Live: Abdullah Kuekha Mubarak speaks to media after death of son

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Sulaimaniyah Governor warns of further security, economic unrest

Haval Abubaker posted a poetic message on his Facebook (he used to be a poet) warning of further disturbance of the security and economy of the Kurdistan Region, to the extent that things could get out of hand and "everything would either be upset or annihilated."  

He said that while many dualities made up and got together at the end, "you [presumably referring to the KDP and PUK] have not arrived, have not reached an understanding, and have not reached the destinations."

He added: "You played with fire, and you burned, and now the fire has taken over, and the fire has become the player." 

This comes as the killing of Mubarek's young son yesterday and its potential implications could have severe consequences, given the current political dynamics in the Kurdistan Region and the intense rivalry between the KDP and PUK.

KRG Minister Reports Highest Poverty Rates in Duhok, Kurdistan Region

KRG Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Kwestan Mohamad, revealed that Duhok has the highest poverty rates in the Kurdistan Region. Mohamad, a member of the Change Movement (Gorran), made this statement during a press conference held on the sidelines of her visit to Duhok to inaugurate an exhibition offering job opportunities in the private sector.

As reported by Shafaq News, the minister emphasized that determining the unemployment rate in Kurdistan falls under the purview of the Ministry of Planning, specifically the Statistics Authority, rather than her own ministry.

Duhok, a KDP stronghold, has experienced significant anti-government demonstrations in recent years due to unpaid wages. This has led to the imprisonment of numerous activists, infamously known as the Badinan detainees.
Recap on the killing of Abdullah Kuekha Mubarak’s son

  • Sarhad Mubarak, the 21-year-old son of Abdullah Kuekha Mubarak, a high-ranking KDP military official, was killed near the city of Sulaymaniyah, in Chamchamal.
  • A house believed to belong to the suspect was set on fire, which was later contained by firefighters.
  • NRT English has viewed video footage showing heavy security forces moving through the center of Chamchamal, with armed men seen walking through some neighborhoods. Reporters were advised to avoid the area due to the risk of violence.
  • Local media reports suggest a blood feud between the victim's family and another family. NRT Kurdish reported that an arrest warrant had been issued for the victim in connection with a previous murder, but security forces were unable to apprehend him due to his political affiliations.
  • Mubarak told the media last night that his son was disabled, not involved in social or political issues, and could not have been a gunman. He urged his relatives and supporters not to retaliate and escalate the situation, especially in light of increasing political tensions in the Kurdistan Region, and to avoid targeting uninvolved individuals.
  • According to the KRG website, Prime Minister Masrour Barzani called Abdullah Kuekha Mubarak following the death of his son, expressing gratitude for Mubarak's courageous, responsible, and patriotic stance. The Prime Minister emphasized that such crimes must end, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.
  • Abdullah Kuekha Mubarak, a KDP member with a militia force in Sulaymaniyah, has become a vital ally for Masrour Barzani in his growing hostilities against the PUK, who administer Sulaymaniyah and Halabja provinces.
  • The killing of Mubarak's young son and its potential implications could have severe consequences, given the current political dynamics in the Kurdistan Region and the intense rivalry between the KDP and PUK

From our prevoius article on how relations between the KDP and PUK have reached their lowest point since the infamous civil war of the 1990s which left Iraqi Kurdistan politically divided.

The bitter rivalry between Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, who also serves as the deputy leader of the KDP, and PUK leader Bafel Talabani has resulted in a dysfunctional governing system marked by minimal cooperation.

Genuine fears of a formal dual administration have emerged, where each party would govern its own territories separately within the region.

Turkey heavily bombs PKK bases in Duhok province

Turkey heavily bombed bases belonging to Turkey's Kurdish rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Duhok province on Wednesday.

PKK-affiliated ANF website said that Turkey has carried out 77 attacks in the province in the last three days.

"On April 24, 25, and 26, our resistance positions in Mount Judi, Mount Amedi, Chamcho, and Sida were bombed eight times by helicopters and 69 times by Katyushas, tanks, and heavy weapons," the report added.


Breaking News: Ex-Customs Official and Partner Allegedly Abducted in Sulaimaniyah

NRT Kurdish has reported that a former Parwez Khan customs official and his partner have been forcibly taken from their home in Kalar district, Sulaimaniyah province, by an unidentified group of armed individuals.

Aram Saya Khan and his partner were reportedly abducted by a team of heavily armed, masked men, as according to Saya Khan's brother.

Local police sources tells NRT that they have not yet been made aware of the incident.

Report: PUK lists ten conditions for its return to the KRG cabinet

Hawlati, an independent outlet, has reported that the PUK has listed ten conditions for its ministerial team to return to KRG cabinet meetings. 

1. Giving the deputy prime minister, Qubad Talabani, all his powers (Talabani has long complained that his boss Masrour Barzani controls the most vital organs in the KRG, leaving him powerless.)

2. Widening the authority of PUK ministers, department heads, deputies, and general directors.

3. Establishing a joint committee between the ruling KDP and PUK, along with international allied forces, to resolve the case of Hawkar Jaff's killing.

4. Ending the financial "embargo" on Sulaymaniyah, as it has not received the required payments from oil revenues.

5. Accepting the figures for non-oil revenues from Sulaymaniyah and Halabja provinces, mainly border point customs revenues. 

6. Allocating a budget for service projects in Sulaymaniyah and Halabja provinces, like those in Erbil and Duhok provinces, without being discriminatory. (The PUK has long said the KDP-led KRG favors areas under its control, while the KDP rejects this claim and accuses the PUK of wasting the allocated funds.)

7. Ensuring payments from the KRG to contractors and pharmaceutical companies.

8. Restoring the budget for the Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG) in Sulaymaniyah, suspended by the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC).

9. Granting Qubad Talabani the authority to make appointments in Sulaymaniyah, where hundreds of positions are required, namely in the health and education departments.

10. Carrying out one of PUK's election promises to employ contract teachers.


The spokesperson of the KRG deputy prime minister says solving the salary issues in Sulaymaniyah is a must before talking about the return of the PUK to the cabinet

Hawrami told KDP-affiliated Rudaw TV today that Sulaymaniyah has a deficit of 30 to 32bn IQD when it comes to providing salaries for public sector employees. He says that the ongoing political issues between the KDP and PUK should not be mixed up with issues surrounding salary payments. KRG premier said the same thing on the issues surrounding salary disbursement.

credit: Levi Meir

SNN: KRG suffered losses of more than $840m in the last month due to the halting of oil exports

Slemani News Network (SNN), affiliated with the PUK, has reported that the KRG has suffered losses of more than $840m following the halting of oil exports.

After the verdict in Paris by the ICC International Court of Arbitration, which favored Iraq over Turkey regarding the latter’s oil imports from the Kurdistan Region, Turkey has halted its operations, leading to a lack of oil sales from the KRG.

The report went on to say that if the Kurdistan Region exported 400,000 barrels of oil per day, and each barrel was sold at $70, the daily revenue from oil exports would have been more than $28m. In the past 30 days, it has lost $840m.

The KRG has signed a temporary agreement with Iraq’s federal government to resume the sale of oil. However, Turkey has yet to greenlight its operations again, with the country most likely wanting to resolve the outstanding $1.5bn fine it had imposed on them by the court in Paris, among other issues. 

Now that Baghdad is closing in on controlling the sale of Kurdish oil, the KRG has no choice but to make up for the deficit from the federal budget.

credit: UN Saudi Arabia
The United Nations in Saudi Arabia has expressed gratitude to Jeddah for its efforts in evacuating over 500 UN and NGO personnel from Sudan. Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry announced today that a total of 1,674 nationals from various countries, including Iraq, have been rescued from Sudan. The ministry stated that this rescue operation has been the largest of its kind carried out by the country to date.
Kirkuk Arab coalition criticizes Kurdish parties for demanding governorship

The official spokesperson of the Kirkuk Arab Coalition has criticized the KDP and PUK officials for demanding the Kirkuk Governorship for Kurds, claiming their statements are politically motivated and aimed at whipping up populist support from the Kurdish community. 

Spokesperson Abu Azam told VOA that the KDP and PUK feel political remorse for losing most of their positions in Kirkuk since the October 16th, 2017, a day in which Peshmerga forces left the city and other disputed regions as incoming Iraqi security forces took over. The loss of these areas occurred just weeks after the controversial Kurdistan independence referendum, which included Kirkuk and other disputed territories.

Azam added that the Arab community in Kirkuk wants unity in order to secure the Governorship in the upcoming provincial council elections. Uniting Arab parties is on their agenda.

The report also noted that the KDP and PUK view the Governorship as a Kurdish right, arguing that Rakan Jabbari assumed the position due to the events of October 2017. As a result, they seek the post before the provincial council elections in November.

Intense intra-Kurdish rivalry and disputes prevented the election of a Kirkuk Governor in 2019, despite agreeing on a joint candidate. The KDP, no longer considering the PUK an equal partner, tried to force the PUK to choose between losing the Presidency of the Republic or the Kirkuk Governorship to reach agreements on both issues. The PUK sees both positions as political and electoral entitlements, with the Presidency allocated to them because the Kurdistan Region Presidency was given to the KDP, and Kirkuk's Kurdish support base traditionally aligning with the PUK.

Tayyib Jabbar, a PUK member announced as the joint Kurdish candidate for Kirkuk's Governorship in 2019, was never elected. Provincial councils across the country (excluding the Kurdistan Region) were dissolved by Iraq's Parliament in response to anti-government protests. Since then, Kirkuk has been politically administered by acting deputy governor Rakan al-Jabouri, a Sunni-Arab, who took over from Dr. Najmaldin Karim, the last Kurdish governor, in 2017 following the Kurdistan Region's independence referendum.
credit: KRG
KRG PM calls on PUK team to return to their jobs amid ongoing boycott

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held its weekly cabinet meeting today, once again without the participation of the PUK ministers and Deputy Premier Qubad Talabani, who have been boycotting the meetings for months. The meeting discussed the ongoing absence of the PUK's ministerial team.

A statement from the cabinet read: "We have repeatedly asked the Deputy Prime Minister and the PUK team to return to the Council of Ministers meetings, and we now ask them once again to fulfill their legal and administrative duties in service of the people of the Kurdistan Region." The statement added that the KDP is open to discussing any problems, but they must be addressed within cabinet meetings.

The cabinet emphasized their hope for the PUK team's return, urging them to shoulder their responsibilities and prevent further harm to citizens.

Last week, a KRG delegation met with Qubad Talabani, who reportedly rejected proposals for his return. This rejection follows months of deteriorating relations between the KDP and PUK, with Talabani abstaining for over six months.

Two proposals were reportedly offered for the PUK ministers' return. The first option was for the entire PUK ministerial team to return, while the second was for ministers to resume their roles before Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani returns.

Local media widely reported that issues surrounding security and the economy have been the main concerns raised by the PUK. Specifically, the PUK has been concerned about financial allocation shortages for Sulaymaniyah Governorate and the killing of Hawkar Jaff in Erbil.

Hawkar Jaff, who defected from the Sulaymaniyah-based Zanyari Agency (PUK Intelligence Services) to the Erbil-based Zanyari Agency, was assassinated in broad daylight via explosives attached to his car.

The KDP and the Kurdistan Regional Security Council (which formally oversees intelligence services controlled by both KDP and PUK) have pointed fingers at PUK leader Bafel Talabani for the killing. Jaff's defection and the handover of sensitive intel were widely thought to be reasons for his assassination.

To date, no genuine investigation into the killing has been conducted. The PUK, consistently denying any involvement in the assassination, reportedly wants the case dropped. They view it as a KDP-led witch hunt. The KDP's refusal to sweep the matter under the rug is reportedly the biggest stumbling block for Qubad Talabani's return.

KDP sources claim they cannot allow a precedent for political assassinations in Erbil. The city falls under the KDP's security umbrella.
Barham Salih's Fall from Grace

Here's some background on Dr. Barham Salih, a former rising star and mainstay in Iraqi politics. Previously regarded as a potential successor to Jalal Talabani in the PUK, Salih's influence has waned significantly. He served as prime ninister of the KRG from 2009 to 2011 and had been prime minister in the Sulaymaniyah administration during the era of formal dual administration.

After Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke, deputy party leader Barham Salih sought the leadership role with some support from within the party. However, he was blocked by Talabani's wife and in-laws (namely Hero and Shanaz Ibrahim Ahmed) due to ongoing personal and political issues. Barham posed a threat to Ibrahim Ahmed's family as an outsider, and they wanted to maintain control of the PUK. Salih's rivals succeeded in blocking his nomination for Iraq's presidency in 2014, with Dr. Fuad Masum being preferred in a closed vote among Kurdish MPs, leaving the PUK with two official candidates.

Growing impatient with the internal issues within the party, Salih founded the Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ) along with other political figures. The CDJ presented a liberal outlook on politics and opposed both the ruling KDP and PUK parties. Elected leader in early 2018, Salih's bloc won only two seats in Iraq's elections later that year, further diminishing his status in the Kurdistan Region.

With little leverage left and an eye on the federal presidency, Salih returned to the PUK in his previous capacity as deputy leader. He was nominated for the position by the PUK but left his own CDJ in the dust.

Salih won the post via a parliamentary vote in a humiliating rout of KDP nominee Dr. Fuad Hussein, upsetting KDP leader Masoud Barzani.

His return and victory were instigated by Bafel Talabani and Lahur Sheikh Jangi, who also upset members of their own family in the process.

In 2020, Salih was the favorite to win the party leadership in the 4th PUK congress, but was outmaneuvered by the Talabani cousins, who became co-leaders. Salih also lost the presidency in Baghdad in a race between himself and fellow PUK member Dr. Latif Rashid, who garnered most parliamentary votes despite being the party's formal candidate.

Rashid, who is married to Jalal Talabani's sister-in-law Shanaz Ibrahim Ahmed, was positioned as an independent nominee to block Salih's re-election. He succeeded with support from major factions in the Shia bloc and the KDP.

There were also talks of the PUK throwing Salih under the bus in last-minute efforts to elect a consensus candidate, over one  disliked by Barzani and Nouri al-Maliki. With no leadership role in Baghdad or the party, Salih has become more silent in recent months, likely calculating his next political move. Last month, Salih published what was meant to be a high-profile launch of plans for a new political settlement in Iraq. It barely made a dent in Iraqi and Kurdish media.
Just in: Kurdistan PM calls on PUK ministers to return to cabinet and end boycott

We reiterated that we have repeatedly asked the Deputy Prime Minister and the PUK team to return to the meetings of the Council of Ministers and now we once again ask them to return implement their legal and administrative duties in the service of the people [of the Kurdistan Region]

Masrour Barzani

Sudan Crisis: Iraqi PM sends plane to evacuate citizens amid criticism

Some Iraqis have taken to social media to express their dissatisfaction with their government's response to evacuating fellow citizens from Sudan. The Iraqi foreign ministry previously announced that about 20 Iraqis have been evacuated and expressed gratitude to Saudi Arabia for assisting in the rescue efforts. 

Iraqi activist Tamara al-Khazraji shared a video from al-Arabia on Twitter, featuring Iraqis in Jeddah: "The Saudi authorities evacuate Iraqi nationals in Sudan after the [Coordination] Framework government left them. I don't know what the role of our government is if it cannot protect Iraqis both inside and outside the country! Thank you, Great Saudi Arabia."

Another Twitter user wrote: "Iraq has the Iraqi Anti-Terrorism Service, which is one of the most powerful special forces in the Middle East. Why hasn't the force yet started the process of rescuing the Iraqis stranded in Sudan, similar to the special units of Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt!??"
The New Arab: Iraqi Kurdish MPs Rule Out Parliamentary Elections in November

According to The New Arab, a London-based pan-Arab news website, MPs in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq have ruled out holding parliamentary elections in November. The Kurdistan Region last held general elections on September 30, 2018, with fresh elections scheduled for October 1, 2022. However, due to disagreements between the KDP and PUK over the election process, parliament voted to extend its term for one year.

The Kurdistan Region Presidency announced that elections were set for November 18, but The New Arab contacted MPs who indicated that the elections would likely be delayed. PUK MP Sarko Azad told The New Arab, "Unfortunately, the current political atmosphere is not suitable for holding elections."

Azad added, "The parliament should convene by early May, amend the election law, and renew the mandate of the electoral commission. But there is no possibility for the parliament to convene any time soon, thus holding the elections in time is a remote possibility, especially after tensions between the KDP and the PUK reached a deep stage.”

KDP MP Bahman Abdulla informed The New Arab that her party had negotiations with other political parties. "Unless the political parties reach an agreement outside the parliament, it is very difficult for the parliament to set the stage for the elections.” He added, “The KDP was flexible with the other political parties to reach a consensus on the issue.

"Unless the parties reach an agreement, it is very difficult for the elections to be held in time."

Despite the formal announcement this year, it appears unlikely that the Kurdistan Region will hold elections due to ongoing disagreements. The ruling parties are also aware of the potential poor outcomes and votes they could receive, particularly the PUK, which has faced significant internal issues since Lahur Sheikh Jangi's removal as co-leader.
Who is Abdullah Kuekha Mabarek?

Yesterday, it was reported that a son of high-ranking KDP military official Abdullah Kuekha Mabarek was killed. This story is particularly important due to the political dynamics involved.

Abdullah Kuekha Mabarek hails from Chamchamal, a town in Sulaymaniyah Governorate, infamously dubbed the "Texas of Kurdistan" because of its high levels of social conflict and gun crime. Mabarek was once a member of the opposition party, the Change Movement (Gorran), and a vocal critic of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) before defecting to the KDP, the KRG's primary ruling party. As a Gorran member, Mabarek held a leadership position and commanded his own militia. He was known for calling for uprisings against the government and taking matters into his own hands. Mabarek has previously threatened activists and journalists for criticizing Gorran after its gradual decline.

Mabarek defected to the KDP in 2021, allegedly due to issues he had with forces aligned with the PUK, the other ruling party that governs Sulaymaniyah province. His defection was surprising, given his prior antagonistic statements against the KRG, particularly the KDP. He also claimed to have become disgruntled with Gorran.

The KDP provided Mabarek with significant financial and military support, including a militia in Sulaymaniyah province, deliberately creating a thorn in the side of PUK-controlled zones. This arrangement gives the impression of a marriage of convenience.

The killing of Mabarek's young son, whom he claims was disabled, could have severe implications given the current political dynamics in the Kurdistan Region and the ongoing hostility between the KDP and PUK
Two dozen employees of the Bakrajo municipality in Sulaimaniyah province gathered in front of the Kurdistan Regional Bank to demand their March salaries. According to a schedule published by the KRG's Ministry of Finance, they were supposed to receive their pay on April 18.

The issue stems from disputes between the KDP and PUK, with their strained relations impacting various aspects of the Kurdistan Region's governance. The Finance Ministry issued a statement today accusing PUK-controlled areas of the Sulaimaniyah governorate, as well as the independent administrations of Raparin and Garmiyan, of "discriminating" employees when distributing salaries based on the employee's position and the availability of cash in the banks.

The statement claimed that the responsibility lies entirely with the Sulaimaniyah branch of the General Directorate of the Central Bank of the Kurdistan Region. It also warned (likely in vain, as the KDP-controlled ministry has little power in the PUK areas) that altering the ministry-set schedule could result in legal consequences.

This situation ties back to earlier disagreements between the KDP and PUK over salary delays ahead of Eid al-Fitr. Official and semi-official PUK media outlets retaliated, asserting that Peshmerga members affiliated with the PUK are facing discrimination in receiving their pensions in Erbil and Duhok provinces.

The KRG Ministry of Finance also denied responsibility for the slow distribution of public sector salaries in several ministries within Sulaimaniyah province. KRG Premier Masrour Barzani issued a statement last week on public sector salaries, asserting that "no individual or party should obstruct the salary distribution process anywhere in the Kurdistan Region. People's salaries and livelihoods should not be entangled with political conflicts and issues.

"The country's revenue must serve our citizens, and anyone who disrupts this process must be held accountable to the people and the law."
Barham Salih
Barham Salih  
Former Iraqi President Barham Salih has urged Iraq to pursue "root-and-branch" reforms to overcome the myriad of challenges it faces after 20 years of liberation. Reflecting on the progress made since the fall of Saddam Hussein in a piece for Foreign Policy (paywall), Salih acknowledges that while Iraq has taken strides in democracy and improving its economy, the nation still grapples with political deadlock, sectarian tensions, poor governance, and rampant corruption.

Salih argues that the system of government established after 2003, born out of fear, has run its course, and Iraq requires a new political vision, sincere reconciliation between communities, and a commitment to good governance. He proposes amending the 2005 constitution to create a more effective system, with a directly-elected presidency, a strong parliament, and a focus on local governance.

The former president also calls for a new confederation arrangement between the Kurdistan region and Baghdad, strengthening rule of law and curbing corruption, and diversifying the oil-dependent economy to ensure stability and growth. Ultimately, he envisions a stable, sovereign Iraq that is a hub for regional economic growth and a force for stability.

Iraqis have learned a lot from the past 20 years, but the next 20 are more important. Our goal should be a stable, fully sovereign Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, a hub for regional economic growth, and a force for stability

Barham Salih

Morning Briefing

Good morning and welcome to the NRT English live blog. Here's your morning briefing to start the day.

Abdullah Kuekha Mubarak, a high-ranking official in the KDP, spoke to local Kurdish media, stating that his son, who was killed yesterday, was disabled and not involved in social or political issues and thus could not have been a gunman. Mubarak requested his relatives and supporters to refrain from retaliating and worsening the situation, especially considering the increasing political issues in the Kurdistan Region, and to avoid targeting people uninvolved in the killing. We will have a report on the worsening security situation in Kurdistan later today, as some observers say the tensions between Kurdistan's ruling parties has been exploited by those seeking to settle political scores.

The Kirkuk Arab Coalition informed VOA that the Governorship position will remain with them. They added that Kurdish political parties have political regrets since they lost most positions after October 16, 2017, when Iraqi security forces forced the Kurdish Peshmerga forces out of the city.