Halabja. Live blog
Halabja" by William John Gauthier is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Live: Halabja recognition; KDP meeting; alcohol ban proposal

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KRG Interior Minister: Iraq Failing to adequtely assist refugees

KRG Minister of Interior Rebar Ahmed, speaking at the opening ceremony of a UNHCR center, stated that the center is expected to provide services to over 100,000 refugees in Erbil province.

He said 50% of refugees in the Kurdistan Region have settled in Erbil.

Ahmed criticized Iraq's Ministry of Immigration for its irresponsible treatment of refugees in the Kurdistan Region. He pointed out that, despite Iraq's wealth and record spending, it is not fulfilling its duty to address refugee issues.

Since the Syrian civil war and the war on ISIS began, Iraq has hosted numerous refugees and IDPs, with the Kurdistan Region bearing much of the burden. The KRG has consistently blamed financial constraints for these issues, citing minimal assistance from the federal government.
Iraq’s Prime Minister receives the Kurdistan Region President
Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia' al-Sudani received the Kurdistan Region President, Nechervan Barzani, in a meeting confirmed by his media office. They discussed the country's overall political and economic situation and various national-level issues.

Both sides emphasized the importance of uniting all political forces to support the government in implementing its program. 

The readout mentioned that the meeting included a review of progress made in resolving outstanding issues between Baghdad and the KRG. Additionally, they discussed ways to establish long-term solutions to alleviate the challenges faced by the public and support joint actions in accordance with the constitution.
KRG Deputy PM: Internal issues threaten Kurdistan Region

Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara A. Leaf discussed Kurdistan Region's internal issues, relations between Baghdad and Erbil, and concerns about freedom of expression. 

The meeting, attended by PUK leaders Darbaz Kosrat Rasul and Daban Shadala, highlighted the need for responsibly resolving conflicts without crossing red lines on national matters.

PUK Media says Talabani welcomed  initiatives for settling disagreements and expressed readiness to form a joint committee, including allies. He is said to have emphasized their pride in ensuring press freedom and concern over the region's international reputation due to potential violations for basic freedoms.

The Kurdistan Region and Sulaymaniyah have certainly seen a lot of potential violations of basic freedoms recently. Especially since he and his brother seized the party from rivals in the internal putsch that saw cousin Lahur Talabany banished from the party. 

The intense KDP-PUK rivalry threatens Kurdistan Region's stability, with ongoing disputes on finance, security, and electoral processes.
Ex-Halabja municipality head unsure of reason for removal, causes local concern

The former head of Halabja Municipality, Sayed Hakim Sayed Najib, said he doesn't know why he was removed from his position, noting that no one notified him of his replacement. This has raised concerns among local citizens and civil society organizations.

Speaking to VOA Kurdish, Najib explained that he never suspected anyone of conspiring against him, and he was on duty and attending a meeting when the change occurred. Some citizens believe his removal may be related to the prevention of gender-related activities organized in coordination with the Deputy Prime Minister's office and Halabja's provincial office in December.

Najib stated that no government or party officials explained his removal, except for some veteran PUK Peshmergas. He began working in the position on October 26th of last year, and the Governor of Halabja never informed him of the change.

Yesterday, activists and citizens gathered at Halabja Municipality as the new head, Salam Bilal Iskandar, was set to take office, but the ceremony did not take place. In response to concerns, Iskandar thanked Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani and PUK leader Bafel Talabani for his appointment, but added that he would reject the position if the people of Halabja were unhappy.

VOA Kurdish attempted to contact the provincial office, the governor's office, and the Deputy Prime Minister's office for clarification on the removal, but received no response. Some Halabja activists, concerned about the situation, claimed the former head was offered privileges following his removal, while others demanded the removal of negligent officials instead.

The Kurdistan Region has struggled with poor governance for decades, with ruling parties often failing to notify figures of their status in their positions. The removal of popular local figures from their roles further exacerbates concerns.
 KRG delegation to meet DPM Talabani on PUK's Return to cabinet meetings

A delegation from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is set to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani in Erbil soon, aiming to facilitate the return of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) ministerial team to KRG cabinet meetings, according to independent Kurdish daily Hawlati. The delegation will include Minister Endowment and Religious Affairs Pshtiwan Sadq (KDP), Minister of Construction and Housing Dana Abdulkareem (Gorran), and Minister of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs Abdullah Haji Mahmood (KSDP).

The PUK's concerns are divided into three categories: financial issues and salaries in Sulaymaniyah province, security issues including the killing of Hawkar Jaff, and the powers of Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani. The delegation will convey Prime Minister Masrour Barzani's agreement to increase Talabani's authority in Sulaymaniyah and discuss financial matters related to the agreement between Iraq and the KRG.

If the issues remain unresolved, Hawlati reports that former Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani will lead initiatives to address outstanding concerns between the KDP and PUK.

The Deputy Prime Minister and PUK's cabinet team have abstained from KRG meetings for over six months due to strained relations with the KDP, led by Masrour Barzani, whose rivalry with PUK leader Bafel Talabani has contributed to a dysfunctional governing system.

It all seems quite surreal, doesn't it? Qubad's boss sends Qubad's direct reports to ask him to return to work. This is the second such 'delegation' in as many weeks.

One would think that if the Prime Minister truly wanted his deputy back, he would simply pick up the phone and talk to him directly. We could even provide the number if it would help.  
Newborn Found Abandoned in Front of Erbil Mosque

A newborn baby was discovered in front of a mosque in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan Region, NRT Kurdish reports. Erbil Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the child's abandonment and are attempting to locate the baby's relatives.

The report noted a similar incident in the Kalar district of Sulaymaniyah province, where another newborn was found outside a mosque. Local police investigated the case, resulting in the arrest of the mother and two others on charges of child abandonment. In February, a newborn was also discovered in front of a mosque in Shekhan District, part of Duhok's administration but de jure within Nineveh province.

Abortion is illegal in Iraq, even in cases of rape, leaving women with few rights and no safe options for terminating pregnancies. This criminalization often results in desperate situations and potentially dangerous outcomes for both mother and child.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs expresses concern over Kurdish elections, urges resolution

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Barbara A. Leaf, expressed concerns about divisions in the Kurdish house and emphasized the importance of holding elections this year. Speaking to local Kurdish journalists, Leaf highlighted that the instability in the region affected not only Kurdistan, but also Iraq and the United States.

Leaf urged political leaders to engage in dialogue, compromise, and prioritize public interests over party interests. In her conversations with local actors, she encouraged them to address their disagreements and work towards resolution.

She emphasized that the Kurdish people want elections and that the U.S. supports holding them by the end of the year. 

While some outstanding issues regarding the terms and format of the elections must be resolved, she stressed the importance of conducting the elections. Leaf noted that the Kurdish authorities must respond to their people's desire for elections as that is the most powerful pressure.

The U.S. official underscored the importance of unity of purpose and effort among the Kurdish people, which she believes is crucial for the resilience and success of the Kurdistan region. However, she clarified that unity does not imply a one-party region or a single way of thinking; rather, she advocated for the support of diverse views, perspectives, and political parties.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs, Barbara Leaf, on strained relations between the KDP and PUK
Leaf says that the best advice for the KDP and PUK is "to compromise" and put the interests of the people over interests of their parties.

The job of political leaders is to sit down and work [their issues] out and find a compromise and to think always of interest of the people over interests of the party. So, I had the opportunity to speak to all of our friends up here and I offered them our best advice and I'm encouraging them to sit down, set aside what issues they can't agree on right now. Work through all the others and get back to the work of the people.

Barbara Leaf

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs, Barbara Leaf, says the US is concerned about the KDP, PUK issues.

We are concerned about the divisions in the Kurdish house, there is divisions undermining the interests of the Kurdish people and they undermine security here. And if that situation isn't good for the Kurdistan Region, it's not good for all of Iraq and therefore it's not good for the United States.

Barbara Leaf

Kalar Couple: Aram Saya Khan, the former head of communication and relations at the Parvez Khan Border Crossing, and partner Sharmin Ali, the former head of media and information at the same crossing, have been released on bail a week after being abducted from their home in the Kalar district.

Yesterday, the PUK's security agency confirmed the couple are being charged under Article 341 of the Iraqi Penal Code for abuse of power as government employees.

Their arrest sparked an outcry, as Sharmin Ali is a former journalist, and there were rumors that their arrest could be related to her investigations into illicit activities at the Iran-Iraq border crossing where she worked.
The disappearance of two former Iraq-Iran border crossing officials has raised questions and sparked concerns among their families and the local community. Aram Saya Khan, the former head of communication and relations at the Parvez Khan Border Crossing, and his wife, Sharmin Ali, the former head of media and information at the same crossing, were reportedly abducted from their home in the Kalar district by a team of masked, heavily armed Sulaimaniyah Asayish forces, according to the victims’ family members. […]
NRT English
Ousted PUK co-leader Lahur Talabany and Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) Secretary-General Salahaddin Bahaaddin emphasized the importance of "timely elections" in the Kurdistan Region during a meeting in Erbil. The pair also addressed strained relations between the two ruling parties, asserting that holding parliamentary elections on time is crucial for resolving issues facing the region.

Talabani's comments on the elections add to the PUK's concerns, which include potential vote losses due to the conflict between its leader Bafel Talabani* and his ousted cousin. Lahur remains widely popular among the PUK base, and his participation in the elections could determine the fate of the PUK under Bafel Talabani.

Without compromises from both the KDP and PUK, the likelihood of holding the postponed elections in November decreases as we go.

Talabany, meanwhile, continues his comeback tour of the Kurdistan political establishment since his barnstorming return to frontline politics earlier this year. There hasn't been any clear sign that other parties officially recognize his claim to be the co-leader of the PUK once more. We're keeping an eye out for any such indications from the KIU or other parties.

Readout released by Team Lahur:

"Today, in the city of Erbil, we met with the honorable Mr. Salahaddin Bahaddin, the Secretary-General of the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU).

In a meeting attended by Haval Jino Mohammed, Shadman Mala Hassan, and Chato Salih, members of the KIU leadership, we discussed the general situation in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, especially the issue of the elections.

We reiterated the need to intensify efforts and the role of Kurdish parties to address this issue and to solve the problems and concerns of the people of Kurdistan, stressing that elections are the only solution for this region. Therefore, it is necessary to work on conducting a clean and transparent election within the specified time frame.

We also reiterated the need for Kurdish unity in Kirkuk and the disputed territories and emphasized that our efforts should focus on making the Kurdish parties more cohesive in the face of our nation's challenges. We called for participating in the upcoming provincial elections in Iraq with a single list for the Kurds.

I thank Mr. Salahaddin Bahaddin for his support for our efforts and his kind support for the initiative to have Kurds participate in the elections in Kirkuk and the disputed territories with a single list."

Facebook post by the KIU leader:

"Salahaddin Mohammed Bahaaddin, Secretary-General of the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), accompanied by a delegation from the Executive Council and leadership, received Mr. Lahur Sheikh Jangi* and his accompanying delegation.

The meeting discussed the political situation in the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and the surrounding area. The Secretary-General of the PUK welcomed the participants and stressed the need to improve the internal situation in the region and resolve issues peacefully and legally.

Mr. Lahur Sheikh Jangi expressed his gratitude and emphasized the struggle for stability and peace in the region, as well as the cooperation of all parties to protect the achievements of their people."

*Lahur Talabany's name as commonly used in Kurdish publications. NRT English has been informed he prefers Talabany in English. His estranged cousins, Qubad and Bafel, use the Talabani spelling. 
Iraq's Deputy Parliament Speaker urges government to allocate 400bn IQD to Kurdistan Region for monthly salaries

Iraq's Deputy Parliament Speaker, the KDP's Shakhawan Abdulla, tells NRT Kurdish correspondents that he has advised the government to allocate 400bn IQD to the Kurdistan Region to cover monthly salaries. This comes as the region has not received oil revenue, its primary source of income, for 40 days.

In a televised interview earlier this week, KRG Minister of Finance and Economy Awat Sheikh Janab expressed that the government lacks sufficient funds to cover monthly salaries.

The Kurdistan Region is currently facing financial difficulties after the ICC International Court of Arbitration imposed a $1.5bn penalty on Turkey for importing the region's oil without Baghdad's approval. Consequently, Turkey has ceased imports, leaving the Kurdistan Region without access to the resource that makes up the overwhelming majority of public finances.

Turkey is now negotiating the penalty it owes Baghdad and lobbying to maintain preferential pricing arrangements it made with the KRG for oil intact after any changeover to SOMO (Iraq's state oil marketing firm) for marketing Kurdish oil. This follows a temporary agreement between Iraq and the KRG, which was meant to allow the resumption of oil exports under the condition that Iraq's oil marketing firm, SOMO, supervises them.
Musana Amin, an Iraqi MP representing the Halabja constituency, informed NRT English that some political parties, particularly those with Shia-majority areas such as Tal Afar and Amreli, are attempting to extract concessions for their own constituencies by demanding certain districts get upgraded in status before voting to confirm Halabja's upgrade to a province. These parties are advocating for upgrades in their own regions in exchange for supporting Halabja's ascension to province status.

Today marks the second reading of the bill, during which the parliament will engage in a discussion and solicit suggestions from members. Amin noted that some parties may be seeking these changes to either gain political leverage  or obstruct the bill's progress.

"Today is solely for discussion; the parliament will vote on the entire bill during the third reading," Amin said.
Second parliamentary reading of bill to formalize Halabja as the 19th Iraqi province

Today, Iraq's parliament will hold a second reading to formalize Halabja as the nation's 19th province.

In 1988, Halabja infamously fell victim to a chemical attack by Saddam Hussein's regime, resulting in the deaths of up to 5,000 people and injuring 10,000 or more. The Kurdistan Region established Halabja as a province in 2014, but nine years later, it has yet to be formalized by Iraq's governing institutions, despite recognition from Baghdad earlier this year.

Previously, Halabja remained part of the Sulaymaniyah province in Iraq's parliamentary elections. However, there is optimism that the province will be acknowledged by the nation's electoral institutions in time for future elections.
The KDP politburo expected to convene today to discuss developing issues
The KDP politburo is expected to convene today to discuss developing issues in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, as reported by their party-affiliated outlet, Bas News. With parliamentary elections scheduled for November this year, today's talks among KDP leaders will likely address this topic. They are also expected to review recommendations established at last year's congress.

The scheduled elections have become a hot topic in the Kurdistan Region, as ongoing disputes between political parties regarding the election process persist. If these disputes continue, the elections may face further delays, raising concerns about the region's commitment to upholding democratic values.

The KDP favors retaining the current single constituency method for the election, while the PUK and other parties demand a transition to a provincial multi-constituency system and a reformed quota system. The latter has gained significant attention recently, as the KDP has been accused of exploiting the quota system through proxy parties, allegedly voted for by their own security forces. NRT English has also recently covered this issue.
Morning Briefing
Good morning from London, and welcome to the NRT English live blog.

Here's a summary of the developing news:

  • The Iraqi Parliament is set to hold a second reading of a bill aimed at officially recognizing Halabja as a province. According to Rudaw, several MPs from other coalitions are requesting status upgrades for certain districts in return.
  • The KDP politburo plans to meet today to discuss recent political developments in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq. They will also review recommendations made during their leadership congress in November last year, as reported by Bas News.
  • Iraq's General Customs Board has sent a letter to the KRG, calling for the implementation of a law banning alcohol in the Kurdistan Region. in the Kurdistan Region.