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Live: PUK ministers may return; Harir subdistrict head arrested

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KRG minister demands minority quota seats to be elected via single constituency

KRG Minister of Transport and Communications Ano Abdoka has demanded that the minority quota system in the Kurdistan Region be maintained as a single constituency. 

Abdoka, who leads the National Union Coalition and heads the Shlama Trend for Christian Affairs within the coalition, obtained three of the five seats reserved for Assyrian Christians in the last parliamentary elections in the Kurdistan Region. He told KDP-affiliated Kurdistan 24 that all minority representatives wish to keep their seats in a single constituency system and will not accept any reduction.

Abdoka also stated that calls to abolish the minority quota seats, citing cases sent to the Federal Supreme Court of Iraq, would be a violation of minority representatives' human rights.

Formerly a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Minister Ano Abdoka enjoys the support of KDP deputy leader and KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani. His political party was founded with Barzani's assistance.

The biggest beneficiaries of the minority quota system have been figures like Minister Ano Abdoka. Some say it's been at the expense of genuine minority representatives in the Kurdistan Region.

There are proposals to divide the minority quota seats among the provinces, thus reducing the KDP's power to use affiliated security forces to vote in figures aligned with them.

Some have even called for the abolition of the quota system altogether. This topic has become the biggest point of contention in electoral disputes between the KDP, PUK, and other political parties.
The representative of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in the Kurdistan Region claims that security forces at Erbil International Airport detained Hasan Özgüneş, HDP member of parliament in the Şırnak constituency, shortly after he landed at the airport today.

During a press conference in Erbil, Nahide Armish, head representative of the HDP in the Kurdistan Region, informed Murad Ahmed of NRT Kurdish that Özgüneş had planned to land in Erbil and travel to Sulaymaniyah to participate in an event supporting the HDP in the upcoming Turkish elections on May 14th.

However, he was allegedly apprehended by security forces at the control room at 12:00 pm today and is currently being detained. She stated that based on their information, he is scheduled to be returned to Ankara late at night.

Özgüneş retweeted a post of HDP supporters rallying in Şırnak two hours ago. 

NRT English contacted Ahmed Hoshyar, the CEO of Erbil International Airport, who stated he was "not aware" of the situation. NRT English also attempted to contact Ashti Majeed, spokesperson for the general directorate of Asayish in Erbil, for comment, but did not receive a response.

This follows a very similar report from yesterday:

Conflicting reports have emerged about the alleged arrest of Kurdish woman politician Azime Arsu at Erbil International Airport. Arsu, who has been an advocate for the Kurdish people for many years, was reportedly taken into custody by Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) forces while attempting to travel abroad for medical treatment due to her serious illness.
The news was first reported by the PKK-affiliated news agency ANF, which claimed that Arsu, a native of Şırnak in North Kurdistan, was arrested while trying to leave the country for treatment.

However, Ahmad Hoshyar, director of Erbil International Airport, has since denied these reports to Rudaw, stating that no one by that name had been arrested at the airport.
Hoshyar added that arresting someone at the airport is not a simple process and requires a judicial warrent. "If someone is arrested, I will definitely be notified," he said.
Turkey has closed its airspace to Sulaymaniyah International Airport, leading to the mass cancellation flights. Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Tanju Bilgic attributed the decision to the increase in PKK activities in Sulaymaniyah.
KRG Minister: Agreement reached with Baghdad to build several dams in the Kurdistan Region

Begard Talabani (PUK), KRG Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, announced that an agreement has been reached with Baghdad to construct several dams in the Kurdistan Region. Talabani led a delegation to the 3rd International Water Conference in Baghdad, which was chaired by Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani.

The minister stated that the conference would present mechanisms to address water shortage issues in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. She added that there are numerous undammed water sources in the Kurdistan Region, and they have agreed with the Iraqi government to build several new dams. Talabani emphasized that they want action and practical implementation of the agreement so that both sides can benefit.

Iraq is grappling with a complex water crisis that is expected to worsen. The flow from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers – Iraq's two main sources of water – is diminishing at an unprecedented rate due to upstream dam construction and an ongoing drought.
KRG minister: Minority representatives support holding elections on time

KRG Minister of State for Minority Affairs Aydin Maruf has announced that minority representatives support holding elections on time. Maruf, who is an Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) politburo member and enjoys warm relations with the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), stated that minority representatives in the region's governing institutions are in favor of conducting elections without delay.

The potential delay of elections is primarily linked to the parliamentary seats reserved for ethnic and religious minorities. A significant majority of the 11 seats are occupied by parties close to the KDP, some of whom have allegedly received tactical votes from KDP-aligned security forces.

NRT English has reported on this issue.

There's also a handy explainer.
Man killed by younger brother in Erbil village

A 21-year-old man was killed by his younger brother in the Erbil village of Mastawa, according to local police. Authorities were alerted to a shooting incident in the village, located in the Shamamek subdistrict of Erbil, on Saturday evening at 8:45pm.
Sami Abubakir, head of the Ankawa police department, informed Kurdistan 24 that the victim died this morning. 

In the Kurdistan Region, killings between family members over social issues or intense arguments are not uncommon, likely in-part due to the easy access to weapons in the country.

The KRG Ministry of Interior under Rebar Ahmed has recently attempted to tackle this issue by implementing a new law to confiscate weapons without a license permit.
Iraq's foreign ministry confirms Syria's readmission to Arab League

Iraq's foreign ministry confirms Syria's readmission to the Arab League amid skepticism

Iraq's foreign ministry spokesman, Ahmed Al Sahaf, confirmed to reporters in Cairo that ministers have agreed for Syria to return to the Arab League. "The diplomacy of dialogue and efforts towards Arab integration embraced by Iraq made a significant contribution toward Syria's return to the Arab League," he said on the meeting's sidelines.

Syria's readmission to the Arab League marks the end of a 12-year suspension from the pan-Arab union due to the civil war and shows the intent of Arab states to reintegrate Syria. This move was likely motivated by a desire to minimize Iran's growing influence in the region.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told The National that the return of Syrian refugees without retribution, a credible political process leading to elections, and steps to end the smuggling of narcotics from Syria into neighboring countries were conditions for Syria's return to the Arab League. Some observers are skeptical about whether Assad's regime will truly meet these conditions or if it's just a cover to justify the U-turn and counter Iran's influence.

While most of the Arab League cut ties with the Syrian government and showed support for the opposition, Iraq maintained its alliance due to mutual strategic relations with Iran and the common war against ISIS. Iraq's governing class, which was once in opposition, has had cordial relations with both Assad junior and senior because of their shared enemy in Saddam Hussein's regime.

We had a piece up about this story last month, take a look:
Since 2011, Syria has been engulfed in a devastating civil war, significantly impacting its regional and international relations. The government, led by Bashar al-Assad and allied with Iran, lost its Arab League membership in 2011. The League granted membership to the primary opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition. However, since 2014, Syria’s seat has remained vacant until the opposition finalizes its institutions. The rise of the Islamic State shifted the focus to combating terrorism in Iraq and Syria, inadvertently providing […]
NRT English
Kurdistan President and British ambassador discuss Erbil-Baghdad relations and Sinjar
Ambassador Richardson and President Nechirvan Barzani
Ambassador Richardson and President Nechirvan Barzani   credit: KRI Presidency
Kurdistan President Nechirvan Barzani met with British Ambassador to Iraq Mark Bryson Richardson to discuss the latest developments in Erbil-Baghdad relations, the internal situation in the Kurdistan Region, elections, and the situation in Sinjar. According to a readout from the Kurdistan presidency, both sides discussed the progress and understanding between Erbil and Baghdad to resolve their issues. They also agreed on the importance of resolving internal political differences in the Kurdistan Region and holding elections on time.

Regarding the situation in Sinjar, the two stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the region, preventing hate speech, and implementing the agreement between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Federal Iraqi Government to normalize the situation in Sinjar. The discussion comes in the context of recent tensions in Sinjar, where some Yazidis protested against the return of certain Sunni Arab IDP families to the town. This incident escalated ethnic tensions between Yazidis and Arabs, fueled by circulating images of past damage to mosques and resulting in controversy and misinformation.

The Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council later denied any attacks on the Al-Rahman Mosque in Sinjar district, Nineveh province, but emphasized its rejection of the return of certain Sunni Arab families who collaborated with and joined the Islamic State (IS) in 2014, perpetrating horrific acts against religious minorities.
Murderer of Iraqi security expert and former government advisor sentenced to death

The Supreme Judicial Council of Iraq has announced that the murderer of counter-terrorism expert Hisham al-Hashimi has been sentenced to death. 

The Rusafa Criminal Court issued the death sentence against Ahmad Hamdawi Awaid al-Kinani for killing security expert Hisham al-Hashimi. Al-Kinani, a police officer with the rank of first lieutenant at the interior ministry, was arrested in 2021 following a confession.

Respected security analyst al-Hashimi was gunned down by masked men in 2020. His death triggered an uproar in Iraq and among the international community, leading to allegations accusing paramilitary groups such as Iran-backed Kata'ib Hezbollah and ISIS.

The official investigation did not accuse any group, and no group claimed responsibility. However, Hashimi had reportedly received direct death and kidnapping threats from members and commanders within Kata'ib Hezbollah and the Popular Mobilization Forces.
Several dead bodies found in basement south of Mount Sinjar

Kirkuk Now reports the discovery of several dead bodies in a basement south of Mount Sinjar, believed to date back to the war against ISIS. The bodies were found in Til Ezer village, located in the Sinjar district of Iraq's Nineveh province. Local police were alerted when the property owner, who had left the house in 2014, returned.

The report also states that 90 mass graves have been found in Sinjar, with 42 excavated so far. Life has yet to return to normal for the local Yazidi population in Sinjar, nine years after the 2014 ISIS massacre. The delay in reconstruction and resettlement of Yazidi IDPs has drawn criticism from various international reports.

The Sinjar Agreement, a UN-led brokered agreement between the federal government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in 2020, has yet to be implemented due to the ongoing presence of militias from different factions. Additionally, the Yazidi Survivors Law 2021, which was voted in by Parliament, has yet to see concrete measures put into place.
Hot on the heels of Kochar, another member of one of the Iraqi parliament many committees has chimed in.

Sabah Sobhi, from the oil and gas committee, reveals that the ongoing halt of exporting Kurdistan's oil has negatively impacted the approval of Iraq's budget bill.

Sobhi informed the semi-official Al-Sabah newspaper that the budget bill calls for the export of 3.5m barrels per day, including 400,000 barrels from the Kurdistan Region and about 80,000 barrels from the Kirkuk fields.

The MP noted that the failure to produce this quantity is causing Iraq to lose $40 million per day, while struggling with a budget deficit of approximately 64 trillion dinars (~$48m). Sobhi highlighted that one of the key reasons for the delay in approving the budget is the holdup in resuming oil exports through Ceyhan. He doesn't appear to have elucidated how it's causing a holdup. Nor does it appear that Al-Sabah has asked.
Iraq MP: 50-Year energy deal between Turkey and KRG sparking dispute between Baghdad and Ankara

A member of the Finance Committee in Iraq's Parliament, Jamal Kochar, has stated that Baghdad seeks to cancel the 50-year energy agreement between Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and related oil contracts. The lawmaker, a Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) MP representing Duhok, told PUK-affiliated Kurdsat News that the resumption of oil exports was discussed during a meeting with the federal Oil Minister, adding that the issue involved not only Iraq but also Turkey.

Kochar revealed that Iraq wants to cancel all agreements and oil contracts, particularly the controversial 50-year energy agreement with the Kurdistan Region, and establish new agreements. He explained that the reason for the halted oil exports is the verdict and financial penalty imposed by the ICC International Court of Arbitration against Turkey.

Kochar said Baghdad proposed paying $2 per barrel of oil to Turkey for oil exports to resume, but Turkey preferred to maintain the arrangement from the 50-year energy agreement. Ongoing issues around resuming oil exports persist following the court verdict in Paris at the end of March. The 50-year energy agreement's lack of transparency has also been a contentious issue, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) claiming no knowledge of it despite Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani's membership on the KRG Oil and Gas Council.

The agreement is widely viewed as a secret arrangement between Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which leads the KRG, rather than between the two governments.
Harir District Acting Director and four police officers arrested after attempt to detain retired Peshmerga officer

Wali Baqi Abdullah, the acting director of Harir district in Erbil, along with four policemen, were arrested after attempting to apprehend a retired Peshmerga officer, according to an undisclosed source speaking to NRT Kurdish reporter Hersh Qadir.

The source revealed that yesterday, Abdullah, who is also the district police director, and the four police officers tried to arrest a retired Peshmerga officer with an arrest warrant in the city. However, the suspect refused to surrender, leading to altercations.

Qadir says the five individuals were contacted by the Kurdistan Region's Ministry of Interior and subsequently arrested.
Draw Media: PUK ministerial team May Rejoin KRG Cabinet Meetings

The PUK may return to KRG cabinet meetings, a source informed Draw Media. Following the visit of US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Barbara A. Leaf, to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, discussions took place between the KDP and PUK ministerial teams regarding the PUK's return to KRG cabinet meetings and the formation of an agreement between both parties.

The source said that if the talks were positive, KRG Minister of Planning Dara Rashid from the PUK bloc would attend Wednesday's cabinet meeting with a report addressing outstanding issues. The PUK's abstention from cabinet meetings originated from ongoing disagreements with the KDP over financial matters in Sulaymaniyah province, budget cuts for the Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG), and the killing of Hawkar Jaff.

Last week, an attempt to bring the report to the cabinet meetings failed due to the continued tense partisan media campaigns by the two ruling parties. Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani and the PUK ministerial team have boycotted KRG cabinet meetings for over six months. The rivalry between KDP deputy leader and KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and PUK leader Bafel Talabani has escalated to the point where communication between both parties' leadership is minimal, reigniting concerns of a return to a dual administration. Issues surrounding security, finance, and future election plans persist.
Morning briefing

Greetings from London, and welcome to the NRT English live blog. Here's what's coming up throughout the day.

  • Draw Media reports that following the visit of US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Barbara A. Leaf, to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the PUK's ministerial team may resume attending KRG cabinet meetings.
  • The acting mayor of Harir subdistrict, located in Erbil province's Shaqlawa district, has been arrested, according to Rudaw. Wali Baqi Abdullah, who also serves as the region's police director, was detained along with four other officers after an individual was apprehended based on an arrest warrant.
  • Jamal Kochar, a member of the Finance Committee in Iraq's Parliament, told Kurd Sat News that the 50-year agreement between Turkey and the KRG has become a point of contention between Ankara and Baghdad.