Live: KRG salary crisis deepens; PUK demands ‘fair’ elections

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Dutch Ministry of Defence: 125 Dutch soldiers to depart Kurdistan Region

Windmill clad in colors of the Netherlands flag at Erbil Airport
Windmill clad in colors of the Netherlands flag at Erbil Airport   credit: Dutch Ministry of Defence

The Dutch Ministry of Defence announced yesterday that 125 soldiers, who have been patrolling Erbil International Airport, will leave the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and return to the Netherlands, with forces from Estonia taking over their duties.

In the statement, the Dutch Defense Ministry said the force protection company protected the airport in collaboration with Kurdish and American forces and also safeguarded coalition advisors to Peshmerga forces.

"Our soldiers have worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of the airport and its surrounding areas," a spokesperson for the ministry said.

The statement added that with this security task, the Netherlands made a significant contribution to the anti-ISIS coalition, as the airport is the most important military and logistics center of partner countries in Iraq.

"Working closely with the Kurds on security in the northern part of the country has been a vital aspect of our mission," the spokesperson explained.

Full statement below

Dutch Soldiers Conclude Surveillance Mission in Iraq 

"The 125 Dutch soldiers responsible for protecting Erbil airport in Iraq will return home this week as their assignment has concluded. Estonia will now take over their responsibilities.

Enlarge image: Windmill in Dutch flag colors at Erbil airport. Show options. Dutch symbol at Erbil airport (archive photo). The force protection company has been guarding the international airport since January 2021, working alongside Kurdish forces and American colleagues.

The soldiers were responsible for checking people and goods, among other tasks. In addition, daily patrols were conducted, both within the base and in the outer ring of the airfield. Since the beginning of last year, the unit has also been protecting colleagues who advise the Kurdish armed forces. These advisors carry out their duties in the area surrounding the airport.

Soldiers from the army and the Marine Corps alternated in forming the force protection company.

Anti-ISIS Coalition
With this security task, the Netherlands made a significant contribution to the anti-ISIS coalition. The airport serves as the most critical military and logistics center for partner countries in Iraq. From there, they collaborate with the Kurds to ensure security in the northern part of the country.

The Netherlands will continue to help make Iraq safer. Staff officers are present in Baghdad and Kuwait, and the Netherlands leads an operational advisory team in Erbil. In doing so, the Ministry of Defense is assisting the Iraqis in further professionalizing the security sector. The goal is for the country to eventually be able to combat the terrorist organization ISIS independently.

The Netherlands also participates in the NATO Mission Iraq, a NATO capacity-building mission."

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Komal announces withdrawal of representatives from parliament, provincial councils, and local governments
Ali Bapir
Ali Bapir   credit: Peyam
Ali Bapir, President of Komal (the Islamist party that has recently rebranded to shed the Islamist label)  , has issued a statement announcing the party's deputies at multiple levels of government in the Kurdistan Region are resigning en masse. 

Full statement below:

"1. There is significant concern surrounding the entire political process in the Kurdistan Region.

2. Furthermore, the terms for provincial councils and the local government of Sulaimani province have expired, making them no different from the parliament in this regard. Consequently, we have deemed it necessary for all our representatives in the Kurdistan Parliament, provincial councils, and the local government of Sulaimani to submit their resignations during today's general meeting.

3. We would like to express our gratitude to all our representatives in the Kurdistan Parliament, provincial councils, and the local government of Sulaimani who have diligently fulfilled their duties in the past.

Ali Bapir,
Iraq's Governing Coalition: Budget bill expected to be approved in May

We can't see white smoke yet but it appears some politicians in Baghdad can smell it.

The painstakingly slow passage of the federal budget bill has seen it crawling through parliament for weeks. On more than one occasion, it has been sent, kicking and screaming, back to the government for changes demanded by MPs, parties, and committee members.

Iraq's governing coalition, known as the State Administration Coalition, has reaffirmed the importance of implementing projects in a draft budget and expects to pass the budget bill in May.

The coalition's leadership members met to discuss government, parliament, public service, and economic issues, according to a statement from the coalition.

The statement added that they emphasized the importance of approving the budget and implementing government projects and programs, with the expectation of completing the final steps by May 10th.

The meeting was attended by Iraq's Prime Minister and Parliament Speaker, where they discussed political issues and efforts to implement government plans and ministerial agendas.

Recently, Omed Mohammed, an MP in Baghdad, told NRT Kurdish that parliament would approve the budget after the completion of the Finance Committee's report, which may take 20 to 22 days.
Ali Hussein
Ali Hussein   credit:

Ali Hussein, the head of the KDP's Organization Bureau in Sulaymaniyah and Halabja provinces, has stated that his party will make every effort to hold the elections scheduled for this year, as set by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

He mentioned that a special committee is working to resolve the ongoing issues between his party and the PUK.

Hussein said in a news conference that the KDP has decided to hold elections with all the parties in the region and will work towards achieving this goal.

The ongoing electoral disputes between the KDP and PUK regarding election mechanisms have increased concerns that the election, scheduled for November 18th, could potentially be postponed for another year.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is reportedly working towards resolving issues surrounding the Kurdistan Parliamentary elections, according to a statement from Hawar Mohammed, Head of the KDP's Legal Department for the Electoral Division. The official KDP news website,, reported on these developments earlier today.

Mohammed said that discussions are expected to resume next week in order to address the challenges facing the Kurdistan parliamentary elections. The goal is to reactivate the commission, which currently has two vacant seats—one for KDP candidate Bahjat Avdal and the other for the Turkmen.

As time is running out,** Mohammed emphasized the importance of resolving the issues promptly so that the commission can start its preparations and amend the election law. He also noted that each party has the freedom to change its candidates or keep those who worked in the previous commission, thereby putting the responsibility on the Kurdistan Parliament to reactivate the commission. Yesterday, the KDP parliamentary party in Kurdistan's legislature filed a memo at the speaker's office demanding a session to pass the 2023 election law. 

**For some inexplicable reason, the electoral commission in Kurdistan requires at least six months of prep time to conduct an election for an area the size of Switzerland. This apparent truism isn't challenged by anyone of note. 
Is the sun setting on Kurdistan's independent energy sector?
Sun setting on an oil pump
Sun setting on an oil pump   credit: Zbynek Burival

International oil companies consider halting investment in Kurdistan Region amid hostile business environment

A recent report by S&P Global states that international oil companies (IOCs) are considering halting their investments in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) due to the "increasingly hostile business environment."

Caught in the middle of a standoff between Ankara, Baghdad, and Erbil, IOCs are facing difficulties in exporting crude oil. The crude oil exports have been blocked for more than a month, as Iraq and Turkey have yet to agree on terms to reopen a critical pipeline to the port of Ceyhan following an international arbitration ruling.

Lingering sovereignty disputes over oil revenues and the looming expiration of the Iraq-Turkey pipeline agreement in 2025 further complicate the situation.

To address these challenges, five IOCs operating in the region have formed a trade group called the Association of the Petroleum Industry in Kurdistan (APIKUR), comprising DNO, Genel Energy, Gulf Keystone Petroleum, HKN Energy, and Shamaran Petroleum.

APIKUR has highlighted the following key concerns:

  • Preserving contract sanctity and ensuring payment
  • Reopening the pipeline to the port of Ceyhan for crude exports
  • Addressing the political and regulatory uncertainty surrounding the Kurdish crude production

The S&P Global report quoted an anonymous representative of a company in APIKUR as saying:

The KRG is plateauing in [crude] production, and much of that is due to the political issues. It’s too difficult to justify an increased investment. For the KRG and the IOCs, this is an existential imperative

To provide some historical context, the Kurdistan region has been in a longstanding dispute with the federal Iraqi government over oil revenues and control of its natural resources.

This conflict escalated in 2017 after the KRG held an independence referendum, prompting Baghdad to reclaim some Kirkuk oil fields and other disputed areas from the KRG.

Since then, the federal government has intermittently withheld budget payments to the KRG, further straining relations between the two sides.

Gulf Keystone, a member of APIKUR, announced on April 27 that it was considering legal action over the halt in exports, which has forced it and other IOCs to shut in production.

APIKUR met with KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani on April 18 to discuss its concerns and has urged the US and UK governments to pressure Baghdad, Erbil, and Ankara to resolve their disputes and closely monitor any agreements.

The US has financed $300 million in energy projects in Kurdistan.

The growing concerns by international oil firms further dents the Kurdistan Region’s attempts to export natural resources independently.

The ICC International Court of Arbitration ruling in Paris puts the region in a precarious situation, as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) risks default if it does not resolve its oil exports blockage.

Oil and gas revenues account for 80% of the KRG's budget.

NRT English will seek comment from the five oil companies mentioned in the piece. We'll post an update if any respond.
Iraqi Foreign Ministry says today that a further 19 Iraqis have been evacuated to Jeddah.
Iraqis disembarking in Jeddah
Iraqis disembarking in Jeddah   credit: Iraq Foreign Ministry
Meeting between Leaf and Sudani in Baghdad, May 1st 2023
Meeting between Leaf and Sudani in Baghdad, May 1st 2023   credit: PM's media office
Readout from the Iraqi PM's media office on Leaf's visit

Prime Minister Mohammed S. Al-Sudani received today the US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Ms. Barbara A. Leaf, and her accompanying delegation.

‏The meeting focused on enhancing bilateral relations between Iraq and the United States and addressing several regional and international issues of mutual concern.

‏During the meeting, Prime Minister Al-Sudani emphasized the significance of strengthening cooperation efforts between Iraq and the United States and discussed ways to develop them within the strategic framework agreement, particularly in the areas of industry, trade, and education, among others. 

He also highlighted the government's priorities in implementing programs and plans that contribute to achieving economic development, particularly in the energy sector.

‏For her part, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs acknowledged the progress in the relationship between the two countries, expressing the United States' keen interest in enhancing its relationship with Iraq, given its importance and status in the region.‏

US Assistant Secretary Barbara A. Leaf Visits Iraq to Discuss Bilateral Cooperation and Regional Priorities

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara A. Leaf is visiting Iraq, meeting with Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to discuss cooperation between the two nations.

The Prime Minister's media office confirmed the meeting, during which Al-Sudani emphasized the importance of strengthening cooperation efforts in areas such as industry, trade, and education under the strategic framework agreement. 

He also highlighted the government's priorities in economic development, particularly in the energy sector. 

Leaf acknowledged the progress in the relationship between the two countries and expressed the United States' keen interest in enhancing its relationship with Iraq due to its importance and status in the region. 

The State Department had earlier confirmed that Leaf would visit Iraq and Jordan from April 29 – May 5 to discuss various U.S. priorities in the region, including promoting economic cooperation and addressing security challenges. 

NRT Kurdish reports that Leaf will arrive in the Kurdistan Region today and meet the KDP, PUK, and the main opposition New Generation Movement (NGM).

KRG Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs: Social Security Provided for Over 138,000 Workers

The KRG Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs reported that social security has been provided to 138,000 workers in the Kurdistan Region.

Deputy Minister Zakia Salih informed a news conference in Duhok on Monday that 138,000 workers in the Kurdistan Region have received social security, with many of them now retired.

International Workers' Day, also known as Labor Day or May Day, is celebrated annually in the Kurdistan Region as a public holiday. Government officials and political party leaders traditionally release statements on this day.
PUK and Gorran Officials Push for Kurdistan Parliamentary Elections and Improved Relations

PUK and Gorran officials have expressed their (ostensible) support for holding Kurdistan parliamentary elections this year, urging for "agreement and compromise to be reached as soon as possible."

The two party officials convened today at PUK's headquarters in Dabashan, where they also advocated for enhancing bilateral relations.

Here is the complete statement:

"On May 1, 2023, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Gorran Movement (GM) conducted a joint meeting in Dabashan to discuss recent political developments and revitalize relations between the two parties. Both sides began by extending congratulations to Kurdistan's workers on Labor Day, emphasizing the significance of implementing new labor laws to improve the lives and welfare of this vital sector of society.

During the meeting, the PUK and Gorran assessed the current political situation in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq, concurring that it is unsatisfactory for all. Both parties acknowledged the necessity to enhance and reorganize the Kurdish home, reestablish internal unity, and better serve the people. They agreed that the PUK and Gorran should collaborate cohesively to address the internal situation in the Kurdistan Region and restructure their plan to reorganize relations in a way that fulfills citizens' expectations and is capable of tackling current challenges.

The meeting also examined the current state of services in the Kurdistan Region, emphasizing the need for review and action to improve them through a new policy that eradicates discrimination and injustice. Furthermore, the PUK and Gorran discussed preparations for the Kurdistan parliamentary elections and the current state of negotiations, highlighting the importance of reaching an agreement promptly to prevent further delays."
The Iraqi parliament will meet on Tuesday to debate amendments the Yazidi Women Survivors Law.

The law, which was first passed in parliament in 2021 and was welcomed by rights organisations like Amnesty International and was seen as a positive step, has yet to bring justice to Yazidi women, who were kidnapped and enslaved during 2014 genocide by ISIS.

Sinjar’s former mayor and a KDP MP in Iraq’s Parliament, Mahma Khalil, told Rudaw on Monday that the law contains some injustices and they want to amend it to eliminate the routine when implementing the law. The meeting will begin on Tuesday and will include six items, including voting on one bill and the first and second readings of five bills.

Human Rights Watch, along with several other organizations, highlighted a flaw in the law, which requires survivors to file a criminal complaint to be eligible for reparations. The requirement to describe their abuse in court could put survivors at risk of re-traumatization and does not respect their agency to decide whether to bring their cases to court.

Several survivors have reported harassment and stigmatization while filing criminal complaints with the judiciary. The Yazidi Survivors Law allows survivors to apply for compensation in the form of a monthly salary and includes provisions for other forms of restitution, such as land, education, employment, and the search for those who remain missing.

Members of the Yazidi group experienced lethal attacks, kidnapping, enslavement, and rape by the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014. Thousands of Yazidis remain displaced, and 2,700 are still missing. The normalisation and stabilisation of Sinjar in general has persistently stalled, with critics holding Baghdad and Erbil primarily responsible.

HRW and other organizations have called on the Iraqi government to rescind the judicial complaint requirement and develop procedures and rules in line with international standards to ensure the survivors' access to adequate, effective, and prompt reparations. The adoption of the Yazidi Survivors Law was groundbreaking, and the Iraqi government should ensure that it is implemented in a way that respects the wellbeing, agency, and rights of survivors.
Iraq has sentenced a former official to six years in prison on corruption charges, per a report by Rudaw.

The official was found guilty of embezzling 250 million IQD (over $175,000) to purchase large Renault trucks for the Kifl municipality, which cost 180 million IQD (over $126,000) from the manufacturer.

The court imposed the sentence under Article 340 of the Iraqi penal code, and the affected party can claim compensation after the verdict is final. 

Iraq ranks 157th out of 180 countries in Transparency International's corruption perceptions index. 

Corruption is a major issue in the Kurdistan Region, where opposition parties have gained significant parliamentary seats by focusing on anti-corruption campaigns. In 2009 and 2013, the Change Movement (Gorran) won about a quarter of the seats by running on an anti-corruption platform.
According to Westga News, the head of KDP Intelligence Services (Parastin) in Sulaymaniyah and Halabja, Shamal Ali, has been missing for a month.

The report suggests that his disappearance was ordered by KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani who, with his backgroung as a spy chief, has been accused of running the government like an intelligence agency.

Ali has been in his position since 2007 and was summoned by his employers before his disappearance. The Prime Minister's tight control over the Parastin agency has raised questions about potential involvement in Ali's disappearance.
KRG Finance Finance Minister: No money for April salaries

Ali Hama Salih, a former MP from the Change Movement (Gorran) who resigned from Parliament after its term was extended by another year, rejects Awat Sheikh Janab's claim. 

Salih says that Baghdad has already provided 43% of the salaries with a 400bn IQD payment, and the coalition will pay about 30bn IQD. This would mean, according to his calculations, that the KRG can provide 53% of the salaries using oil and domestic revenues.
Awat Sheikh Janab
Awat Sheikh Janab   credit: Rudaw TV
Awat Sheikh Janab, the Finance Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, made a startling admission in an interview with Rudaw's Ranj Sangawi: The KRG has no money to pay April salaries. 

After oil exports were halted last month, the Kurdistan Region has been in a fiscal tailspin with no soft landing anywhere to be seen.

Here's a summary of some of the issues discussed during the marathon three-hour show:

  • The Iraqi central bank printed a significant amount of dinars, but the Kurdistan Region still faces cash shortages.
  • The Kurdistan Regional Government has more than 1.251 million salaried employees, while the federal government has recognized only 681,000 employees. In the 2023 budget law, the Kurdistan Regional Government successfully included 682,000 employees. Biometrics have become a critical measure for verifying employee numbers during negotiations.
  • The Kurdistan Regional Government is responsible for any deficiencies in employee numbers.
  • The three-year budget for the Kurdistan Region is progressing well in the Iraqi parliament, with a total of 16 trillion dinars, which could increase up to nearly 20 trillion dinars.
  • Nine trillion dinars have been allocated to compensate employees, an increase compared to the five trillion dinars allocated previously. The agreement could help resolve most of the employees' salary problems after the sovereign budget deduction. Additionally, about three trillion dinars have been allocated for the investment budget.
  • Awat Sheikh Janab believes that the current 12.67% financial entitlements for the Kurdistan Region are unjust to the Kurds. He has set a condition for a census to be conducted in October to correct this figure, as he believes the Kurdistan Region should be allocated 17% instead.
Morning Briefing

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

KRG Finance Minister Awat Sheikh Janab informed Rudaw that the government lacks sufficient funds to distribute April salaries. In response, Ali Hama Saleh, a former MP from the same Change Movement (Gorran) bloc who resigned from Parliament, countered by claiming they have enough funds.

Westga reports that the head of KDP's Intelligence Services (Parastin agency) in Sulaymaniyah and Halabja has been missing for over a month. They claim KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, notorious for leading the agency, is responsible.

Lastly, the PUK asserts that they, along with other parties bar the KDP, are pushing for fair and legitimate elections in the Kurdistan Region. In recent days, the PUK has made numerous allegations about the KDP's lack of commitment to the upcoming elections, which appear likely to be postponed.