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13. June 2023 18:52
One of the articles in the 2023 Iraqi budget states that the Kurdistan Region is required to hand over 50% of its non-oil revenues from border crossings and customs to Baghdad. A KRG official has confirmed their agreement with this article.
Samal Abdulrahman, the Director General of KRG Customs, informed VOA Kurdish that they will comply with this provision by sending half of their non-oil income to Baghdad, starting from January 2023. It's important to note that this income will not directly go to Baghdad; instead, it will be deducted from the KRG's share before being sent to the capital.
According to the government official, the KRG's monthly income from customs amounts to approximately 110 to 130 billion Iraqi dinars. Regarding the rumors about Baghdad taking control of border crossings, the Director General of Customs referred to them as speculation spread by Iraqi and Kurdish media outlets. He clarified that there have been no significant developments in this matter. The KRG has concerns about the border crossings law and seeks their resolution before agreeing to Iraqi control or shared authority over the crossings. However, he believes that these disputes will not pose any problems for the KRG's share.
When asked whether the KRG's border crossings would be controlled by Iraq, similar to how KRG oil is supervised by the Iraqi government, Abdulrahman expressed confidence in the improved understanding between the KRG and Baghdad. Consequently, he does not anticipate such a scenario occurring for the border crossings. However, he acknowledges the uncertainty of the future and that no one can predict what lies ahead for the KRG.
New Generation files lawsuit against the federal parliament
NGM has filed a lawsuit in federal court concerning the vote counting during the final session of the Iraqi Parliament. The focus of the lawsuit is on the budget law, specifically an additional article related to the repayment of deducted salaries for employees of the KRG
During the last hours of the Iraqi budget voting process, a vote was taken on the article regarding the deducted salaries of KRG employees. It was initially announced that the article did not receive enough votes to pass. However, NGM contends that the article actually received sufficient votes.
As a result, NGM has taken legal action in the federal court to address this issue. NGM argues that the article obtained the necessary votes, but the video footage of the final hours of voting on these articles has not been released by the Iraqi Parliament's presidency.
Earlier, Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament Shakhawan Abdulla (KDP), expressed that the proposed article had received enough votes and emphasized the need for a reexamination of the video footage.
13. June 2023 18:01
Captagon: Iraq intercepts thousands of pills
Iraqi security forces have seized thousands of captagon pills meant for local consumption, according to AFP. On Tuesday, authorities apprehended a trafficker and confiscated 44,000 captagon tablets in Iraq's northern Nineveh province. Marked with a camel image and "2023," the pills were slated for sale within Iraq, which has seen a notable uptick in drug consumption recently.
The National Security Service statement also revealed the arrest of 20 other traffickers in separate nationwide raids. Iraq has been intensifying its efforts to combat drug trafficking as captagon and crystal meth use surge.
In the previous month, authorities seized 12 million benzhexol pills, a pharmaceutical drug often misused recreationally. In March, three million captagon tablets were intercepted at the Syria border. Syria is a significant producer of the drug, which often passes through Iraq en route to its ultimate destination in Gulf countries.
National Security Service spokesperson, Arshad al-Hakim, noted that over the past few months, Iraq has evolved from merely a transit country to a captagon consumer. He attributed this shift to breaches along the 600-kilometer border shared with Syria, which facilitated the drug's entry into the country.
The topic of securing this porous border was a key point of discussion at a meeting between the foreign ministers of both countries in Baghdad in early June.
13. June 2023 17:41
Al-Halbousi has a skilled video production team on staff: check out this overview of the marathon vote on the budget bill.
If only the rest of the parliamentary process was this slick.
Another notable element of the budget bill vote, according to Chatham House's MENA analysts, was the evident weakness of independent and reformist members of Parliament. The larger blocs predictably put forth their vision and perspectives, while the smaller blocs — those independent and reformist MPs without political, military, or financial backing — faced significant challenges.
Their attempts to express their viewpoints often fell on deaf ears, their votes were dispersed, and their voices were frequently silenced during sessions. This inability to articulate their constituents' views has reduced their credibility and capacity to effect change.
The analysts also highlighted a recurring concern. While there are hopes that the budget will stimulate job creation and fund projects, the majority fear the political elite will misuse the substantial budget. Given the political elite's history, it's understandable that Iraqis express this concern.
While most media outlets in the Kurdistan Region primarily focused on Articles 13 and 14 of the budget, others serving specific niches began to highlight budget elements relevant to their audience.
For example, Kirkuk Now, an NGO-funded outlet focusing on the Iraq's disputed territories, published a report on the dismissed article intended to transfer service and payroll responsibilities for staff in the Kurdish education department within these disputed territories. The responsibility was intended to shift from the KRG to the federal government.
Najwa Al-Kakay, a Kurdish representative in the Iraqi Parliament, told the website that the rejection of this section suggests the issue won't be revisited in Parliament until 2026, considering that the approved budget covers three years. Most Kurdish factions are reported to have backed this article, believing it would guarantee more consistent payments for staff.
The KRG has created distinct directorates for Kurdish education in the disputed territories of Kirkuk, Nineveh, and Diyala. These directorates, mirroring their counterparts in the KRG, struggle with budget deficits. This financial strain leads to inconsistent monthly payrolls, staff shortages, and inadequate curricula and resources.
According to Kirkuk Now, approximately 7,751 teachers and staff members who are part of the Kurdish education system are paid by the KRG. They teach the Kurdish curriculum to an estimated 100,000 students across 500 schools. Arabic is the primary language of education in Iraq, while in the three provinces of the Kurdistan Region, Kurdish is predominantly used.
The Iraqi parliament refused to transfer the services and payroll of cadres of the Kurdish education department in the disputed territories to the federal government instead of the Kurdish Regional Government, and thus the process stopped until 2026. At dawn on Monday, June 12, the Iraqi
13. June 2023 17:11
Three months ago, the Kurdistan Region's nine-year run of independent oil exports came to a shuddering halt. It resulted from an international arbitration verdict favoring Iraq in a dispute over the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline agreement that Iraq said Turkey was breaching by allowing independent Kurdistan exports.
This was preceded by a Federal Supreme Court ruling in 2022, which declared the Kurdistan Oil and Gas Law unconstitutional. Kurdistan ignored this ruling and continued exporting via Turkey, which was happy with the arrangement that bypassed Baghdad. This arrangement ended with the ICC arbitration decision favouring Baghdad; Turkey turned off the taps and is yet to turn them back on again.
The evolving relationship between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government gained momentum with the formation of Iraq's current governing coalition, which included the leading political parties of Kurdistan. This coalition aimed to negotiate a solution to the hydrocarbon conflict, the region's share of the federal budget, and the passage of a federal oil and gas law.
These negotiations between Baghdad and the Kurdistan government yielded significant progress, as reflected in the Iraqi 2023 federal budget. This budget included provisions for the region's oil exports and its share of the overall budget. An agreement was reached in early April regarding oil exports through the Turkish port of Ceyhan, and an oil and gas revenue-sharing mechanism was established.
This new mechanism introduces three fundamental changes with far-reaching implications. First, the federal Ministry of Oil will allocate funds for payments to international oil companies operating in the Kurdistan region. Second, the federal State Organization for Marketing of Oil (Somo) will handle the marketing of the region's oil exports, leading to higher realized prices for the region's crude. Lastly, gross revenues from the region's oil exports will be deposited into a bank account managed by the Kurdistan Region's Prime Minister, subject to supervision and auditing by Baghdad.
Despite the economic benefits for Kurdistan, the 2023 budget law reduces the region's sovereignty over oil exports and undermines its contracts with international oil companies (IOCs). This could halt future developments and new contracts with international oil companies in the region, as the new agreement and budget law bring uncertainty.
Several key details remain unresolved. It's unclear whether the original contracts with IOCs will be renegotiated, what the payment mechanism for these companies will be, and the nature of the bank account in which Kurdish oil export revenues will be deposited.
The new revenue-sharing mechanism strengthens the financial position of the Kurdistan government, positively impacting the region's economy. The region can now meet its obligations and make full payments for salaries and pensions. However, with the new mechanism, federal budget allocations will boost the Kurdistan Region's revenue by 30% over the previous arrangement. Kurdistan is also expected to keep 50% of customs revenues it collects, based on the 100 billion dinars it's expected to hand over to the federal treasury from its non-oil revenues.
These developments have the potential to evolve into Iraq's first real oil and gas revenue-sharing agreement, serving as a foundation for a federal oil and gas law. However, challenges related to the power balance between the central government and the Kurdistan government persist.
The controversial aspects of these agreements will become evident when Iraqi MPs discuss the long-awaited Oil and Gas law. Will it put a definitive end to the region's oil exports? What will be the future implications of the law on the region's oil exports? This will depend on the negotiations and level of trust between the Kurdistan government and Baghdad.
13. June 2023 15:36
Trouble brewing again between the KDP and PUK
Disagreements over the Iraqi budget vote have escalated tensions between the KDP and the PUK, infiltrating governmental institutions. In a notable development, the PUK's secretary of Peshmerga forces issued a formal letter accusing KDP's Deputy Minister of Peshmerga Abdulkhaliq Bapiri of overreaching his ministerial powers.
Bapiri had recently issued an internal memo at the ministry, stating the abolition of the 50/50 division in terms of personnel, logistics, administration, and finances, deeming it void of any legal basis within the Ministry of Peshmerga.
In a bold rebuttal, Bakhtiar Mohammed, the PUK's secretary of Peshmerga forces, responded to Bapiri's letter, asserting, "You do not possess the authority to issue ministerial decrees."
Tensions between the KDP and PUK have spilled over into government policies. Awenereports that PM Masrour Barzani has held off granting the rank of lieutenant general to Bakhtiar, in spite of his current major general rank and eligibility for promotion.
Mohammed contends that any alterations to the division should come after mutual agreement in a meeting between the politburos of the KDP and PUK, citing the "national angle of the issue."
The discord has also permeated the media. The Masrour Barzani-linked Bas News published an article titled "PKK suspects PUK of killing members in Sulaymaniyah," using the recent assassination of a PKK member in Sulaymaniyah as a pretext to criticize the PUK. The article suggests links between Sulaymaniyah's security forces and regional security agencies involved in targeted assassinations of opposition members from neighboring Turkey and Iran.
The KDP alleges that the PUK's efforts in Baghdad to secure an independent share of provinces from the central government undermines the sovereignty of the KRG. Reflecting this sentiment, PM Masrour Barzani tweeted, "The brave stances of patriots on one hand, and the unprincipled acts of traitors on the other, will go down in history."
Echoing this stance, KDP leader Masoud Barzani said, "the Kurdistan Region belongs to the Kurdish people, borne from their sacrifices and struggles," pledging strong resistance against attempts to distort or end the region's autonomy.
Former NGM lawmaker appears in video alleging poisoning
Former head of the New Generation Movement's (NGM) Kurdistan Parliamentary faction, Dr. Kazem Faruq, broke over a year of silence in a video last night, addressing circulating reports that allege he was poisoned.
In the video shared on Facebook, a visibly unwell Faruq is seen lying in a hospital bed, fueling speculations about the circumstances surrounding the outspoken NGM MP, who had a public falling out with NGM leader Shaswar Abdulwahid.
Faruq, a doctor by profession, revealed he is currently in Jordan for medical care. After treatment lasting a year, he shared, "the doctors have informed me that my life is no longer in danger, and I will be discharged from the hospital in the next few days." He also cited the need for a minor operation, the location of which he is yet to decide.
In response to the video, Abdulwahid, during a press conference on the Iraqi budget, said that the rumors about Faruq's deteriorating health were baseless, and he was "fortunate to be well and sound."
Following a split from the NGM in early 2022, Faruq's brother, Zuher Faruq, alleged that Faruq was critically ill and that his life was at risk. Abdulwahid dismissed these claims, suggesting instead that Faruq had claimed asylum in the UK.
A report by the NGM-affiliated NRT Kurdish showed "evidence" of Faruq and his family residing in a Home Office-sponsored hotel in Leicester, UK, with two witnesses allegedly spotting Faruq at the location.
Faruq, in his video, hints at the possibility of NGM being behind his supposed poisoning. He pledged to "publish all the evidence, the secrets, and the truth" after his operation.
Cases like these are challenging to conclusively investigate in the Kurdistan Region due to the politically charged nature of the courts.
IRGC bombardment sparks fear in Iran's Kurdish regions
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is ramping up pressure on Kurdish areas within Iran and against Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups, inciting anxiety among local residents as a bombardment campaign ensues.
As reported by the France-based Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN), the Kosalan mountain's heights near the city of Sarvabad in the Kurdistan province were shelled, escalating the recent attacks on Iran's Kurdish population. This coincides with the IRGC's deployment in the region.
KHRN's collected testimonies from villagers reveal that the heights of the Razab village were bombarded. Later in the afternoon, IRGC forces, accompanied by bulldozers, arrived in the area. Nighttime brought further explosions, although their purpose remains unclear.
In a separate incident last week, the IRGC dispatched forces to the cities of Ravansar, Paveh, and Sarvabad in the Kermanshah and Kurdistan provinces, conducting drone bombardments.
The Hengaw Human Rights Organization, a Kurdish rights group, released images on June 5th showing the government's force deployment to Kurdistan, occurring concurrently with internet disruptions in some Kurdish regions.
In recent months, the Iranian government has escalated its presence in Kurdish-majority cities and towns in the country's western regions, especially following reports that Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups had gained control over parts of some small towns.
The majority of Iran's 10 million Kurds live in the country's western regions. The Iranian government has also repeatedly attacked bases of Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups residing in Iraqi Kurdistan. Currently, the Iranian government is in talks with Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) about disarming these groups and reorganizing Iranian-Kurdish refugees and groups in UNHCR camps.
Approximately 50 US businesspeople, under the aegis of the US Chamber of Commerce, have landed in Baghdad. This visit marks the first such venture since 2018, indicating growing confidence in Iraq's stability.
US Ambassador to Iraq, Alina Romanowski, interpreted the visit as a testament to the hard-earned stability in the country. She said, "US businesses view Iraq as a potential place to do business, to increase trade, to strengthen the private sector, and to create Iraqi jobs."
The Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), a key member of which is the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), has announced an end to its unilateral ceasefire with Turkey. The ceasefire, originally declared in February in response to a significant earthquake affecting Turkey and Syria, was intended as a humanitarian gesture in light of the disaster's devastating impact.
According to a statement from the KCK Executive Council Co-Presidency, the ceasefire was extended beyond the immediate aftermath of the earthquake due to upcoming Turkish elections. The KCK sought to mitigate potential provocations from the AKP-MHP government, which it labeled as "fascist."
However, the KCK's commitment to refrain from action has now been withdrawn. This decision comes in response to what the KCK describes as Ankara's renewed attacks on its fighters, including the recent killing of Hussein Arasan in Sulaymaniyah. As a result, the ceasefire has been nullified.
Excerpt from the statement
Despite this decision we have taken as part of our humanitarian and moral responsibility and to prevent provocations during the election process and to contribute to the development of the political ground, the attacks and massacres against our forces and our people have continued increasingly for more than four months, and the isolation on Leader Apo has further aggravated.
The AKP-MHP fascism has launched a new wave of attacks against our Movement and our people, as it was revealed in the murder of revolutionary Comrade Baran Avrêl (Hüseyin Arasan) in Sulaymaniyah. Against this wave of fascist attacks, the need for active struggle and striking the enemy has become inevitable everywhere. Due to all these reasons, we state that we have terminated the decision of inaction as of today.
Kurdistan Region president calls for greater trust and unity in Kurdistan and Iraq
Just two days after the KDP leader Masoud Barzani and Prime Minister Masrour Barzani issued statements, Nechirvan Barzani, President of the Kurdistan region, has presented a contrasting view. Unlike the Barzanis, he expressed hope that the recently approved budget could pave the way for economic development, political stability, and investment.
While Masoud and Masrour Barzani refrained from acknowledging the approval of the Iraqi budget, Nechirvan commended those who dedicated their efforts towards equal rights and interests of all Iraqi citizens.
While the elder Barzani used strong language against MPs opposing the Kurdistan region's share in the budget, Nechirvan took a softer approach. He criticized the MPs for mishandling the rights of the Kurdistan Region and the Disputed Territories, but emphasized that these actions did not align with the principles of the State Administration Coalition's political agreement.
Nechirvan also urged for a fair execution of the budget law that acknowledges the Kurdistan region's constitutional status and protects its rights and interests.
Previously, Masrour indirectly labeled those in dispute with the KDP, particularly the PUK, as "traitors." Meanwhile, Masoud insisted that the Kurdistan region was a "line of death," reflecting a commitment to its preservation. Nechirvan, however, highlighted that the divisions among Kurdistani parties could harm the Kurdistan Region.
Despite his dual role as the regional president and KDP vice president, Nechirvan continues to stress unity and improved relations among the region's political actors. He emphasized that "a common political will, and prioritizing public interest, can strengthen mutual trust, organize internal affairs, ease tensions, and consolidate Iraq and the Kurdistan Region."
We welcome the approval of the Iraqi three-year budget bill. We hope it will be a good roadmap for economic development, political stability, and we hope it will create an encouraging environment for investments. We congratulate all those who worked faithfully for the interests of all the citizens and for equality among the Iraqi people.
Unfortunately, during the parliamentary debates, some MPs acted wrongfully with regards to the rights and entitlements of the Kurdistan Region and the Disputed Territories. What occurred was not in line with the principles of the political agreement of the State Administration Coalition; and this direction and way of working does not serve the political process, the situation and the future of Iraq.
The budget law should be implemented fairly and take into account the status of the Kurdistan Region as a constitutional political entity and the Disputed Territories, and protect their rights and interests. There must be full assurance that the financial entitlements and wages of the Kurdistan Region employees will not be delayed or neglected for political reasons.
What we saw during the budget debate is deeply worrying and once again proved the fact that the division among the Kurdistani parties will harm the Kurdistan Region. However, with common political will and by prioritizing the public interest, we can use this as an opportunity to strengthen mutual trust, to organize our internal affairs, to ease tensions, to resolve differences and to further strengthen Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.
Nechirvan Barzani The President of the Kurdistan Region
13. June 2023 12:46
Key amendments incorporated in Iraqi federal budget ahead of presidential approval
The Iraqi federal budget is set to be dispatched to President Abdul Latif Rashid, currently on an official visit to Rome, to sign off on.
Once ratified, the budget law text will be published in the official gazette, granting it legal status and making it effective from that date onwards.
While we await the full text, here are key amendments incorporated by parliament during the deliberation phase. Notably, Iraqi PM Mohammed al-Sudani, currently in Cairo, stated yesterday that the government would "scrutinize the budget bill amendments rigorously to ensure they align with the approved ministerial program, reflecting the government's vision and objectives."
These modifications comprise the inclusion and exclusion of certain articles, among which are:
The approval by parliament of 17 supplementary articles concerning the judiciary's budget.
Additional stipulations were introduced to enable universities to operate bank accounts in US dollars.
Parliament included a ban prohibiting the Ministry of Higher Education from authorising private colleges and institutes to establish new postgraduate programs.
Amendments included the hiring of thousands of graduates, as well as freelance and fixed-term workers across various provinces.
An article proposing fees on oil derivatives and Iraqi travellers was removed.
The proposed doubling of salaries for the Sunni fighters, known as Sahawat (Awakening groups), from 250,000 to 500,000 dinars was set to be financed by the budgets of the defence and interior ministries.
The budget for the state-endorsed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) was increased by 100bn dinars, noted as "differentials", through a newly incorporated article.
Another addition sanctioned the allocation of 150bn dinars for the implementation of Iraqi-Chinese projects.
Finally, a fresh clause invites the Iraqi PM to mediate in disputes over salaries and funding between the KRG and any of its provinces.
13. June 2023 12:33
Two police units to be formed for Sinjar amid regional tensions
Plans are underway to establish two police units dedicated to protecting Sinjar. The Iraqi budget has set aside funds to employ 1500 policemen, who will be stationed in Sinjar and its surrounding districts.
This development follows an agreement reached in 2020, between the Iraqi Central Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), to form a protective force of 2500 personnel for Sinjar. However, the Iraqi budget approved this week only funds the recruitment of 1500 personnel.
Bwar Newsreports that these forces will be divided into two units, with some stationed in central Sinjar and its districts, while the remainder will be deployed on the outskirts of the city and districts. According to the agreement between the KRG and the Iraqi government, these 1500 individuals will serve as police officers under the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. The recruited force will include 1000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from camps in the Kurdistan Region, and 500 from Sinjar and its districts.
The enactment of this agreement has been postponed for over two years due to security issues in Sinjar. The presence of PKK-affiliated forces in the region, and their dispute with the KRG, contributes to the ongoing complications. The KDP has repeatedly accused the PKK-affiliated forces of hindering the return of IDPs to their homes, a claim refuted by the PKK-affiliated groups.
Good morning from London and a warm afternoon salutation to those in the Kurdistan Region.
Here's a look at today's main stories:
Tensions are escalating between the KDP and PUK following disagreement over the Iraqi budget vote. These conflicts have infiltrated government institutions; notably, the PUK's secretary of Peshmarga forces penned a formal letter to the Deputy of Peshmarga Minister, accusing him of exercising ministerial powers beyond his remit. Furthermore, their respective media outlets are forecasting a potential upswing in disputes and strife.
As anticipated, KDP's Kurdistan Region's President Nechirvan Barzani, following in the steps of KDP leaders Masoud Barzani and Masrour Barzani, released a statement applauding the approval of the Iraqi budget. His comments were marked by a more conciliatory tone. Despite expressing deep concerns about divisions among Kurdish MPs and criticising specific Iraqi MPs, he urged for internal affairs to be organised and tensions to be eased.
Meanwhile, significant news has broken from the border regions linking the Kurdistan Region and Turkey. The PKK's armed wing has ended the unilateral ceasefire declared after the 6th February earthquake and extended through the elections. This decision was prompted by what they claim are ongoing attacks by the Turkish state. The KCK stated that the "AKP-MHP government has escalated its aggression against our Movement."