Live: Masrour and Qubad reunite in surprise meeting

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More snap analysis: Barzani-Talabani meeting follows explicit US call for reconciliation

It's no secret that the KDP and PUK have a long-standing rivalry – including the brutal civil war of the 1990s. Despite this, both parties have acted pragmatically when it comes to governing the Kurdistan Region.

This pragmatism has meant that as long as the two ruling parties maintain their shared grip on power, no issue is significant enough to halt dialogue and cooperation (whether in the open or via backchannels). The conflicts typically revolve around control of the region's financial, security, and political resources, rather than genuine concern for citizens, as the parties often claim.

Evidence for this lies in the parties' shared approaches to governance, which include a firm hold over security forces, political interference in government institutions, and a militaristic attitude towards resolving inter-party issues.

In light of this background, the two parties have often faced pressure or received assistance from Western mediation, particularly from the US, to resolve disagreements on pressing issues.

Rarely has a US official been as candid as US Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf when she expressed concerns about the divisions within the Kurdish political sphere.

Leaf said, "when those divisions undermine 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."

She then gave some sage advice, saying, "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."

She prefaced that remark with a reference to the issues the US politicians are facing at the moment, saying, "Look, in our country, we have frequent fights and spats and conflicts between our parties, but the job of political leaders is to sit down and work them out and find a compromise.

"And to think always of the interest of the people over the interests of the party."
No posts for now
Now, praise from none other than Barbara A. Leaf, U.S Assistant Secretary of State, on Barani-Talabani meeting
UK Consul General Rosy Cave welcomes KRG PM-DPM meeting
Full statement:

I'm delighted to see that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister met today - an important first step in making progress on key issues through constructive dialogue. A united Kurdistan Regional Govemment is in the interests of all the people of the Kurdistan Region of Irag. I hope this is the beginning of an agreed process of reconciliation and collaboration that allows the government to function effectively and deliver for the whole region.
Here is what KRG DPM Qubad Talabani says on his first meeting in over six months with his boss (in addition to "pleasant and productive lunch")
credit: Hasan Özgün

Hasan Özgüneş spoke to Roj News about his experience at Erbil airport, providing the following statement:

The treatment of Erbil airport employees toward me was unfavorable. All our acquaintances who witnessed the situation indicated that the issue did not lie with the Iraqi government, but with the KDP. We are disheartened by such circumstances that defy all friendly principles. As a Kurdish parliamentarian, I consider all parts of Kurdistan my homeland. In 1980, I was arrested by the Turkish state for supporting the Barzani movement. I faced a 10-year teaching ban, and now I am being barred from entering the Kurdistan Region. I hope such actions will not be repeated, so we Kurds can live freely in our land.

I intended to attend meetings in Sulaymaniyah to express support for the Green Left Party. However, due to the AKP government's ban on Sulaymaniyah airport, I planned to enter the Kurdistan Region via Erbil airport. I arrived at Erbil airport at 12:30 pm yesterday, but the passport control staff informed me that the Iraqi government had prohibited my entry into Iraq. When I inquired about the reason, they claimed not to know, but that my name was in the system. I explained that I was a parliamentarian with no criminal record and questioned why I was being denied entry. They confiscated my passport and handed it to their officials, detaining me at the airport until 9 pm.

The treatment by Erbil airport employees was far from positive. Many friends and parliamentarians, including those from the PUK and Gorran, intervened, but ultimately, I was not allowed entry. According to information provided to me by PUK and Gorran MPs, Iraq stated that there were no issues on Baghdad's side and that my name was not banned from entering Iraq. Our friends suggested that if I had come through Baghdad, I could have reached Sulaymaniyah without any problems.

credit: Erbil airport

Baghdad Uninvolved in Deportation of HDP's Hasan Özgüneş from Erbil Airport

PKK-affiliated Roj News reports that the Iraqi government was not involved in the deportation of HDP's Hasan Özgüneş from Erbil airport. The website quotes Jihad Kadhem, the head of the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority, who states that the checkpoints in the Kurdistan Region are technically connected to Baghdad but not managed by the Iraqi civil aviation authority.

Kadhem emphasized that the federal civil authority has no control over individuals' entry or departure. Consequently, the deportation of HDP's Hasan Özgüneş from Erbil airport was not influenced or managed by the Iraqi government.

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What do you think the pair had for lunch?
More juicy details on the PM-DPM meeting

They had lunch!

The Wall Street Journal [paywall] has posted an excellent report by David S. Cloud and Ghassan Adnan on how Iraqis are flying to nearby countries to acquire US dollars as the US cracks down on money laundering.

In the past two months, at least 24 Iraqis carrying around 1,200 bank cards loaded with more than $5 million have been arrested at airports and border crossings while trying to leave the country. This new tactic emerged as the government started cracking down on illegal dollar flows.

The U.S.-led efforts to stem the flow of dollars out of Iraq drove up the value of the greenback against the Iraqi dinar in the gray market, sparking demand for dollars.

Masrour-Qubad meeting: Snap reaction

By Nova Daban

The KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and his deputy, Qubad Talabani, convened today in a surprise meeting.

The PUK ministerial team led by Qubad Talabani has abstained from KRG cabinet meetings for over six months following a deterioration of relations between his party and Barzani's KDP.

The meeting follows the visit by US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Barbara A. Leaf, in recent days, which most likely influenced the meeting, rather than a goodwill gesture by both parties. Leaf visited government and political party leaders following a visit to the Kurdistan Region and encouraged the ruling parties to prioritize national interests by resolving outstanding issues.

There were reports by local media yesterday that Minister of Planning Dara Rashid from the PUK bloc planned on attending this Wednesday's cabinet meeting to provide a report to the Council of Ministers. The report most likely outlined some conditions for any potential participation by the Deputy Prime Minister and the PUK ministerial team in future meetings.

There were previous reports speculating the long list of demands the PUK had before any return to the cabinet meeting, but the Deputy Prime Minister's powers, Sulaymaniyah's share of the budget, the budget of the Sulaymaniyah-based Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG), and the issues surrounding Hawkar Jaff's killing appear to be issues the PUK has prioritized.

Though any meeting is good news for the region, outstanding issues must be resolved for any "reconciliation" to hold. Furthermore, in order for any election to actually happen this year, which the US and UN have encouraged, the KDP and PUK must show seriousness in addressing differences.

The KDP, in particular, must show flexibility in reforming the electoral process, as other major parties, including the PUK, have expressed dissatisfaction with it.
Snap media analysis: Kurdish media's lack of tact in sharing disturbing sexual assault video

A disheartening number of Kurdish media outlets and TV channels have shared a distressing video of a woman being assaulted in Sulaymaniyah, seemingly without regard for the survivor or their viewers, including children and other women who have faced sexual violence.

Driven by a desire for website clicks and lacking a solid editorial policy, these media outlets – regrettably, even our sister organization NRT Kurdish – published the video clip without so much as a trigger warning.

The video portrays the harrowing ordeal of the survivor, accompanied by the sounds of intimidating shotgun blasts. This content can be particularly distressing to the thousands of sexual assault survivors, as well as families who might have been tuning in to watch the daily news.

It is crucial for media organizations to exercise sensitivity and responsibility when sharing such content in order to protect survivors and maintain ethical standards.
Sulaymaniyah police arrest two suspects in connection with filmed sexual assault

Sulaymaniyah police have arrested two men suspected of assaulting a woman and filming the incident.

The arrests were made following a complaint filed by the survivor, whose mobile phone was also stolen during the attack.

Distressing video footage shows an armed man with a handgun assaulting a woman in an open, mountainous area, while the woman resists and pleads to be freed. The man is seen shooting the gun in the air.

Authorities have initiated an investigation and were able to locate and apprehend the two suspects after obtaining a warrant from the presiding judge. The suspects' mobile phones were seized as part of the investigation.

The two suspects, aged 26 and 24, are currently being held under the judge's order while investigations continue.

Sexual violence against women in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region continues to be a pressing concern. Honor killings and domestic violence are endemic in society. Despite attempts to raise awareness and implement legal reforms, a considerable number of incidents still go unreported due to the social stigma attached and the fear of retaliation.

Several organizations have tried to tackle this problem and offer support to survivors in recent years. However, progress has been sluggish, and the overall situation remains daunting.

In December, a teenage girl was assaulted by dozens of men at a motorbike event in Sulaymaniyah, causing uproar among Kurdish social media users.
Full readout by Masrour Barzani

Today, we welcomed Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani. In a positive meeting, we discussed the financial and administrative challenges that the Kurdistan Regional Government is facing. We agreed to address these issues through dialogue and cooperation among all ministerial blocs within the government formation. We emphasized the importance of preserving solidarity, synergy, and internal unity to safeguard the national interests and constitutional rights of the citizens of the Kurdistan Region.

Here's a read by Qubad Talabani on his meeting with the British Ambassador 

We have had positive meetings with political parties regarding the electoral issue recently, and we only have a few points of disagreement left on the quota seats. We are optimistic that a final agreement will be reached soon.

Furthermore, we discussed Kurdistan's internal issues with Mark Bryson Richardson, the British Ambassador to Iraq. We highlighted ongoing efforts to calm [tensions] and resolve these problems, and expressed our hope that many of these issues will be overcome in the near future.
BREAKING NEWS: A boss meets his deputy for the first time in months
BRDPM Qubad Talabani (left) and PM Masrour Barzani
BRDPM Qubad Talabani (left) and PM Masrour Barzani   credit: Masrour Barzani's Facebook page
After the trickle comes the flood.

Murmurs of an easing in tensions had begun to seep into the discourse surrounding KDP-PUK relations as of last night. But how's this for a curveball:

Masrour Barzani, Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region, met with his deputy Qubad Talabani today in what was their first public meeting in months.

Masrour Barzani posted a photo on Facebook, saying, "In a positive atmosphere, we discussed the financial and administrative problems facing the Kurdistan Regional Government, and both sides agreed to resolve all issues through dialogue and cooperation between all ministerial factions in the cabinet.

"We also emphasized the need to maintain internal unity and solidarity in order to protect the national interests and constitutional rights of the citizens of the Kurdistan Region."
According to Erbil's international airport, Hasan Özgüneş, a member of parliament for the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey, was returned to Turkey "at the request of the Iraqi federal security agencies." However, an Iraqi MP denied such requests were made.

Yesterday, a representative of the HDP in the Kurdistan Region claimed that security forces at Erbil International Airport detained Hasan Özgüneş shortly after he landed there.

Late last night, Karwan Yarwais, an Iraqi MP from the PUK faction, told NRT's Panorama program that they had contacted the Iraqi intelligence agency and the relevant agencies and found that Hasan Özgüneş "had no travel ban."

He said that according to the system used in Iraq at all its 32 land, sea, and air crossings, the HDP MP "has no problems."

During a press conference yesterday 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.

Before Erbil International Airport issued the statement late last night, NRT English had contacted Ahmed Hoshyar, the CEO of the 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.

The airport's statement said that Hasan Özgüneş had a "travel ban from the federal security agencies at all Iraqi airports and border crossings, including those in the Kurdistan Region." However, the statement added that "when he arrived at Erbil airport, he was treated with respect and returned. This decision has nothing to do with the Kurdistan Regional Government."
Zet border crossing between Erbil and Turkey opens 
Zet Crossing (note the highly strategic framing of the flagpoles)
Zet Crossing (note the highly strategic framing of the flagpoles)   credit: KRG Media Office

The first border crossing between Erbil province and Turkey has been opened with a ceremony over the weekend. The Zet crossing supplements the multiple official crossings that exist in Duhok province, which straddles much of the Kurdistan Region's border with Turkey.

Here's the full statement from the KRG's media office:

The Zet International Gateway between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey will officially open this week after a year of continuous work on the construction of the main road between the two regions.

Halgurd Sheikh Najib, the supervisor of the Soran Independent Administration, told the Media and Information Office of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG): "In an official ceremony on Sunday, May 7, in the presence of officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government and Turkey, Brigadier Ruken Isa Ozer, Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs of the Kurdistan Regional Government, accompanied by several military officials, visited the gate to discuss the security situation in the region. The Kurdistan flag was hoisted at the gate for the first time."

The Zet International Gateway is located in the Sherwanmazen subdistrict of Mergasur district in Soran Autonomous Administration and will serve as a new international gateway between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey.
Some more concrete signs that the PUK is finally gearing up for an election

Soran Jamal Tahir, spokesperson for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), declared the party's readiness for the forthcoming elections in the Kurdistan Region.
Tahir stresses the 'necessity' of holding the elections on time, amending the electoral law, and reactivating the High Election Commission. 

He also highlighted the PUK's commitment to ensuring that communities in the region have genuine representation. This is in reference to the furore surrounding minority quota seats and the allegations that they're co-opted by the KDP. 

He says the PUK is calling for a meeting with other stakeholders to reach an agreement on the details. 
Morning Briefing

Happy Monday from London!

Although today is a bank holiday in the UK, our team on the ground in the Kurdistan Region will continue to bring you all the latest updates.

Here are a few developing stories we're monitoring: 

  • The KDP-PUK media war seems to be easing, two days after US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Barbara A. Leaf, visited the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. This development may be a relief for Kurdistan Region residents, who have grown tired of the long-standing rivalry between the two parties. However, there is still much work to be done before true reconciliation can be achieved.
  • The Iraqi official newspaper, al-Sabah, reports that Iraqi Premier Muhammed al-Sudani will act as a mediator between the two parties, following a request from Kurdistan Region's Nechirvan Barzani. Essentially, it reports that Nechirvan Barzani asked Sudani to help unite the two parties, laying bare Barzani's lack of influence over his cousin, KRG PM Masrour Barzani, who is currently in firm control of both party and government up in Kurdistan.
  • Sulaymaniyah police have arrested two suspects in connection with a severe sexual assault incident that was recorded on video and published. Regrettably, some local media outlets shared the disturbing video on their websites.