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Live: PUK ministers nearing cabinet comeback

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The Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), in which the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is a key member, releases a new statement regarding the alleged kidnapping of Kurdish woman politician Azime Arsun.

Arsun, originally from Şırnak in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey near the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, was said to have been arrested while attempting to leave the country for medical treatment.

However, Ahmad Hoshyar, director of Erbil International Airport, had refuted these claims, stating that no individual by that name had been arrested at the airport.

In the latest (rather incendiary) KCK statement, it's alleged that Arsun was kidnapped by the KDP's secret service, Parastin, and taken to an unknown location. The statement also refers to reports suggesting that she was handed over to Turkey's intelligence services, MIT.

The full text of the statement
KDP and Parastin are Responsible for the Fate of Azime Arsun

We are currently living through an important historical period leading towards the defeat of Erdoğan’s fascism. The fascist AKP-MHP regime, which has committed genocide against our people, continues its attacks together with all the anti-Kurdish and collaborating elements until the last moment. The resistance of Leader Apo [Abdullah Öcalan], our people and the freedom guerrilla has brought the fascist regime to the brink of collapse.

During such times, we have recently been informed that our friend Azime Arsun, who has been a part of the freedom struggle of our people and who is seriously ill, was detained at Hewlêr airport. Our friend Azime Arsun, who wanted to go abroad for treatment, was stopped and detained at the airport. Then she was kidnapped by the KDP’s secret service Parastin and taken to an unknown destination. Information that our friend was kidnapped by Parastin and then handed over to the Turkish MIT has also emerged. We have not received any concrete information about this. But it is clear that our comrade Azime Arsun has been abducted by the collaborator Parastin without any record. Therefore, there is a risk that our friend, who has a severe heart disease, will be handed over to the Turkish state.

It is a great shame for the KDP to detain a revolutionary Kurdish woman in this way and to try to use her for its dirty relations with the Turkish state. The KDP and Parastin are therefore responsible for the fate of our friend Azime Arsun.

On this basis, we would like to call on the Kurdish public and all women’s organizations to take action to find out the fate of our friend Azime Arsun and to prevent the KDP from handing her over to the Turkish state in order to support the fascist Erdoğan’s election campaign.

Kurdistan's Khor Mor naphtha rerouted to Iran due to lack of storage space

Bwar News reports that, in the past week, the South Company of the Kurdistan Region has begun rerouting a portion of its naphtha – a type of light crude oil – from the Khor Mor field in Chamchamal to Iran. 

Previously, nearly 20,000 barrels of crude oil were transported daily from the Khor Mor field to Turkey via tanker trucks. However, the decision to reroute the oil to Iran comes as a result of insufficient storage capacity in the Kurdistan Region, coupled with the closure of roads between the Sulaymaniyah and Erbil provinces. This situation has made it challenging for tanker trucks to deliver their cargo to Erbil and Duhok.

Currently, about 850 tanker trucks are involved in transporting oil from the Khor Mor field. Many are now forced to wait at the Chamchamal depots, according to the report. 

In the past week, several convoys of tanker trucks carrying crude oil have crossed into Iran through the Parvez Khan border crossing. These trucks then proceed to the Iranian port of Bandar Imam, where their cargo is unloaded. 

The South Kurdistan company, responsible for transporting crude oil from the Khor Mor field, is now dispatching daily convoys of 15 to 20 tanker trucks to Iran via the Senga and Serqala routes. These cross through the Chamchamal region and enter Iran through the Garmian and Parvez Khan border areas.

The International Court of Arbitration in Paris recently favored Iraq over Turkey in a lengthy oil dispute. Following this decision, the Kurdistan Region's oil exports via Turkey, which were over 400,000 barrels of oil per day, have been halted since March 25. This ruling has had a substantial impact on the region's oil industry, leading to a suspension of all oil production operations.

The cessation of exports has exacerbated existing storage capacity issues, further complicating the situation for oil producers and transporters in the Kurdistan Region.

Travelers limited to two bank cards when flying out of Erbil

Statement from Erbil International Airport

Notice to passengers of Erbil International Airport:

Due to an increase in the number of individuals using credit and debit cards from the airport to withdraw large sums of money abroad, around 2,150 cards have been confiscated. These cards have been used by travelers for money laundering purposes.

Erbil International Airport would like to inform passengers that this practice is not permitted under financial guidelines and laws. Each traveler can take only two cards abroad, provided that these two cards are registered in the traveler’s name with any bank.

Note: In addition to these legal and financial measures, travelers will be subject to legal penalties.

Some Background:

Baghdad has been under pressure from the US to curb money laundering and US dollar smuggling to countries and groups under sanctions, such as Iran. These pressures have created a crisis for the dinar-dollar exchange, as the value of the Iraqi dinar plummeted following US Treasury-induced measures by the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) last year.

As the CBI now requires banks and businesses to follow stricter rules when purchasing dollars for imports, businesses and individuals appear to have found other ways to take greenbacks out of Iraq. On Monday, The Wall Street Journal [paywall] published a 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.

Erbil International Airport has introduced measures to limit travelers to two credit and debit cards per person in an effort to combat money laundering. The airport has reported seizing approximately 2,150 credit and debit cards following a surge in their usage. However, the statement did not specify the time frame during which these seizures took place.

Some banks impose limits on the amount that can be deposited onto credit and debit cards to regulate financial transactions and prevent illicit activities such as money laundering.

These measures came amid heightened concern over the proceeds of crime being transferred abroad.

The new measures earlier this year led to dollars suddenly becoming harder to procure and more expensive in relation to Iraq’s dinar as a result. This led to a rapid devaluation of the dinar against the greenback, and protests in many Iraqi cities.

Iran’s proxies in Iraq are struggling to evade sanctions with cross-border smuggling, and Iraqi politicians and businesspeople with cash to launder are struggling to get money out via the other border with Turkey. People are now resorting to ever more novel ways to get illicit dollars out of the country.

According to a former Kurdistan banking sector figure, banks in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region typically do not scrutinize deposits below $5,000 but may require proof of funds for larger sums. As a result, some individuals have chosen to distribute their cash across multiple banks, sometimes ten or more, to ensure that each deposit falls below the threshold for extra scrutiny. For larger sums, documentation and proof of funding sources are required, making it more challenging to launder money.

Additionally, common banking practices in Iraq include monthly deposit limits and daily withdrawal limits, making it more difficult for consumers to obtain large sums of cash in one day.

UAE-based Dana Gas has reported slightly lower profits in the first quarter of 2023

Dana Gas employee at plant
Dana Gas employee at plant   credit: Dana Gas press pack

In a statement, the company said that its net profit was $50 million in the first three months of this year, compared to $54 million in the same period in 2022.

Despite a 22% decrease in realized prices during the period, the company's profitability experienced a modest decline of 7% because its production in the Kurdistan Region was higher than the previous year and operating costs were lower.

The statement added that in the Kurdistan Region, production grew by 9% to 38,700 barrels of oil per day (boepd) from 35,400 in Q1 2022, "building on the production capacity increase in Q4 2022 after the Khor Mor plant de-bottlenecking enhancements were completed."

It also said that the company has completed the drilling of five Khor Mor 250 (KM250) project wells, and the testing of two wells has shown they are able to produce gas at similar daily rates as the current producing wells.

The three other wells will be tested in the near term, as the company pushes forward on delivering first gas from the project by the second quarter of 2024. Dana Gas and Crescent Petroleum operate in Khor Mor and Chemchemal oil fields.

Following the March International Court of Arbitration ruling in Paris, which favoured Iraq over Turkey, and the subsequent suspension of oil exports via Turkey, Kurdistan Region-based oil and gas companies have been unable to produce oil as storage capacity soon ran out.

This will almost certainly impact the company's next quarter reports.

Controversy erupts over viral Erbil checkpoint video

A video featuring a woman named Shayan Ali driving through an Erbil checkpoint has ignited controversy on social media. In the video, Ali records her encounter with security guards who ask whether she is Kurdish or Arab while examining her national ID. 

Frustrated, Ali insists the guards have no legal basis for inquiring about her ethnicity or tribe, maintaining that such questions are irrelevant and improper. Despite addressing the guards in Kurdish, she argues that the questions are inappropriate. 

Opinions on social media are divided, with some defending Ali's position and others accusing her of disrespecting the security guards by not complying with their inquiries. Awene website reports that Kaifi Khoshnaw, director of security checkpoints in Erbil, has confirmed an investigation is underway. Ali may face charges for recording in a restricted area and for inappropriate behavior towards law enforcement officers. 

The video primarily shows Ali inside her car, with no identifiable marks potentially threatening the checkpoint. Security guards at checkpoints throughout Kurdistan and Iraq have been criticized for asking intrusive questions, causing discomfort and prompting allegations of power abuse. While authorities assert that these checkpoints are essential for counter-terrorism efforts, they also control people's movements between cities and towns.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is apparently in talks with Qatar about the potential establishment of a Qatari consulate in Erbil, according to a tweet by Safeen Dizayee, who heads Kurdistan's Department of Foreign Relations.

Erbil already hosts numerous diplomatic missions, including those from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Russia, among others.
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We think Below the line will become a regular feature on this blog. 
The handling of public sector salaries, pensions, and other payments in the Kurdistan Region has been nothing short of a disaster in the past several years. The main reasons for this were the KRG's ongoing disputes with Baghdad and heavy reliance on oil revenues, which plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The issues are numerous, including slow disbursement, irregularity, reliance on cash, plus onerous salary collection procedures leading to large crowds and long waits.

As the KRG has just published its salary payment schedule for April, let's have a look at some of the below-the-line reactions on the Facebook post announcing the schedule:

Soran Muhammed: "Dear brothers and sisters at the Finance Ministry, we want to know why it takes 20 days to pay us even when the cash is available. Not to mention that you won't even start paying us from today."

Kara Fuad: "I swear to God, if you run the government like this, I will run China, the United States, Russia, and Iran all by phone. You received the money from Baghdad, but you are only able to publish the schedule."

Goran Taha, who claims to be a teacher, wrote: "Since you delayed my salary, I will pass every single student so that the entire society fails."

Aras Ahmed: "Every month the news of degrading the people of the Kurdistan Region is published by the Kurdish revolutionaries, which appears to be the only place on earth to get such news."

Kamal Sleman: "You met for three days to come up with a list!

Jalal Shamerani: "I don't believe that government officials take notice of these comments that reflect the sentiments of the people. As I read them here at home, I feel embarrassed on their behalf."
Breaking News: Saadi Ahmed Pira, a member of the political bureau of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), announced in a press conference that next week, the PUK's ministerial team will return to the Council of Ministers and participate in the upcoming meetings.

Just in: KRG publishes schedule for distributing April public sector salaries.

According to the schedule, salary disbursement will begin on May 14 with payments to the Health Ministry and conclude on May 31 with payments of Peshmerga pensions.

A new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report highlights the Iraqi government's failure to compensate thousands of Yazidis and others from the Sinjar district for the destruction of and damage to their property caused by ISIS and the Iraqi and US-led coalition military battles. As a result, at least 200,000 Sinjaris continue to languish in displacement camps across northern Iraq.

Sarah Sanbar, Iraq researcher at HRW, says, "Without compensation, many Sinjaris lack the financial means to rebuild their homes and businesses, so returning home is simply not an option." She urges Iraqi authorities to distribute funds already earmarked for compensation to help people return and rebuild their lives.

Though the Yazidi Survivors Law has provided compensation for a small number of Yazidis, the broader Law No. 20 of 2009 remains plagued by procedural and processing inefficiencies and budgetary issues. The complex, lengthy, and expensive process has left many Sinjaris either giving up or not applying for compensation at all.

HRW calls on the Iraqi government to address bottlenecks in the compensation process, ensure sufficient funding for Law No. 20, and support the development of physical infrastructure and public services in Sinjar.

"Compensation is a crucial step in recognizing the suffering civilians have experienced and helping them rebuild their lives," Sanbar adds.

"The government needs to allocate and pay out funds for approved compensation claims as quickly as possible. Sinjaris should not have to keep waiting in vain."

HRW Recommendations

The report recommends the following measures to the Iraqi government to improve the reparations process for Yazidi survivors and other victims:

  • Strengthen institutional capacity: Bolster the resources and staffing of offices involved in the compensation process to expedite claims processing and payments.
  • Allocate adequate funding: Ensure sufficient funding for reparations programs, including the necessary institutions and payment of entitlements.
  • Adopt a multi-pronged approach: Go beyond financial compensation to include restitution, rehabilitation, and reconstruction measures.
  • Implement non-financial reparations: Act on the provisions of the Yazidi Survivors' Law that address non-financial reparations.
  • Simplify eligibility requirements: Remove the necessity for survivors to file a criminal complaint to be eligible for reparations under the Survivors' Law and adopt simplified evidentiary requirements in line with international standards to facilitate swift and accurate claims processing without imposing undue burdens on applicants.

To the US-led coalition:

  • Conduct thorough and impartial investigations into all instances of civilian casualties caused by coalition intervention
  • Provide technical and financial support to the Iraqi government in implementing reparations programs.

To the international community:

  • Provide support to organizations supporting victims filing claims or raising awareness about reparations processes.
  • Provide technical and financial support to the Iraqi government in implementing reparations programs.
A video released by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry shows that 6,000 archaeological artifacts have been returned to the Iraqi government in Baghdad. These pieces had been on loan to the British Museum for research purposes since 1923.

Yesterday, Baghdad said that it is looking forward to the cooperation of the international community to recover "every piece" of antiquities illegally taken out of Iraq.

Morning Briefing

Good morning from London, and good afternoon to those in the Kurdistan Region.

Public sector salaries are once again dominating headlines in Kurdish media. The promising news that salaries will be paid came hot on the heels of a meeting between the KRG prime minister and his deputy.

This timing could be coincidental or an attempt at psychological priming. We are now hearing that PUK ministerial teams are nearing a deal to return to the cabinet, potentially ending a months-long deadlock.

We will update you on both stories throughout the day.

In other news:

  • Human Rights Watch has criticized Iraqi authorities for failing to compensate thousands of Yazidis and others from the Sinjar province for property damage sustained during the battle against the Islamic State. The organization stated that the compensation for IS victims has been insufficient and delayed.
  • We are also awaiting the results of an internal KRG Education Ministry investigation into allegations of an assault on a female teacher in Erbil.