Live: Iraqi and Kurdish officials in Iran for talks

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French consulate condemns arrest of French journalist and his fixer in Sulaymaniyah

The French Consulate in Erbil has issued a statement strongly condemning the detention of a French journalist and their fixer in Sulaymaniyah on June 2nd. The specifics of the incident remain unclear due to a lack of local media coverage. The Green Zone has seen a surge in the arbitrary arrests of journalists, correlating with the declining popularity and legitimacy of the PUK. 

The full statement translated from the Consulate General of France in Erbil reads:

"The Consulate General of France in Erbil unequivocally condemns the unwarranted arrest and detention of a French journalist and their fixer in Sulaymaniyah governorate on June 2nd. 

We express gratitude to the authorities that have aided in resolving this situation.

The French Consulate laments the ongoing violations against press freedom and journalists' rights across the Kurdistan Autonomous Region, which this incident further exemplifies."

Nobel laureate Nadia Murad celebrates the rescue of six Yazidi women

Nobel Peace Laureate and UNODC Ambassador Nadia Murad has expressed profound joy following the rescue and return of six Yazidi women to Erbil. These women, taken by ISIS as children, are now reunited with their families after intensive investigations. 

Murad attributes this success to the President of the Kurdistan Region, whose establishment of a dedicated office has been instrumental in the rescue of kidnapped Yazidi women and girls. She underscores the enduring significance of this humanitarian mission and advocates for international cooperation to facilitate the return of more abducted women.

Iran presents ultimatum to Kurdish parties amidst border tensions – reports

A Draw Media report suggests that during National Security Advisor al-Araji’s visit to Iran—accompanied by high-ranking KDP and PUK officials including KRG Interior Minister Reber Ahmed—Iran allegedly put forward an ultimatum to the Kurdish parties. These parties were reportedly told to either confiscate the weapons of Iranian Kurdish rebels and relocate them to UN-administered refugee camps, or to expel them altogether. This claim emerges alongside unconfirmed reports of Iran escalating its troop presence along the Kurdistan border.

Speculations arise that meetings between Iranian and Iraqi officials, including those from the Kurdistan Region, could signal the initiation of a closure of Iranian opposition bases and the cessation of their activities. High-ranking security officials from the KDP and the PUK reportedly attended these meetings, which are claimed to be a continuation of the border security agreement between Iraq and Iran, aimed at fortifying the frontier with Iraq's Kurdish region.

The joint security agreement, signed in March, allegedly focuses on bolstering border protection and cooperation in diverse security fields. The commitment extends to Iraq not allowing armed groups to launch attacks against Iran from its Kurdish region, as reported by a source present at the signing.

Draw Media suggests that during the Iraqi security delegation's visit to Tehran, the Iranians requested the Iraqi government and the KRG to disarm Kurdish forces, relocate them to UNHCR refugee camps in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah, and consider disarming and expelling Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups. Following this meeting, the PUK and KDP reportedly accepted Iran's terms.

NRT English has not independently verified the claims made by Draw Media.

The Iranian government has been exerting pressure on the Kurdistan Region following demonstrations in Iran and Kurdish cities last year, accusing the KRG of aiding Iranian-Kurdish opposition parties in smuggling weapons into Iran. This accusation has been refuted by the KRG.

A report by Shargh Daily suggests that a KDP delegation visited the Iranian Consulate in Erbil to formally apologize for inviting Iranian Kurdish opposition movements to the Barzani Memorial ceremony, an oversight they called a "technical mistake," allegedly resulting in the Iranian delegation's premature departure from the event.

Although the reliability of this news remains questionable, Iran's semi-official Mehr News Agency has quoted it, providing some validity. Despite the accuracy of the apology's report, Iranian frustration is apparently palpable as they summoned the Iraqi Ambassador to formally protest the incident.

Iran's grievances extend beyond Iranian-Kurdish opposition parties, also accusing the Kurdistan Region of providing shelter to Israeli intelligence agents. Such accusations have strained relations between Masoud Barzani, the President of the KDP, and Iran. Iran's opposition to the KDP's political maneuvers in Iraq, viewing their agreement with Muqtada Sadr as a potential threat to Iran's national security, has also been noted.

Presently, as part of Iraq's Coordination Framework, the KDP and PUK in government with Iranian proxies in Baghdad.

Iran continues to transport heavy weaponry to Kurdistan border – Kurdish human rights NGO

Hengaw, a Norway-based Kurdish NGO focusing on human rights in Kurdish-majority areas in Iran, reports that Iran continues to transport heavy weaponry to its border with Kurdistan. Videos of this heavy weaponry being transported to the Iranian borders with Kurdistan began circulating on May 30th. This was a day after the Iraqi National Security Advisor led a high-ranking delegation that included officials from both the KDP and the PUK to Iran. 

In the past, Iran has issued warnings that it may initiate a land operation if the Iraqi Kurdish authorities do not limit the presence of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups within Iraqi Kurdistan. 

Over the past year, Iran has launched a number of air, missile, and drone strikes against these groups, which it labels as 'secessionist, terrorist organizations'. Some of these attacks have struck locations as deep as 90 kilometers inside the Kurdish territories.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets the President of Kurdistan Region Nechirvan Barzani during the inauguration of Erdogan's third term at the presidential palace in Ankara, Turkey.
Reporter Wladimir van Wilgenburg quotes the border authorities on the AANES side as saying the opening of the border is only for humanitarian organizations.

Syrian FM set to visit Baghdad

In a statement given to the state-owned Iraqi News Agency (INA), the spokesperson for the Iraqi Foreign Ministry announced that Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad is set to arrive in Baghdad today.

Mekdad's itinerary includes meetings with a number of Iraq's top officials, including the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament, and the Head of the Supreme Judicial Council.

The visit's agenda, as per the statement to INA, will centre on strengthening bilateral relations between Baghdad and Damascus and discussing Iraq's role in supporting Syria's return to the Arab League.

Kurdistan's border with Syria's north slated to reopen.

Kurdistan's border crossing with the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) is slated to reopen, says Faysh Khabur border director Shawkat Barbuhari in an announcement to Kurdistan 24, a KDP-owned media outlet.

However, no additional information or context was given, making it unclear why the KDP has chosen to make this move now. 

NRT English had previously reported that the closure was in response to AANES authorities barring the Kurdish National Council (KNC/ENKS), a group backed by Barzani, from crossing the border to attend the Barzani National Memorial ceremony. This shutdown came into effect roughly two weeks ago, on May 20th.

The reopening of the Faysh Khabur border crossing is of particular significance to the AANES as it's their primary access point to the outside world. This enables crucial aid and trade opportunities for the administration. But the border crossing has often been a point of contention and has been closed multiple times in the past due to ongoing tensions between the KDP and the SDF, and more broadly the PKK.

Despite the US's reported attempts to mediate the situation between the two sides, it seems these efforts have yet to bear fruit, according to local media reports. 

PMF in Iraq: A force on the rise

The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) in Iraq seems to be on an upward trajectory, according to a report by Iraqi experts Amir al-Kaabi and Michael Knights of The Washington Institute. This growth has become a subject of contention, as the specifics of the PMF's expansion remain a bit murky.

So, what's the buzz about the PMF?
The PMF, an emerging security force established in 2014, is currently led by Falah al-Fayyadh, a U.S.-designated human rights abuser, and Abdul-Aziz al-Mohammadawi, a U.S.-designated terrorist. Now, consider this force reportedly increasing its ranks substantially in a short span of time. That's quite the headline, isn't it?

However, the exact figures of this expansion seem to be under dispute. The finance committee of the Iraqi parliament argues that the PMF’s authorized manpower has seen a 95% boost for 2023, going from 122,000 to 238,000 personnel. But al-Fayyadh counters this, stating the increase was from 170,000 in 2021 to just 204,000. Regardless of the correct figure, the PMF is undeniably growing.

What about the PMF’s financial growth?
The PMF’s budget is also expanding alongside its membership. From $2.16bn in 2021, the PMF budget has risen to $2.6bn in the proposed 2023 budget, marking a 23% increase. But beyond immediate funding, the PMF is also setting up for long-term obligations, specifically, pensions for PMF fighters. 

Pensions for PMF fighters?
Yep. Falah al-Fayyadh has hinted at a nearing PMF Service and Retirement Law that, once passed, will secure fighters as permanent employees with all associated rights and salaries.

Extra funds for the PMF?
There's more. Abbas al-Zamili, the head of the Badr Organization’s parliamentary bloc, has revealed that 400 billion Iraqi dinar ($305 million) was added to the PMF's investment budget. Furthermore, the Council of Ministers has authorised a 1.5 billion Iraqi dinar ($1.2 million) “Secret Expenses for PMF” fund.

The bottom line?
Despite attempts to downplay it, the PMF's rapid expansion is becoming increasingly visible. Doubling their registered fighters, enhancing civil works and its industrial base, and even tapping into the realm of intelligence-gathering, all without direct oversight, the PMF seems poised to become a significant player in Iraq's future.

Over 80 Yezidis stranded on Turkish-Greek border island

Murad Ismael reports that over 80 Yezidis have been marooned on a small island on the Turkish-Greek border for four days. Following the ISIS seizure of vast areas of Iraqi territory in 2014, a genocide was launched against the Yezidis, an ethnoreligious minority often misrepresented as "devil worshippers". This led to the displacement of many Yezidis from their ancestral home in Sinjar.

Hundreds of thousands sought refuge in Europe, while a large number of those who stayed in Iraq remain in refugee camps within the Kurdistan region due to ongoing insecurity in Sinjar. The conditions in these camps are poor, with insufficient protection from harsh winter conditions and regular fires during the summer, which have resulted in annual casualties. The suicide rate in the camps is reportedly high, as many Yezidis, disillusioned with their future in the country, attempt to flee through unofficial and perilous smuggling routes to Europe.

Kurdistan region's presidency spokesperson speaks on delayed elections and recent FSC decision: implications for the region and beyond

In an interview with Rudaw, Dilshad Shahab, spokesperson for the Kurdistan Region's Presidency, spoke out regarding the delayed elections and recent Federal Supreme Court (FSC) decision that nullified the Kurdistan Region (KR) Parliament's extension of its own term. "Kurdistan is currently dealing with the unfortunate absence of legislative powers. This situation could negatively affect the political process and crucial issues, but it also offers a learning opportunity. Our disagreements have led to these outcomes, and they've harmed the Kurdistan Region," Shahab said.

Furthermore, he stressed that the situation was too significant to simply be viewed as a competition with winners and losers. After the FSC decision, Shahab assured that the KR Presidency would take all necessary actions to prepare for the elections as soon as possible. He emphasized, "it's not essential who oversees the elections or what mechanisms and laws are used, as long as elections happen and the Kurdistan Region can return to a normal state with a functioning government."

Shahab's comments may have significant implications for the Kurdistan Region. This is the first time a spokesperson for any branch of the region's government has commented on the FSC decision. Shahab implies that Kurdistan is subject to the decision and currently lacks an active legislative chamber. His statement contradicts previous claims by KDP MPs and high-ranking officials who maintain that the KR Parliament's term has not ended and that the FSC lacks the authority to declare the extension unconstitutional.

The impact of Shahab's statement on the elections scheduled for November in the region and the future of intra-KDP conflicts remains unclear. Neither Masrour nor Masoud Barzani has commented on the FSC decision yet. However, if significant differences emerge between the three Barzanis, as rumors suggest, the political landscape in Kurdistan may be disrupted.

When asked about the resumption of oil exports through Ceyhan or the closure of Turkish airspace to planes traveling from/to Sulaymaniyah airport, Shahab replied that there would be no private meetings between Erdogan and Nechirvan Barzani. However, he noted that both parties maintain regular contact on these matters.


New Iran-Kurdistan Region border crossing in the works

A new border crossing between Iran and the Kurdistan Region is poised to open in the near future. This development follows meetings in Iran between Azad Tofiq, the Governor of Halabja, and Tayib Sahrayi, the Governor of Kermanshah.

An official statement from the Halabja governorate revealed that both parties had reached an agreement to open the border crossing and had made the requisite arrangements for its initiation. The Governor of Sulaymaniyah, Haval Abubakr, further corroborated these updates during an interview with Kurdistan 24. He noted the aim to boost trade exchanges with Iran, highlighting the anticipated positive influence of this new border crossing.

Conversations are also ongoing with Iranian firms regarding potential investments and the establishment of factories in the Sulaymaniyah region, according to Governor Abubakr.

Mullah Qadir Qadiri, a distinguished religious cleric in Paveh who advocates for the opening of the border on the Iranian side, underscored that the border opening could occur soon, potentially aligning with the Eid al-Adha festivities by the end of the month.

Located in Tawela, east of Halabja province, the new border crossing aims to stimulate tourism and trade between the Kurdistan Region and Iran. The Kurdistan Region shares an extensive border with Iran, with three main border crossings and several additional semi-official crossings connecting these neighboring regions.

The Iraqi parliament is set to begin its summer recess on June 9th, casting uncertainty over the fate of Iraq’s intensely debated and eagerly anticipated budget law. The law, which was initially scheduled for a vote in parliament over a month ago, has seen delays and revisions.

Speaking to Rabia News, an affiliate of the Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), MP and Finance Committee member, Saad Awad Al-Tobi, revealed that the committee had officially called for the bill to be voted on, insisting there was "no reason for delays". He anticipates that the vote will take place either next Sunday or Monday, prior to the parliament officially going into recess.

The hold-up is largely speculated to stem from alterations made by the Finance Committee to provisions pertaining to Kurdistan's allocation of the budget. Reports indicate ongoing discussions between the KDP and SCF concerning these amendments, as well as intra-SCF negotiations. However, it remains uncertain whether any substantial progress has been achieved.

Under extraordinary circumstances, the CoR's legislative session can be extended. Thus, even if political consensus is not reached by June 9th to allow for a parliamentary vote on the bill, it is improbable that Iraq will go without a budget for months. Nevertheless, as the deadline looms, a surge in efforts from all parties involved can be anticipated.

There have reports of Turkish bombardment in the Shiladze and Deraluk subdistricts of Akre, Duhok early today, as relayed by local media. According to Rudaw, a villager described the incident as a "heavy bombardment" that persisted for about ninety minutes. Thankfully, no civilian casualties were reported.

In recent times, Turkey has escalated its aerial campaigns in Northern Iraq. Based on Rudaw's account, both Sinjar and Duhok have faced over 30 bombardments from Turkey since May 14th.

The surge in Turkish airstrikes is perceived by some analysts as a response to the unexpected electoral triumph of nationalist parties in Turkey. They predict a more aggressive stance from Turkey against the PKK, with an escalation of military offensives likely on the horizon.
Amid Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) ongoing efforts to restore oil exports via Turkey, Russian firm Lukoil has augmented its oil production in the West Qurna-2 oilfield in southern Iraq. This increase represents an additional 80,000 barrels per day, elevating total production from the oilfield to 480,000 barrels daily.

According to an Iraqi official speaking to Reuters, this production surge was facilitated by the addition of 47 new wells. They further noted that, if required, the production capacity of the West Qurna-2 oilfield could swiftly expand to 500,000 barrels per day.

This boost in oil production emerges as a response to Turkey's suspension of Iraq's northern oil exports. These exports, amounting to 450,000 barrels per day, were carried out via the Iraqi-Turkish pipeline. The suspension has been in effect since March 25, following an arbitrary ruling by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

Currently, Iraq awaits Turkey's definitive response concerning the restoration of oil exports from the Kurdistan region to Turkey's Ceyhan port. In mid-May, the Iraqi Minister of Oil, Hayan Abdul-Ghani, expressed Iraq's intention to recommence oil exports through the pipeline from the Kurdistan region, pending Turkey's approval.

The KRG has communicated their anticipation for a final agreement between the federal government in Baghdad and the Turkish government to enable the resumption of oil exports from Kurdistan. This suspension of oil exports has led to the cessation of the majority of the region's production, which reached 450,000 barrels per day within weeks due to the region's limited storage capacity.
Following two confirmed fatalities from Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever in Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Region's health ministry has implemented several preventative measures to control its spread. These measures encompass restrictions on slaughterhouses, the introduction of enhanced cleaning regimes, and a mandate for gloves to be worn when handling red meat.

In recent years, the Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever has consistently appeared in Iraq during the spring-summer season, resulting in over 20 fatalities across the country in 2023 alone. In response, both the Federal and KR Health Ministries, along with Provincial Authorities, have introduced various containment measures. However, the effectiveness of these strategies remains uncertain at present.
Despite the recent ruling by the Iraqi Court on May 30th, the KDP asserts that the current Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) cabinet has not assumed an 'interim' status. This contradicts the view of the PUK, leading to escalating tensions between the two parties. 

As highlighted in a report by the Iraqi al-Sabah newspaper, the PUK holds that the KRG cabinet is indeed interim, a view staunchly opposed by the KDP. Saad Hamawandi, an advisor to the KDP President, argued that the Federal Court's decision "does not negatively affect the KRG." He maintains that the cabinet's term is yet to expire, thus requiring additional time to transition to an interim government.

Conversely, Yousif Zozani, a senior PUK member, posits that the KRG cabinet has already assumed an interim status following the Court's ruling. Consequently, he recommends an exhaustive investigation into the cabinet's authority, including the scope and boundaries of their powers.

As we reported two days prior, the Saudi-backed newspaper Sharq al-Awsat provided an analysis on the escalating tensions between the PUK and KDP in the aftermath of the Iraqi Federal Court's decision. This development coincides with ongoing disagreements regarding the KRG's proportion of the proposed Iraqi budget law. 

The Court's decision arrived subsequent to the Kurdistan Parliament's decision to extend its term in October 2022, leading to a year-long delay in the general elections. Notably, while the KDP objected to amendments made by the Federal Parliament's Finance Committee—specifically those affecting budget clauses contrary to Erbil's interests—the PUK's Finance Committee bloc approved these changes. This further illustrates the depth of the crisis between the two parties.

Two days ago, the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court ruled the extension of the Kurdistan Parliament's term as "unconstitutional," declaring that "all laws enacted by the Parliament during the extension are null and void."

السليمانية: كريم الأنصاري أشعلَ قرار المحكمة الاتحادية بنقض تمديد ولاية برلمان إقليم كردستان، جدلاً سياسياً جديداً في الإقليم، فبينما يتمسك الديمقراطي الكردستاني بصلاحية ولاية حكومة الإقليم، ينتهز المعارضون البقية الفرصة بالإشارة إلى تحولها إلى حكومة تصريف أعمال بموجب هذا القرار، والمطالبة
جريدة الصباح
Upstream oil operations necessitate significant water usage, primarily for maintaining pressure in petroleum reservoirs during oil extraction. This is generally manageable, but in water-deprived Iraq, the water usage by oil companies exacerbates an already severe water scarcity issue and amplifies the repercussions of droughts and diminishing rivers.

The Guardian recently published an excellent article addressing this very subject. It reported that just a single water treatment plant, servicing oil companies such as BP and ExxonMobil, accounts for a staggering 25% of the daily water consumption in a region inhabited by nearly five million people. Furthermore, the water supply for this plant is directly sourced from the Abd Abdullah canal, a body of water diverting fresh water from a river prior to its junction with the Shatt al-Arab, a river formed by the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and the principal water source for Basra.

These risks are far from hypothetical. Adverse climate conditions and droughts have already displaced thousands from the country's water-scarce rural regions. Additionally, in 2018, water poisoning precipitated by low water levels in Basra Province's main rivers led to more than 60,000 people being poisoned and thousands left incapacitated, as the rivers were contaminated by seawater.

The article identifies possible solutions to oil rigs' water usage. In the UAE and Saudi Arabia, oil companies successfully pump millions of barrels of oil daily in regions with minimal to no natural water resources, although this requires significant infrastructure investment. This includes pumping seawater to plants and desalinating it. However, in Iraq, there seems to be a lack of interest from both the government and the companies to undertake this task. Despite the announcement of multiple desalination plants over the years, there has been scant action to genuinely address the problem.

Morning briefing 

Good morning, folks, and welcome to the weekend edition of our live blog. Here are just some of the news stories we’re keeping an eye on!

  • Nechirvan Barzani is in Ankara for Erdogan’s inauguration ceremony. Nechirvan has maintained a close relationship with Erdogan for years, and there's some speculation that the resumption of oil exports through the pipeline might be discussed during his visit. However, nothing is confirmed yet.
  • A report by Draw indicates that during National Security Advisor Al-Araji’s visit to Iran—where he was accompanied by high-ranking KDP and PUK officials, including KRG Interior Minister Reber Ahmed—Iran presented an ultimatum to the Kurdish parties. They were told to either confiscate the weapons of Iranian Kurdish rebels and contain them in UN-administered refugee camps or expel them from the region. This comes on the heels of unconfirmed reports of Iran building up troops on the border with Kurdistan.
  • The controversy over the "point-to-point" average speed cameras continues, as 15 NGOs in Sulaymaniyah have issued a joint statement condemning their installation. Meanwhile, in a separate statement, Erbil Governor Omid Khoshnaw announced that these cameras will soon be installed on all major roads in Erbil.