Iraq parliament vote
Iraq parliament vote

Live: More fallout from Baghdad budget debate

Last updated:
Newest first
Newest first
Oldest first
See latest updates
See one new update
See new updates
No posts for now
Unsurprisingly, the PUK doesn't seem happy about the Kurdistani Judicial Council swearing in two new members of the electoral commission.

An article published on its official platforms opens with this paragraph: 

"After attempting to reactivate the Electoral Commission in Parliament unlawfully, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) continues on its illegal and misguided path. Today, under KDP pressure, two individuals were sworn in as members of the Electoral Commission during an illegal session of the Judicial Council, even though Parliament has not appointed anyone to the commission."

The article further states that the Judicial Council meeting did not meet quorum and is procedurally void, which does seem to be accurate based on a cursory look at the relevant laws and bylaws. It quotes non-PUK judges and MPs in an attempt to demonstrate that this view is not exclusive to the PUK.

As of now, there have been no official statements from PUK bodies. However, one is likely to be released sooner or later.
Yesterday, the Iranian outlet Shargh Daily dropped a bombshell report suggesting a high-level delegation from the KDP, led by Masoud Barzani, visited the Iranian Consulate in Erbil to formally apologize to the country. The article lists Nechirvan Barzani, Hoshyar Zebari, Fazil Mirani, Sidad Barzani, and Zagros Fatah as members of the delegation.

A few weeks ago during the Barzani Memorial ceremony, the Iranian delegation reportedly left after discovering that Iranian Kurdish opposition movements were also invited. The article asserts that the delegation extended an official apology to Iran for inviting these "separatist groups," and quotes Fazil Mirani as stating the invitation to these groups was not "intentional," but rather a "technical mistake."

Although the credibility of this news may be in question, it was cited by Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency, which lends it a measure of legitimacy. Regardless of the accuracy of the report about the visit, it appears that Iranian frustration is genuine. They reportedly summoned the Iraqi Ambassador to officially protest the incident in the days following the ceremony.

Iraqi army and Peshmerga conduct joint operation in Tuz Khurmatu, Kirkuk, and Diyala

Amid parliamentary tensions in Baghdad over the budget, the military collaboration between Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga persists. Yesterday, the launch of the fifth phase of the "Swords of Truth" operation, focusing on areas bridging the Kurdish Region and Baghdad, was announced.

According to an Iraqi Army media statement published by KirkukNow, the security operation involved the Iraqi Army, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and the Popular Mobilization Forces. In addition, support came from the Iraqi Air Force, Army Aviation, Technical Detachments from the Directorate of Military Intelligence, and other auxiliary and service units.

This joint operation coincides with the recent report from Kurdistan24 on April 29 about the discovery of a Kurdish fisherman's body near the Great Zab River in the western Erbil province. He is believed to have been killed by suspected ISIS militants.

This incident underscores the ongoing security issues in the region, an area lacking coordination between the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army. Officials from the Kurdistan Region frequently urge for increased collaboration with Baghdad to address this "security vacuum."

Even though ISIS was territorially defeated in 2017, remnants of the group continue to instigate low-level insurgency attacks against both security forces and civilians in areas bridging the Kurdistan Region, disputed territories, and Arab Iraq.
Local Arabic media reports indicate that the Asiacell Telecommunication Company, established by a well-connected Kurdish business tycoon, and Qi Card, the leading digital payment provider, have announced a "strategic partnership." The announcement was made today at a ceremony held at the Grand Millennium Hotel in Sulaymaniyah. According to the statement shared with the media, the objective of this partnership is to "provide Asiacell customers with a seamless and secure electronic payment experience that will dramatically transform the way digital transactions are carried out in Iraq."

Both Asiacell and Qi Card have been embroiled in their fair share of controversies, with links alleged at different times to the PUK and Iranian-backed militias, respectively. Recently, Asiacell's competitor, Korek Telecom, led by Sirwan Barzani, was hit with a $1.65 billion fine in an international arbitration case.
The head of the State of Law Coalition, Nouri al-Maliki, met with Bangen Rekani, Minister for Housing and Reconstruction, in Karbala today, according to a statement released on SoL’s official Facebook page. The governor of Karbala and a number of MPs were present, and according to the readout of the meeting, they discussed "the ministry's plans for the coming period, as a number of projects related to the housing sector and municipalities in the country were presented."

However, the meeting has far more significance than the readout would indicate. Bangin Rekani is a high-ranking KDP member and often represents the party in negotiations in Baghdad. As we reported yesterday, some analysts consider the events of the past few days a joint AAH-PUK effort against Maliki’s SoL and Barzani’s KDP. Although this doesn’t confirm the theory, the timing of the meeting is certainly notable.

KDP president commends Islamic Movement following their support for reactivating electoral commission

Despite the tense relations between the KDP and PUK concerning the legality of the Kurdistan Parliament's session on May 22nd, KDP's President, Masoud Barzani, welcomed Eirfan Abdul-Aziz, the Secretary General of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK). He expressed appreciation for their "national and historic" positions. 

This development comes as Abdul-Aziz of the IMK had previously declared their support for the reactivation of the Kurdistan Electoral Commission in parliament last week.

President Barzani's meeting with Abdul-Aziz can be seen as his personal initiative in favor of the reactivation of the Electoral Commission, in contrast to the PUK's continued stance against the "illegal reactivation of the Commission."

Barzani's headquarters stated that during the meeting, they also "reaffirmed their commitment to enhancing relations between both parties."

The PUK continues to strongly oppose the 'reactivation' of Kurdistan's electoral commission. This stance persists even after the new 'law' was published in official gazette by the justice minister. They maintain their stance, stating that it would still be deemed a farce, even if it were published in the US's Federal Register.
The PUK has reaffirmed its stance that amendments to articles 13 and 14 of the Iraqi Budget bill, which specifically concern the Kurdish Region, pose 'no threat' to its constitutional autonomy. 

Harem Kamal Agha, head of the PUK bloc in the Iraqi Parliament, addressed the party's long-standing criticisms of the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) budget distribution in an interview with VOA Kurdish. He pointed out that the party's opposition arises from perceived injustices, but doesn't intend to split the region. Agha described a clause allocating each province a separate share of the Iraqi Budget, a clause that has incited the KDP's ire, as a "normal clause" that doesn't undermine the Kurdish Region's status.

Avoiding a direct response to the KDP's accusations of "betrayal," Agha countered that "treason involves misusing public funds and oil [policy]." While the KDP speculates that the PUK is orchestrating these amendments, Agha clarified that the clause isn't confined to Sulaymaniyah and can also cover Dohuk, a province with a KDP majority.

Despite the KDP's strong censure in the Iraqi Parliament, Agha underscored the robust relationship between KDP's Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and PUK's Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, noting that their "rapprochement has reached a positive stage."

The proposed bill (as amended) requires the KRG to surrender 400,000 barrels of oil per day. Meanwhile, it restricts the KRG from extracting oil from the Khurmala and Sheikhan oil fields, previously contributing 200,000 barrels of oil daily. Agha discussed the PUK's concerns about this aspect, particularly how the KRG should manage to export 400,000 barrels of oil while restricted from extracting oil from these fields.

Agha attributed the responsibility for budgetary issues to the KDP, arguing that the PUK team's absence from the KRG allowed the KDP to engage in talks with Iraq, and they should be held accountable for the results.

The KDP has expressed apprehensions that the proposed budget bill infringes on KRG's sovereignty by granting Iraq oversight over border crossings. Agha responded that while "airports and border crossings are constitutional matters, the Kurdish brigades of the Iraqi border forces, who guard the border areas, are themselves Kurds."

The head of the PUK team in the Iraqi Parliament revealed plans to submit further amendment proposals. Their previous comments in the Committee advocated for the repayment of deducted salaries for Kurdish employees and an equitable distribution of budget shares among provinces. Agha also addressed their concerns about preventing the KRG from extracting oil from the Khurmala and Sheikhan fields.

For a second consecutive day, protests have erupted in Erbil as a result of the government's attempt to shut down an informal venue where farmers and merchants sell watermelons.

Farmers express concerns about the challenges they face in marketing their produce, the financial impact of relocation, and the government's apparent disregard for their demands.

Speaking to the press, several protesters alleged that undercover police officers used force in an attempt to disperse the crowds. Multiple videos of these incidents have surfaced in the media, seeming to corroborate the demonstrators' allegations, though we cannot independently confirm their authenticity, not least due to the authorities' generally antagonistic attitude toward the media.

Yesterday, NRT Kurdish broadcast footage showing security forces obstructing their team from covering the protests—a practice that, according to Metro Center's annual reports, is all too common in Kurdistan.

Today, smaller protests by day laborers, farmers, and merchants were also observed in Darbandikhan and Halabja.

Sozan Mansour, spokesperson for PUK's Iraqi caucus, has issued a statement responding to what she termed "unsubstantiated allegations."

Though the statement largely follows PUK's standard rhetoric, a particular paragraph appears to address a claim made by the Deputy Head of KDP’s Caucus.

The Deputy Head of KDP’s Caucus had posted on Facebook yesterday, alleging, “During the [Kurdistani] Council of Ministers meeting, intended to find solutions to broad financial issues... The Honorable Deputy Prime Minister [Qubad Talabani] was allegedly engaged in messaging Yousef Kalabi and Mustafa Sanad to plan the dissolution of the Kurdistan region.”

In her response, PUK’s spokesperson stated, “The claims that Mr. Qubad Talabani has spoken to a few Iraqi MPs are unfounded and untrue. Mr. Qubad merely reached out to the PUK representative in the Finance Committee, instructing him to consolidate the financial rights of the Kurdistan Region. We can only say: 'You ridiculed the agreement with Baghdad when the Kurdish people were going without paychecks and the Kurdistan Region was facing an economic crisis. To secure the 200 billion dinars, Mr. Qubad led the Kurdistan Regional Government's negotiation team 11 times, engaged with Iraqi parties for 256 hours, and spent 50 days in Baghdad.'”
Despite initial media reports suggesting the process had stalled due to a lack of quorum, it seems the Judicial Council has gone ahead and officially sworn in two new members of Kurdistan's electoral commission.

As with most institutions in the region, membership in the eight-member Judicial Council is largely divided along party lines, and three members from Sulaymaniyah boycotted the meeting. 

This setback, however, didn't seem to trouble the KDP; five of the eight Judicial Council members simply proceeded to swear in the Election Commission candidates without any apparent difficulties.

This move appears to contravene both Law no. 22, 2007, which regulates the workings of the Judicial Council, and the Judicial Council's own internal procedures. Both of these stipulate that a 3/4 quorum is required for the council to reconvene. 

You might wonder how the "highest judicial authority in the Kurdistan Region" can so openly violate the letter of the law? Well, it seems our institutions are just built differently.
KDP MP and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Shakhawan Abdullah, has called into question the membership count of the Parliamentary Finance Committee. In an official letter, he stated that the committee can’t have less than 19 or more than 23 members as per Parliament’s internal procedures. He observed that there were 24 members present during the Finance Committee's sessions, a violation of the prescribed limits. Consequently, he urged the committee to cease all activities until its membership is reduced to 23.

As noted in our previous post, this move appears to be a symbolic protest against the Finance Committee's recent amendments related to Kurdistan's share of the budget. Local media speculate that the committee’s 24th member is Yousef al-Kalabi, an independent MP closely aligned with the Badr Organization.

The claim sparked strong reactions from al-Kalabi and his associates. Al-Kalabi labeled Abdullah’s action as “racist” and “chauvinistic” on Twitter, vowing to oust him from his deputy speaker role once the budget law is passed. In addition, Mustafa al-Sanad, another independent MP suspected of masterminding some changes to the draft budget law, criticized Erbil's disregard for Iraqi judicial or legislative authorities. Al-Sanad suggested that this non-compliance should lead to discontinuation of concessions to Kurdistan, including the appointment of 20,000 fighters to the Peshmerga. MP Hadi Al-Salami has requested an official investigation into Abdullah’s conduct, a move that also seems symbolic.

This incident is emblematic of the political maneuvering in Baghdad, where officials regularly exploit their positions and public institutions to challenge each other, largely in symbolic demonstrations.

KDP threatens Iraqi government boycott over budget amendment dispute

Resistance from the KDP to the controversial budget amendments continues. They contend it violates prior agreements between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi Government. A KDP official has now boldly stated: should these amendments continue, the KDP will boycott the Iraqi government.

Bashir Haddad (KDP), former Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, expressed concerns about Baghdad's intentions toward the Kurdish people. He argued the Iraqi government is not allocating the full budget. He cited changes to articles 13 and 14 as proof, stressing that if these amendments are approved, the KDP will withdraw from the Iraqi government and Baghdad.

Recently, the KDP's Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament acted decisively, suspending the activities of the Iraqi Finance Committee. He claimed their actions were "illegal" due to their membership count of 24, exceeding the allowed 23-member limit for any committee within the Iraqi Parliament. Haddad reinforced this viewpoint, asserting that the Deputy Speaker has the power to halt any committee activities in the Iraqi Parliament, ensuring their membership doesn't surpass the maximum of 23 individuals allowed under current rules. It's unclear whether these procedural tricks are just delaying tactics or an attempt at subverting the passage of the amended bill definitively.

These events correspond with statements from the KDP's Prime Minister, the President of the Kurdish Region, and the KDP bloc in the Iraqi Parliament. They all strongly reject these proposed amendments to the Iraqi budget bill.

Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani voiced "deep concern regarding the amendments and changes to the proposed Iraqi Budget bill." Barzani firmly rebuked the changes, indicating they hinder a budget long-anticipated by all Iraqis.

Before this statement, KDP's PM Masrour Barzani declared, "A group in the Iraqi Parliament’s finance committee has introduced changes to the draft federal budget, violating the agreement with PM [Al-Sudani's] government. The agreement is the foundation for cooperation between Erbil & Baghdad and the word of parties to it must be honored."

However, the KDP's bloc in the Iraqi Parliament didn’t merely denounce the changes; it also sharply criticized the PUK for supporting them, terming it a “betrayal no smaller than the 16th of October”, a reference to events in Kirkuk in 2017.

Morning briefing

Welcome to the Sunday edition of our live blog, where we bring you the latest news from Kurdistan and Iraq.

  • Debates over amendments to the draft budget law continue with no signs of cooling off. Shakhawan Abdullah (KDP), Deputy Speaker of Parliament, has officially requested the removal of the 24th member of the Financial Committee, claiming it violates internal procedures. Media reports suggest the targeted member is Yousef al-Kalabi, an "independent MP" close to the Badr organization. In response, al-Kalabi has labeled Abdullah's action as "racist" and "chauvinistic" and vowed to unseat him from the deputy speaker role. Meanwhile, PUK has translated a lengthy statement by al-Kalabi and published it in Kurdish on their official media.
  • Protests have continued for a second day in Erbil over the government's attempt to relocate makeshift stalls set up by watermelon farmers aiming to sell their produce. There were minor clashes during yesterday's protests, and some local media have claimed that plainclothes officers were seen assaulting demonstrators.
  • In other news, Iran's semi-official Mehr News, citing Shargh Daily, released an intriguing article exclusively in Kurdish. The article alleges that a high-level KDP delegation, led by Masoud Barzani and including Nechirvan Barzani, Hoshyar Zebari, Fazil Mirani, Sidad Barzani, and Zagros Fatah, visited the Iranian Consulate in Erbil. The purpose of their visit was reportedly to deliver an official apology to Iran for inviting "separatist groups" to the Barzani Memorial held a few weeks ago.