The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (Unami) has emphasized the critical need for timely, credible elections, labeling them a cornerstone of democracy. Jeanine Hennis, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Unami, expressed her disquiet regarding the continuous political strife in KRI, describing it as 'very disturbing.'
Hennis implores all parties to prioritize the interests of the populace and promptly address the outstanding electoral issues.
This development follows a meeting between Zahra Bell, the US Assistant Consul General, and Deputy KRG Prime Minister Qubad Talabani yesterday. During this meeting, Bell underscored the importance of continued cooperation among all parties to prevent any further delays in the elections.
24. May 2023 18:15
KRG urges swift approval of Iraqi budget
The KRG has urged the Iraqi parliament to promptly approve the Iraqi budget while respecting the constitutional rights of the Kurdish Region. The KRG emphasizes in its statement that the Iraqi Parliament should abstain from making changes or amendments to the proposed Budget Law that deviate from their previous agreement established on April 4, 2023.
Today, under Prime Minister Masrour Barzani's supervision, the KRG cabinet gathered to discuss the Iraqi Budget Laws for 2023, 2024, and 2025. Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani was also present, with a focus on the centralization of KRG finances.
In the context of their relationship with Baghdad, PM Barzani stated that the KRG has met all its obligations. Consequently, the Iraqi government should reciprocate and accord the same rights to the Kurdish Region as to the rest of Iraq.
Despite ongoing political and legal tension between the two parties regarding the Electoral Commission's reactivation and election laws, the statement emphasizes the collaborative relationship between PM Barzani of the KDP and Deputy PM Talabani of the PUK. Both reaffirmed the need for centralizing income, expenditures, and salaries.
There was no discussion regarding the Electoral Commission's potential reactivation or the existing tensions between the PUK and KDP in the cabinet meeting.
About the 2023 Iraqi budget
Two months ago, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani announced this year's budget totals 197.82 trillion Iraqi dinar (approximately $152.17b). The budget anticipates a deficit of 63.27 trillion Iraqi dinar, or approximately $48.67 billion USD. Operational and investment expenditures will total about $115.59b and $36.58b, respectively.
The budget relies on an assumed oil price of $70 per barrel and a daily crude oil output of 3.5 million barrels, inclusive of 400,000 barrels from the Kurdistan region.
KRG's share in the Iraqi budget
The Iraqi budget is set to address persistent disputes between Baghdad and the KRG over budget shares and oil revenues.
The KRG's budget share will hold steady at 12.67%, as established in the 2019 federal budget. A joint account will be created for the income from the expected production of 400,000 barrels of oil per day from the Kurdistan region.
An additional allocation of 400 billion IQD (approximately $308m) has been made to the KRG to cover public sector salaries. This has been structured as a "loan" to bypass a previous ruling by the Federal Supreme Court that found earlier extra-budgetary transfers non-compliant with the 2021 budget law.
Some Kurdish MPs in the Iraqi Parliament claim that certain Iraqi MPs are creating issues around the KRG's allocation, adding conditions to sending the KRG share. There were reports earlier this week that Kurdish MPs on the finance committee were 'too scared to leave their seats' in case the other committee members added riders to the bill.
24. May 2023 16:55
Schrödinger's electoral commission
The Kurdistani electoral commission is at once dead and alive.
The PUK maintains that the Kurdistan Electoral Commission is yet to be reactivated amid ongoing legal disputes surrounding its validity. Sleman Mustafa, the Deputy Chief of Kurdistan's Electoral Commission, insisted in an interview with PUK Media that the Commission remains dormant.
That'll be news to the head of the commission, who is a KDP member and said that the commission would be resuming work imminently once they receive the order on letterhead signed by the parliamentary speakership.
The term speakership is the operative one here. The speaker herself, Rewaz Faiq, rejects any orders given by her mutinous KDP deputy.
Mustafa underscored the commission's receipt of two clashing letters from the Kurdistan Parliament, sowing confusion about the commission's status.
One of the letters was from Hemn Hawrami, the Deputy Speaker representing the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), affirming the enforceability of Law number 10, as ratified in the May 22nd session. Subsequently, the Commission received a second letter from Speaker Faiq refuting Hawrami's claims.
In addition to asserting the Commission's inactive state, Mustafa declared that its term had "expired". He further reinforced their commitment to honoring the letter delivered by the Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament.
The KDP has likewise engaged in comparable maneuvers. Yesterday, the Chronicle of Kurdistan, a publication controlled by the Minister of Justice responsible for circulating Parliament and Government laws and regulations, disseminated the text of the 2023 10th Law of the Kurdistan Parliament. This law pertains to the reactivation of the Kurdistan electoral commission and instatement of its commissioners..
The Chronicle of Kurdistan's cover was posted on the official Facebook page of the Minister of Justice, currently held by KDP's Farsat Ahmad Abdullah.
Despite these political and legal squabbles, Zahra Bell, the US Assistant Consul General, met with Deputy KRG Prime Minister Qubad Talabani yesterday. Bell emphasized the necessity for sustained collaboration between all parties to ensure elections proceed without further delay.
This marked the first diplomatic reaction on the legislative disarray, highlighting the US's priority of avoiding election delays over the PUK's calls for reforming the electoral system.
24. May 2023 14:45
KDP MP calls the existing (and highly contentious) electoral system 'flawless'
Here we go...
Days after a sham vote in parliament to reactivate the electoral commission, KDP MPs are now saying the poll can, in fact, go ahead without any reforms at all.
The KDP's Mohsin Doski told K24 in a TV interview that in the absence of an agreement, the current 'flawless' system will remain in place for the elections.
The PUK has been demanding that the reactivation of the electoral commission be voted on in parliament alongside a bill that would amend the existing electoral laws to enact reforms to the way parliament is elected in Kurdistan.
In media interviews after their parliamentary antics on Monday, KDP figures initially said that the reactivation of the electoral commission does not preclude compromise on the system of elections. However, in a sign that they're using the reactivation of the commission as a pressure point to ensure there's a hard time limit on such negotiations (and a status quo that suits the KDP perfectly if no reforms are agreed upon and passed), it appears they aim to pressure other parties into lowering their demands for reforms.
Doski once again asserts that they "won't accept the imposition of an electoral system on citizens from minority communities" and declares they will adopt any proposals agreed upon by minority groups "together with UNAMI". The KDP is less clear on the details of who will represent minority groups in these talks. As we've reported in the past, the KDP has been accused of orchestrating mass tactical voting for favored minority candidates during early voting for members of its security forces.
Iranian Kurdish opposition parties face renewed threats
Shifting focus away from the internal politics of the Kurdistan Region, Mohammed Saleh Qaderi, a representative of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, warned in a statement to VOA Kurdish that increasing pressure from Iran could soon force them to move their struggle to the eastern part of Kurdistan, within Iranian borders.
Qaderi, representing an Iranian Kurdish opposition party, explained that their only defensive resources are light firearms within the Kurdish Region. Their presence in the region represents a symbolic Kurdish resistance, rather than indicating a military stronghold.
Reports from VOA suggest that Iranian forces continue to use drones to surveil bases and offices of Kurdish opposition parties. This unrelenting surveillance exposes these groups to a heightened risk of potential attacks.
Qaderi further asserted that Iran's pressure on the Kurdish Region stems from the presence of Iranian Kurdish opposition parties. Iran uses this as a political pawn in its dealings with Iraq to further its own interests. He warned that if such pressures continue, they would shift their resistance to the eastern part of Kurdistan in Iran. Qaderi recognizes the "sensitivity" of relations between the Kurdistan Region and Iran, and believes that both the Kurdish Region and Iraq are more inclined towards a dialogue-based resolution to the Kurdish issue in Iran rather than provoking conflict.
Many will recall the widespread protests across Iran triggered by the death of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini in September last year. Weeks later, Iranian authorities accused Kurdish opposition parties of inciting these demonstrations and destabilizing the region, leading to assaults on their bases in locations like Koya and Erbil.
Kurdish opposition parties continue to assert their commitment to not using the Kurdish Region as a launch pad for attacks against the Iranian state.
Gulf Keystone seeks assurance on resumption of KRG payments
Gulf Keystone Petroleum (GKP) has reported that the suspension of oil exports from the Shaikan Field since March 25 has led to a deferral of about 2.9 million barrels, equivalent to approximately 8,000 barrels of oil per day (bopd) on an annual basis. As of 2022, the Shaikan Oil Field, one of the largest oil fields in the Kurdistan Region, produced an average of 44,000-47,000 bopd.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, GKP maintains its stance that the export suspension is a temporary measure, despite receiving no indication on when exports might recommence.
Additionally, GKP continues to seek clarification from the KRG regarding the recommencement of consistent monthly oil sales payments and the payment schedule for the current overdue receivables for the period from October 2022 to February 2023. The total overdue amount stands at $128 million net, based on the KBT pricing mechanism.
The KRG is on the verge of financial meltdown as its primary source of income, oil revenue, has dried up. The KRG oil export halt, in effect for 59 days, has resulted in a staggering loss exceeding $1.5 billion, as reported by Reuters.
Approximately two months ago, Turkey halted the northern export of 450,000 bopd from Iraq via the Iraq-Turkey pipeline in response to an arbitration ruling by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). The ICC ordered Turkey to compensate Baghdad $1.5 billion for unauthorized exports by the KRG between 2014 and 2018.
GKP maintains that the company is poised to resume production promptly.
According to a Reuters report on Tuesday, Iraq’s oil minister Hayan Abdel-Ghani claims Turkey attributes the delay in resuming oil exports from the Kurdistan Region to 'technical faults and maintenance issues.' Ankara has reportedly informed Baghdad that it is assessing potential pipeline damage resulting from the catastrophic earthquake in February. However, this assertion is dubious given that the earthquake occurred in February while the shutdown didn't take place until March 25. Furthermore, it's unlikely that technical issues would take two months to resolve, especially considering the vast quantities of oil transported daily.
Long-term impact and dividend cancellation
GKP says it remains committed to preserving liquidity and continues to curtail capital expenditures and costs across the enterprise. As part of these cost-saving measures, GKP is cancelling a $25 million dividend to its shareholders. Following the shutdown, the company’s shares have declined by approximately 30% on the stock market. However, following Tuesday's update, there has been a slight recovery.
GKP has stated that "once regular payments from the KRG resume, the Board will consider reinstating dividends in line with its financial framework, which includes an evaluation of the Company’s projected liquidity, cash flow generation, and investment needs."
24. May 2023 13:30
PUK leader warns against 'tampering with public will'
The PUK continues to voice its opposition to the KDP in the aftermath of the contentious Kurdistan Parliament session on May 22nd. Last night, PUK Leader Bafel Jalal Talabani, accompanied by several PUK Politburo members and PUK's Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, met with Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament Rewaz Faeq, a fellow PUK member, and the PUK bloc in the Kurdistan Parliament.
As reported by official PUK media outlets, Bafel Jalal Talabani lauded their "brave" stance in the recent parliamentary session, expressing full support. He commended the Speaker of Parliament and the PUK bloc for upholding the law and maintaining the Parliament's reputation.
The PUK leader continues to condemn the "misuse of minority quota seats in critical matters."
Shedding light on the underlying issue between the PUK and KDP, Bafel Talabani stated that since the emergence of the political and legal disputes around the elections, the PUK has been open to a national agreement and consensus with all political parties. He revealed that the PUK sought "amendments to the Election Law while concurrently reviving the Electoral Commission, without asserting their own will."
This meeting marks the second notable official PUK response to the May 22nd Parliament session. Earlier, the PUK Politburo released a statement condemning the KDP's "autocratic" parliamentary conduct as a violation of parliamentary rules, after an initial 15-hour silence.
Intriguingly, despite the escalating Parliament tensions, the PUK's Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani attended a meeting helmed by KDP's Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, focusing on public finance restructuring in the Kurdistan Region. Post-meeting, Talabani refrained from commenting on the increasing KDP-PUK friction in Parliament.
Today, in a similar vein, Qubad Talabani, despite meeting with PUK MPs and Bafel Talabani, is participating in the KRG cabinet meeting under Prime Minister Masrour Barzani's leadership.
Prior to the fraught parliamentary session, Hemin Hawrami and Parliament Secretary Kahveci altered the session's agenda to include the High Election and Referendum Commission's revival. These amendments were sanctioned by the Deputy Speaker and Secretary, sidestepping Speaker Rewaz Faiq.
Despite the ensuing conflict, the KDP persevered with the session, voting on the suggested amendments and the reactivation of the Electoral Commission.
24. May 2023 12:29
Iraqi federal court postpones verdict for fifth time
In the ongoing drama around the Kurdistan Parliament's mandate extension, the Iraqi Federal Court has hit the pause button for the fifth time. The anticipated ruling, slated for today, has been pushed back to May 30, 2023.
In this rescheduled session, the Iraqi Election Commission is set to join the hearing, hoping to untangle the contentious issue of the Kurdistan parliamentary elections. This marks the fifth postponement following four previous delays.
The legal complaint comes from key figures such as Shaswar Abdulwahid, President of the New Generation Movement (NGM); Srwa Abdulwahid, Head of the NGM bloc in the Iraqi Parliament; Kawa Abdulqadir, NGM MP in Iraq; and Yousif Mohammed, former Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament.
Their challenge is directed at Rewaz Faiq, the Speaker of the Kurdistan Region's Parliament, contesting the "unconstitutional" extension of the parliamentary mandate and demanding its reversal.
Last October, a majority vote from Kurdistan Region Parliament members, including MPs from the three cabinet parties, added a year to the legislature's current four-year term. This decision, met with cries of "unlawful" from boycotting opposition factions, led to boycotts by outraged New Generation MPs.
While the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) may not epitomize democracy in the region, it's not off the mark in labeling the Kurdistan Democratic Party's (KDP) tactics as "autocratic". The KDP's power grab and overarching control of Kurdistan's institutions are throttling the growth of democratic norms.
Ideally, state institutions – executive, legislature, and judiciary – should operate independently, a mechanism to shield citizens' liberties and ward off tyranny. Yet, in the Kurdistan context, the KDP holds sway over all these critical institutions, disrupting the balance of powers, thereby underscoring the importance of the PUK's resistance.
The KDP's actions in Parliament have sought to erode the few checks and balances in place. This trend manifests clearly when the KDP interacts with diplomatic missions in the Kurdistan Region. Proficient in the language of Western democracy, the KDP puts on a democratic front. This was evident in their statement after Monday's parliamentary disruption:
"We urge all nations' representatives and UNAMI to cooperate in this process [fulfilling its legal obligation to amend the electoral law]... Parties obstructing these steps are demonstrating anti-democratic and anti-election stances."
Today, Kurdistan Parliament's deputy speaker, Hemn Hawrami (KDP), called for the UN's "crucial" backing for a "free & fair election" scheduled for November 18.
The KDP is striving to present Monday's vote and subsequent bill passage as legitimate, leveraging all possible "principal institutions". This has been recognized by the KRG, while the Ministry of Justice has legitimized and published the law, and the Speaker has been sidelined with the KDP's deputy speaker seizing control and the limelight.
What more do foreign missions need to understand the KDP's power monopoly and the lack of room for negotiation?
The prevalent argument posits that as the KDP and PUK each control their region's finances and security, the power plays are essentially insignificant. But this view overlooks the long-term implications and further solidifies divisions. If Kurdistan's institutions were truly independent, the PUK might be more open to the KRG's authority.
Foreign missions are sure to hear the KDP's side of the story, but it's crucial that they realize the improbability of free and fair elections under the shadow of the KDP's escalating autocratic rule.
24. May 2023 11:27
A warm welcome from London and a good afternoon to those joining us from the Kurdistan Region. Here's what's making headlines today:
A pivotal ruling is anticipated today from the Federal Supreme Court of Iraq on the extension of the Kurdistan Parliament's mandate. This decision, postponed four times previously, has been anxiously awaited. The Iraqi Election Commission will be present in the hearing to discuss the ongoing issues related to the Kurdistan parliamentary elections. The legal challenges were filed by notable figures including Shaswar Abdulwahid, President of the New Generation Movement (NGM), and Yousif Mohammed, former Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament.
The recent May 22nd session of the Kurdistan Parliament has left questions surrounding the relationship between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). PUK Leader Bafel Talabani and PUK's Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani met with Rewaz Faiq, Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament and PUK member, commending the PUK's stand in the last session to uphold the law and the Parliament's reputation.
However, Qubad Talabani's planned attendance at today's meeting of the KRG Cabinet, led by KDP's Masrour Barzani, may suggest the PUK is not seeking to fully sever ties with the KDP. The discussion is set to center on the Iraqi budget and the reorganization of KRG finances.
Shifting focus away from Kurdish domestic politics, Mohammed Saleh Qaderi, Representative of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, revealed in an interview with VOA Kurdish that increased pressure from Iranians might soon steer their struggle towards Iran's eastern region of Kurdistan.
Stay with us as we keep you abreast of all unfolding developments in Kurdistan and Iraq!