local council voted to uphold the governor’s dismissal of the Mandali mayor, and voted to cancel Mandali’s participation in the vote in a session that day. The official claimed demonstrators removed their tents as a result in a positive sign.
Kurdish officials denounced the vote as occurring under duress due to the threat posed by Shi’a militia members the day prior. Of the local council’s 13 members, eight are Kurdish and the remainder are Arab. Hemin Mansur, the deputy head of the PUK, claimed they plan to appeal the vote and voice their concerns with the central government. Mansur also criticized the security forces in Diyala for failing to maintain security. Despite ongoing tensions, very cautious optimism is in effect that the vote will reduce the potential for additional significant unrest in Mandali over the near-term.
These developments form one of the most notable instances of unrest tied to the approaching referendum yet seen. The 10 September events prominently illustrate challenges that were previously anticipated along various sectarian fault lines, particularly in northern Diyala, Tuz Khurmatu, and Kirkuk. Mandali forms the southernmost tip of the Kurdish Region, being predominately Kurdish, but lacking a significant Peshmerga presence unlike Khanaqin to the north. As such, this town is located in a position that is particularly vulnerable to both Iraqi government and extrajudicial actions as highlighted during these events.
Despite the breaching of the office, the lack of significant violence and clear efforts to moderate related tensions forms a positive measure that was also consistent with previous expectations for the most likely course of action during this politically dynamic period.