Live: Tensions subside, fallout spreads after Palkana clashes

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And that will bring us to the end of our live blog today. Until tomorrow, goodbye.

No confirmation of Danish troops reportedly leaving Iraq

A number of Kurdish media outlets have reported that Danish troops are withdrawing from Iraq and Syria, citing a statement by the Danish Ministry of Defence. However, no such statements are found on the Danish Ministry of Defence (MOD) website or any other Danish official website.

NRT English has reached out to the Danish MOD for comment.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein thanks his Saudi counterpart for supporting the evacuation of Iraqis from Sudan. Iraq has rescued 14 of its citizens from the country as more than 200 Iraqis are still in Sudan.

In a phone call with the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, I urged the dangerous and complex situation in Sudan, and thanked the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its support for the evacuation of a number of Iraqis from Sudan.

Iraqi FM


Kurdish oil exports 2-3 weeks away, sources tell Reuters

Reuters is citing unnamed sources as saying negotiations on SOMO's contracts & repayment mechanism continue, with KRG & SOMO eyeing early May for export restart (not guaranteed). KRG oil revenues to be deposited in a special bank account for auditing, but details still under review.


Turkey is key


The reports says that Turkey holds the key to restarting oil flows once Baghdad & Erbil reach resolution. Ankara seeks in-person talks with Baghdad on $1.5B arbitration case & another related case. Frustration grows due to Iraq's reluctance & upcoming Turkish elections.

The KRG and SOMO are eyeing an early May export restart, two sources said, with one adding this is far from guaranteed. A restart is at least 2-3 weeks away, according to a separate industry source.



Kurdish oil exports to resume ‘soon’, says Iraqi government spokesperson

Iraqi government spokesperson Bassem al-Awadi informed the KDP-affiliated Rudaw website that Kurdish oil exports would resume "in the next few days." This statement echoes recent comments made by Iraqi Premier Muhammed Shia al-Sudani, who indicated that minor "technical issues" still need to be resolved.

NRT English reached out to Iraq's official oil marketer, SOMO, for more information. However, SOMO representatives directed inquiries to the Iraqi Oil Ministry. The Oil Ministry's spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

Sources have informed NRT English that Ankara wants Turkish and Russian oil companies to continue managing oil transport via the Ceyhan pipeline when SOMO assumes control over the sale of Kurdish oil. Alternatively, Ankara may be seeking compensation if it loses such contracts.

In other news: Kurdistan to host 2024's Conifa World Cup

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) recently announced that Kurdistan has been chosen to host the 2024 Conifa World Cup, a football tournament for teams not affiliated with FIFA. 

While it might not be Qatar 2022 in scale and pomp, this event still holds significance for those involved, and it offers a stage for nations, minorities, and culturally distinct regions to showcase their football prowess. The 2020 edition, due to be held in North Macedonia, fell victim to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kurdistan has had its fair share of success in non-FIFA tournaments. In the 2016 Conifa World Cup held in Abkhazia, the Kurdistan national football team reached the quarterfinals. But the real kicker (ehem) is that in 2012, Kurdistan won the Viva World Cup by defeating Northern Cyprus, a region with a predominantly Turkish ethnic majority. 

Tankers charted for Kurdish oil leave Ceyhan empty-handed

According to Bloomberg, five oil tankers that had been waiting for nearly a month to load crude from Iraq's Kurdish region have left the waters near the pipeline terminal in Turkey without loading any oil.

This suggests that oil won't flow from the area soon due to a standoff between the governments involved.

Turkey halted pipeline flows from the northern fields on March 25 after an international arbitration tribunal ruled that it had to pay about $1.5 billion in damages to Iraq for facilitating KRG sales via Ceyhan.

The absence of around 450,000 barrels a day of crude sales from Ceyhan has tightened supplies ahead of further cuts announced by OPEC and partner countries.

The export halt may be prolonged, as any restart depends on the settlement of the payment dispute between Iraq and Turkey. Last week, KRG delegations in Baghdad praised the progress made between Baghdad and Erbil in resolving "technical" issues preventing oil from flowing. However, it seems that Turkey has other ideas, regardless of the newfound goodwill fostered between the KRG and Iraq on the issue of Kurdistan's independent energy sales.
Dozens of countries have started evacuating their citizens amid ongoing violence.
Dozens of countries have started evacuating their citizens amid ongoing violence.   credit: Şükrü Duman - AA
Sudan Unrest: Syrian Kurds Stranded in the Country

Kurds are among tens of thousands of Syrians stranded in Sudan as violence engulfs the nation, according to a report by the Syrian Kurdish Hawar News Agency (ANHA).

Since the unrest began in Khartoum, at least 11 Syrian citizens have been killed, with many attempting to flee the country.

Hamo Rahmano, a Syrian Kurd from Khartoum, told ANHA that escaping the country is particularly challenging for Syrians, as their government has not offered any assistance.

He added:

None of the official authorities have communicated with the Kurdish and Syrian community in Sudan. Although tens of thousands of Syrians live in the country, we have not seen any steps taken by the Damascus government. This is what we are always used to, as the citizens mean nothing to Damascus.


Escalating Tensions in Palkana: KDP's Election Ambitions

In recent days, ethnic tensions surrounding farmland disputes in Palkana, a village in Kirkuk, have intensified. KDP-affiliated media outlets have been vocal about the incident, while other sources, particularly those tied to the PUK, have remained relatively quiet.

The KDP's focus on Palkana is likely due to the party's aspirations in the upcoming Kirkuk Governorate Council elections. The KDP seeks to show that the PUK is responsible for Kirkuk's current situation, following the October 2017 events when Iraqi security forces took control of the region. In doing so, the KDP presents itself as a superior choice for local residents.

Disputes between Kurdish and Arab farmers are not a new phenomenon; NGO-funded media outlet Kirkuk Now has regularly reported on tensions in Palkana and other areas since the 2017 events, during which Iraqi security forces replaced Kurdish forces. This power shift has strengthened the position of Arab residents. However, land disputes also occur among Kurdish farmers themselves.

Journalist Shorish Khalid, who has covered the disputed territories for over a decade, told NRT English that the KDP hopes to build on its better-than-expected results in Kirkuk during the 2022 parliamentary elections. The party aims to seize any opportunity to argue for its return. However, Khalid added that the KDP's approach and media narrative have remained stagnant for the past 15 years, resulting in no significant progress.

The Solution Lies in Baghdad

Khalid explains that the KDP capitalizes on the fact that both the Iraqi Justice Minister, Khalid Shwani, and the head of the General Board for Kurdistani Areas Outside the KRG Administration, Fahmi Burhan, are PUK members. Consequently, any failures in addressing the issues are attributed to the PUK.

While there is some truth to this, it doesn't capture the whole story. It is true that the Kurdish administration of Kirkuk, primarily under PUK control before 2017, is responsible for many ongoing issues in the province. However, the solution falls outside the authority of Kirkuk's local judiciary and administration.

Khalid asserts that only the implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution can resolve the land disputes. Both the KDP and PUK are responsible for the failure to implement this article, and their strained relationship and disagreements hinder the pursuit of a more lasting solution.

Article 140 outlines a political process to determine the fate of disputed territories, including demographic normalization, a census, and a referendum on whether Kirkuk should join the Kurdistan Region or remain under federal government control. This referendum, scheduled for 2007, never took place, perpetuating the ongoing disputes.

Khalid also warns that the upcoming harvest season may bring increased tensions, similar to those seen last week. He further cautions that the current narrative, which includes threats from the Peshmerga forces to enter the village under Iraqi control, could exacerbate the situation. This escalation may be what the KDP wants ahead of the November elections.

credit: Levi Mier - Unsplush
Shalaw Ali Askari on Rudaw's Legel Ranj
Shalaw Ali Askari on Rudaw's Legel Ranj   credit: Rudaw Media Network
Appearing on Rudaw's popular Legel Ranj current affairs program, the Executive to the PUK's political bureau warns that relations between the PUK and KDP are at their worst point since the civil war, and cautions about the possibility of another armed conflict between the two parties.

Shalaw Ali Askari, the Executive to the PUK's political bureau, discussed the tense relationship between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) on Rudaw TV channel, stating that the situation is worse than during the civil war. He expressed concerns that if the current tensions continue, they may escalate into another armed conflict.

You can't clap with one hand.

When challenged that it takes two to tango in all political disputes, he said:

"You can't clap with one hand, but I see the PUK's fault here to be silence in the face of those initial transgressions."

He cites the case of Prime Minister Masrour Barzani forming a "government-within-the-government" by hand-selecting a group of senior advisors and carving out ministerial powers meant for PUK ministers, handing them over to these partisan advisors.

While Askari admits that both parties shoulder responsibility, he places the lion's share of the blame on the KDP for reneging on promises made when relations were at a better ebb and the current cabinet was being set up.

The two parties are already in the middle of a civil war. It just hasn't reached the 'armed' stage yet.

When asked by host Ranj Sangawi if it would reach that stage, the remarkably frank Shalaw Ali Askari said: "If it continues on this trajectory, I do believe it will become [an armed conflict]."

Askari said that while Jalal Talabani, the late PUK leader, was able to maintain dialogue with the KDP, Masoud Barzani has failed to play a similar role for the current dispute between the new generation of Barzanis and Talabanis in power.

The Kurdish Civil War, known locally as the Fratricidal War, took place from 1994 to 1998 between the two dominant Kurdish political factions in Iraqi Kurdistan: the PUK and the KDP. The parties were led by Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani, respectively. Their sons are now at the center of the latest power struggle between the two parties.

The conflict was primarily over territorial control and political influence in the region, fueled by long-standing ideological differences and power struggles.

The war resulted in thousands of casualties and significant political instability in the region. Eventually, a U.S.-brokered ceasefire in 1998 paved the way for the establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and a power-sharing agreement between the PUK and KDP.

However, the unified KRG has remained a façade, with each party still wielding de facto control over territories solidified during the civil war.

Local police take over in Palkana

Kawa Gharib, commander of Kirkuk Police, has said his forces have been deployed to the village following consultations with the Iraqi Army and the peshmerga forces, KDP-affiliated Kurdistan24 reports.

Gharib says the move comes following Friday's tensions between Kurdish and Arab farmers to prevent similar issues from recurring.

Financial advisor to the Iraqi PM, Mazhar Mohammed, acknowledged that changes are needed to pass the federal budget. 

Stressing the need for a 'national consensus' among political parties and parliamentary factions, Mohammed suggests 'simple' adjustments in funding formulas for investments in provinces and regions could help pass the bill.

Mohammed highlighted the existing understanding between the government and parliament, asserting there's no need to return the budget bill. However, he admitted that the budget and financial plan have not been passed for four sessions, making it essential to reach an agreement.

Finance Minister Taif Sami informed Sabah newspaper that this year's budget totals 140 trillion dinars, with 80 trillion allocated for salaries and government expenditures. Sami noted that the 2023 budget is the largest in Iraq's history.

The cabinet approved the budget on March 13, and it has been slowly progressing through parliament since. The process has been far from smooth.

After the budget bill reached Iraq's legislature, a member of the parliamentary finance committee told state media that lawmakers would need "a month-and-a-half" to pass the bill.

As the 45-day mark approaches, the finish line still seems a long way off.
Iraqis in Sudan: Latest Updates
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Sahhaf announced today that Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein is overseeing rescue efforts with Iraqi embassies in Khartoum, Cairo, and Abu Dhabi to expedite operations.

Sahaf reported that 14 of approximately 300 Iraqis have been evacuated from Khartoum to safety in Port Sudan. He urged Iraqis in Khartoum to contact the embassy to register for a return to Iraq.

Last night, Sahaf confirmed an Iraqi citizen's death during Sudan's unrest.

Recent clashes between Sudan's Army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have left hundreds dead.
Fahmi Burhan on NRT TV's Tawtwe
Fahmi Burhan on NRT TV's Tawtwe   credit: NRT TV screengrab
Fahmi Burhan, Head of the General Board for Kurdistani Areas Outside the KRG Administration (catchy title), recently discussed the escalating conflict between Kurdish and Arab farmers in Kirkuk with NRT TV’s Karzan Osman.

Burhan firmly believes that the tensions stem from the Baath Party’s Arabization policies, which were designed to ethnically cleanse the city of its Kurdish majority.

This isn’t a normal situation and is at risk of being repeated. The problems that led to this incident remain in place, and the laws being implemented are the same ones that brought about the Arabization in the first place.

Fahmi Burhan

For context, the General Board for Kurdistani Areas Outside the KRG Administration is responsible for managing Kurdish-inhabited regions outside the jurisdiction of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq.

These disputed territories, including Kirkuk, parts of Nineveh, Salah ad-Din, and Diyala provinces, have been a source of tension between the central Iraqi government and the KRG due to historical and ongoing disputes over administration and resources.

Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party implemented Arabization policies in these regions, forcibly displacing Kurds and replacing them with Arabs.

Although the Iraqi constitution called for resolving the issue of disputed territories through a process known as “Article 140" after Saddam’s regime fell in 2003, the implementation has been delayed indefinitely.

The situation was further complicated when, in 2014, KRG’s Peshmerga forces took control of many disputed areas after the rise of ISIS.

However, the KRG’s independence referendum in September 2017 prompted the central government to launch a military operation to reclaim control over the territories, resulting in the KRG losing most of the disputed areas.

The General Board for Kurdistani Areas Outside the KRG Administration now plays a role in addressing concerns and needs of the Kurdish population in these regions amid ongoing disputes between Kurdistan and Baghdad and tensions among the disputed territories' ethnic communities. 
Good morning! Welcome to the NRT English live blog. Here's the agenda for today:

  • As tensions subside in Kirkuk between Arab and Kurdish farmers, we'll be covering the political fallout as the issue tops the news agenda in both Kurdistan and Baghdad.
  • Efforts to evacuate the 300 or so Iraqis in Sudan intensify as the Foreign Ministry confirms the death of an Iraqi citizen.
  • Pipelines carrying Iraqi and Kurdish oil exports to Turkey's Ceyhan port remain shut, despite the ostensible best efforts of everyone involved.
  • Denmark announces the full withdrawal of all military personnel from Iraq.

We'll be monitoring broadcasts and cyberspace for any further developments and additional reactions to these stories. Stay tuned!