This essay examines state-society relations in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq through a case study of the March 2006 protest in Halabja, during which protesters destroyed a memorial built to honor the victims of the 1988 chemical bombing of the city. The article suggests that contradictions between word and deed fueled local perceptions that the Kurdistan Regional Government was exploiting Halabja’s symbolic and material legacy. The essay’s main argument is that these contradictions, along with Halabja’s symbolic capital, gave student protesters leverage for renegotiating the terms of the relationship between authorities and local people. They mobilized the politics of shame to pressure officials, transformed the monument site and the commemoration into a theater for conveying their challenge, and acquired influential allies capable of substantiating and institutionalizing their demands.

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