Live: Oil talks with Turkey slated for next week

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This could be another perspective (potentially explaining why the KRG's statement emphasized the need to hold elections promptly): The official PUK Media reported on the meeting between the KRI president and Iraqi election officials under the title "A new date for the Kurdistan Region elections is set."

According to the report, "The Kurdistan Region President has met with the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) to determine a date for the elections."

However, our report below indicates a somewhat different statement from the presidency: "President Nechirvan Barzani emphasized that efforts should be made to conduct elections in the Kurdistan Region as soon as feasible. He expressed the Kurdistan Regional Government's readiness, as well as that of all related parties, to ensure the process's success."

This coverage from the PUK Media seems to aim at a narrative that the KDP is eager to hold the elections while the PUK is more hesitant.

Officially, both sides claim they want elections, but the grounds on which these should be held remain the contentious issue.

Elections due last November are now slated for November coming up. 
In a bid to strengthen diplomatic relations, the PM and the Emir of Qatar have signed Memoranda of Understanding in the fields of air and sea transportation. 

They’ve also recommended the elimination of visa requirements for diplomatic passport holders from both countries.

Emir of Qatar in Baghdad for political and economic talks amid Iraq's reconstruction efforts

Emir of Qatar and Iraq's PM
Emir of Qatar and Iraq's PM   credit: PM's office

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani
, the Emir of Qatar, is in Baghdad for discussions with the Iraqi Prime Minister in what is billed as a "political and economic" visit. It comes as Iraq seeks international assistance to rebuild its infrastructure and economy following decades of conflict.

Qatar and Iraq have been working towards mending their relations, which had been strained during the rule of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Even though Iraq is abundant in oil and gas, approximately one third of its population still lives in poverty. In response, the Iraqi government has turned to regional allies like Qatar for aid in bolstering its faltering economy and infrastructure.

An anonymous Iraqi diplomatic official informed AFP that "economic issues will take centre stage" in meetings with the Qatari leader. The official also hinted at the potential signing of several memorandums of understanding in diverse sectors, though no specific details about these agreements were provided.

QatarEnergy, the state-owned Qatari company, has already invested in a 25% stake in the Gas Growth Integrated Project, a $10 billion initiative aimed at enhancing Iraq's gas resources and modernising its outdated electricity grid. The company joined the consortium following an invitation from the French energy firm TotalEnergies, which oversees a 45% stake in the project, with Iraq's Basra Oil Company holding the remaining 30%.

Qatari delegates participated in a conference held in Baghdad in late May, where Iraq unveiled an ambitious scheme to convert itself into a transportation hub. The $17 billion "Route of Development" project plans to upgrade road and rail infrastructure, thereby linking Europe and the Middle East. The proposed project, stretching over 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) from Iraq's northern border with Turkey to the Gulf in the south, represents a significant stride towards Iraq's economic rejuvenation.

Iraqis returning from Syria's Al-Hol Camp fear reprisal, face challenges in Northern Iraq

Reporting by The Guardian's Simona Foltyn reveals the challenges faced by Iraqis recently repatriated from Syria's al-Hol camp and relocated to the Jeddeah-1 refugee camp in Northern Iraq. Foltyn's interviews with four families highlight both a sense of relief at leaving Syria and an overarching fear of reprisals.

Approximately 650 civilian Iraqis, primarily women and children, have been relocated. The interviews, which represent a rare access to the returned individuals, include discussions with returnees, aid workers, UN staff, and Iraqi officials. Many voiced concerns about whether the repatriation process aligns with UN guidelines for safe and voluntary return, given the lack of successful reintegration observed.

The four interviewed families reported being forced to leave without crucial documents such as IDs or marriage certificates, thereby restricting their mobility and access to essential services. Without proper housing or funds for rent, they find themselves in dire straits. Even though three of the families expressed concerns over returning to their original areas due to safety concerns, two were still compelled to do so. Others reported facing tribal ostracism due to familial ties with IS-affiliated individuals.

These revelations underscore the precarious situation for repatriated Iraqis and call for an urgent reassessment of the repatriation and reintegration process to ensure the safety and dignity of returnees.

Online support swells for Sadr following homophobic comments

Prominent Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr has attracted a surge of online support in the wake of his sharp criticism of US President Joe Biden's recent show of support for the LGBTQ community. The condemnation occurred during an event at the White House.

Sadr expressed his stance via a tweet on Wednesday, declaring, "I can not turn a blind eye to what is happening in the world and how they unfold.. with regard to the LGBTQ community issue, especially after America, which considers itself the 'greatest state' and we consider it the 'lowest state', announced itself as a 'homosexual state in order to support the spread of obscenity in the world."

Sadr, a vocal homophobe, has previously linked the outbreak of the monkeypox virus and the Covid-19 pandemic to the fight against homosexuality. Last year, he began collecting a million signatures aimed at banning homosexuality.

There is no specific law against homosexuality in Iraq at present. Several politicians are advocating for such legislation.

Members of the LGBTQ community in Iraq frequently endure torture, sexual violence, and extrajudicial killings. Their plight is exacerbated by religious leaders like Sadr, who fuel social stigma.

Following Sadr's tweet, online supporters rallied on Twitter, using hashtags such as "No for spreading promiscuity," "Male and Female" and "Family" to voice robust criticism of homosexuality and the US.

In his tweet, Sadr accused the US and the West of hypocrisy for "prohibiting personal freedoms such as [women’s] wearing of hijab, especially at official headquarters, while supporting nudity and obscenity in order to spread promiscuity." He emphasized that Iraq, along with other Arab and Muslim nations, should not feel compelled to adhere to these policies.

Sadr issued a stark warning to nations endorsing the LGBTQ community, saying they risked "a great wave of heavenly catastrophe if they do not reject such a dirty approach, which poses a challenge to God and his laws and represents the start of the end of the most beautiful thing in life, namely the family, and the gradual decline in human offspring".

Recently, the Biden Administration issued a strong condemnation of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act. The White House called the law "a tragic violation of universal human rights—one that is not worthy of the Ugandan people, and one that jeopardizes the prospects of critical economic growth for the entire country."

The newly enacted Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda inflicts harsh penalties on the LGBTQ+ community. Participation in same-sex activities could result in a life sentence, while promoting homosexuality may incur a twenty-year prison term.


Kurdistan President meets Iraqi election officials

Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani convened a meeting with Iraqi election officials to discuss the upcoming parliamentary elections in the region. Barzani underscored the need to conduct these elections promptly. Jeanine Plasschaert, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (Unami), was also present at the meeting.

A follow-up statement from President Barzani's office affirmed the KRG readiness to collaborate with all relevant parties to guarantee a successful election process, a stance supported by Unami.

The Iraqi Independent Higher Electoral Commission verified its readiness to administer elections in the Kurdistan Region in line with the law, following a comprehensive evaluation of requirements and agreement on a suitable timeline.

The meeting concluded with a consensus to maintain ongoing communication to determine an election date.

Iraqi electoral commission mulling dual-elections in Kurdistan

The Iraqi electoral commission is reportedly considering the idea of synchronizing the Kurdistan Region parliamentary elections with the provincial elections scheduled for the end of this year.

Draw Media, an NGO-funded outlet, reports that this proposal was discussed as a feasible plan during the electoral commission's visit to the Kurdistan Region last week. This is because provincial elections are not held in the Kurdistan Region, thereby enabling Kurdistan branches of the Iraqi commission to focus solely on the Kurdistan Region's Parliamentary elections.

Following the federal court's dissolution of the regional parliament, the Kurdistan Region currently lacks both an electoral commission and a legislature to enact new laws. Consequently, the authority to call for fresh elections now lies with the Kurdistan Region Presidency, which will do so in coordination with the Iraqi electoral commission.

Draw Media reports that additional meetings are planned between the commission officials and the KRI presidency. KRI presidency spokesperson, Dilshan Shahab, was cited saying that the presidency has expressed full cooperation to facilitate the elections.

While this proposal seems like one of the most plausible plans for the Region to hold the polls this year, tensions between the KDP and the PUK represent a more significant challenge to the elections than the logistical aspects.

Confirmation from the KRG Ministry of Finance on the receipt of funds

The 400 billion Iraqi dinars ($307m) via Al-Rashid and Al-Rafidain banks.

The funds have reportedly been deposited into the Erbil branch of the KRG finance ministry's account with the Iraqi Central Bank.

The ministry announces that starting from June 18, salaries for the month of May will be distributed, beginning with the health ministry. 

Typically, the ministry releases a payment schedule spanning several days to weeks for these salary distributions. This drawn-out process has faced criticism from public sector employees, many of whom question why it takes weeks to disburse salaries when the funds are already in the possession of the KRG. 

This frustration is evident in the comments section of the ministry's announcement, where numerous individuals are voicing their concerns.
The leader of the New Generation Movement has reiterated calls for elections to be held in November.
He claims there is a possibility that the Iraqi electoral commission may not be able to oversee the polls until 2026 due to the idiosyncratic way electoral commissions work in Iraq and Kurdistan.

For reasons, electoral commissions "expire" and must be "reactivated" by respective parliaments before being able to carry out essential duties like preparing for elections and maintaining electoral rolls.

Baghdad Today: 90-day deadline on Peshmerga unification efforts

Baghdad Today reports that coalition forces have proposed a 90-day deadline to resolve lingering issues in the unification process of the Peshmerga forces.

Failure to comply may result in the cessation of military aid.

The publication cites an anonymous source suggesting that the PUK's Force 70 and the KDP's Force 80 must unite.

This report coincides with the visit of the UK military delegation.

However, the deadline seems implausible given the decades-long debate between the two parties without reaching a resolution, and the current tense relations between them.
بغداد اليوم – بغداد هدد التحالف الدولي مجددا، بقطع المساعدات المالية عن قوات البيشمركة الكردية، فيما منح الأخيرة مهلة لتوحيد صفوف القوات. وقال المصدر لـ(بغداد اليوم) إن "التحالف الدولي أعطى مهلة زمنية للحزبين الكرديين، الديمقراطي الكردستاني والاتحاد الوطني وفي حال لم يلتزموا بتوحيد قوات
وكالة بغداد اليوم الاخبارية
Voice of America Kurdish reports a warning from former Peshmerga General Secretary, Jabar Yawar (PUK), that the US may withdraw its support if the Kurdish forces fail to unify, a scenario reminiscent of the US's exit from Afghanistan. Yawar suggests that a potential cut in US support, which includes training and ammunition, could pose a severe threat to the Kurdistan Region's Peshmerga forces.

Yawar comments on the current progress towards unification, noting that only certain units have amalgamated, thereby benefiting from improved training, weapons, and ammunition due to foreign support.

However, he characterizes this unification as "superficial," since PUK-aligned troops continue to follow orders solely from the PUK, with the KDP forces demonstrating similar behavior.

Yawar adds that beyond the Peshmerga ranks, a further 200,000 members of the security forces, police, and Asayish need unification. Recent estimates put the official Peshmerga force numbers at over 150,000, but the total may significantly exceed those acknowledged by the ministry. Each party, the KDP and the PUK, is estimated to have around 60,000 soldiers, resulting in over 100,000 party-aligned Peshmerga forces.

Resistance to unification isn't only because of the PUK's apprehensions about KDP influence over the Peshmerga forces. Certain military officials and those in charge of specific Peshmerga units also hinder unification efforts. They maintain control over crucial economic resources, leveraging their military influence.
سەرەڕای ئەوەی چەندین جار لە زاری خودی بەرپرسانی هەرێمەوە باس لەوە کراوە"لەلایەن ئەمەریکا و وڵاتانی هاوپەیمانانەوە جەخت لەوە کراوەتەوە کە پێویستە هێزەکانی پێشمەرگە و هێزە سەربازییەکانی هەرێمی کوردستان یەک بگرنەوە، بەڵام بڕیارێکی بریکاری وەزارەتی پێشمەرگە، لە پشکی پارتی، ناڕەزایی توندی...

Refuting rumors with a picture

Wahab Halabjay, the director General of Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG), recently met with Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Bafel Talabani, marking a seemingly defiant response to reports of Halabjay's pending replacement. This meet-up occurred shortly after an Erbil court ruling that sentenced Halabjay, along with five other PUK officers, to death in absentia - a decision that further strained relations between the two parties.

Talabani expressed his unyielding support for Halabjay, praising his commitment to stability and security, and promising further reinforcement for CTG forces. This endorsement comes in the wake of the 2022 assassination of CTG Colonel Hawkar Jaff, a case for which Halabjay and the PUK's CTG were held responsible by the KDP-controlled Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC).

These developments cast a shadow over the credibility of Kurdistan Region's judiciary, often viewed as a political tool by rival factions. The disregard of court rulings, coupled with internal power struggles, underscores this sentiment, jeopardising the region's pursuit of unifying the Peshmerga forces.


UK urges Kurdistan to pick up the pace on Peshmerga unification

Sammy Sampson and Nechirvan Barzani
Sammy Sampson and Nechirvan Barzani   credit: Kurdistan Region president's media office
A UK military official has urged Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani to streamline the unification of the peshmerga ministry. This indicates increasing pressure from coalition forces on the Region to expedite the long-delayed process.

The presidency website issued a statement indicating that the UK delegation, led by Air Marshal Sammy Sampson, UK Defence senior advisor to the Middle East and North Africa, will persist in providing security assistance and supporting both the reform process and the Peshmerga's unification.

In May 2017, a project aiming to modernise the Peshmerga armed forces into a "unified, modern army" was approved by the KRG. This project, sponsored by the US, UK, and Germany, commenced training sessions for the Peshmerga brigades by December 2017. The Netherlands also joined this reform initiative in 2019.

By November of the following year, efforts were underway to merge the brigades linked to the two dominant political parties, the KDP and the PUK. However, this unification process has been slow due to enduring rivalry between the parties. The PUK accuses the KDP of discrimination in promotions, while both parties fear losing the loyalty of forces if funding is secured directly under the ministry. This concern is particularly prevalent within the PUK, which lacks trust in the KDP-led KRG's salary payment mechanisms.

Despite international pressure, unification deadlines have been consistently extended. As local media reported in December 2021, coalition forces set the end of 2022 as the final deadline for the unification of the PUK and KDP forces. Despite threats of budget cuts and reduced training and ammunition provisions for the Peshmerga forces, this target was not met. The US remains a significant contributor, providing a monthly amount of $22 million towards the salaries of the Peshmerga forces.

Full readout

President Nechirvan Barzani received a high-level UK military delegation led by Air Marshal Sammy Sampson, the UK Defence Senior Advisor to the Middle East and North Africa, and a number of senior British military officials.

In the meeting, which was attended by Ms. Rosey Cave, the UK Consul General in the Kurdistan Region, the security situation in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, reforms of the Ministry of Peshmerga, and joint security cooperation were discussed.

Both sides stressed the importance of the reorganization and unification of the Peshmerga and the reforms of the Ministry of Peshmerga, and pointed out that the process must be conducted in a more efficient manner. In this regard, the President thanked the UK and other friendly countries for their support and assistance in the process.

For their part, the guest delegation reiterated that the UK attaches great importance to the peace and stability in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, and will continue to provide security assistance and support to maintain peace and stability in the country, and will also continue to support the reform process and the reunification of the Peshmerga.

The situation in the wider region and other issues of common interest were also discussed at the meeting.

The halt in oil exports from the Kurdistan Region in Turkey is set to be addressed. Iraqi Deputy Oil Minister Bassem Al-Abadi revealed in an interview with the official daily newspaper, Al-Sabah, that a meeting between Baghdad and Ankara has been arranged for June 19 to deliberate on ways to resume crude oil flow through the Ceyhan pipelines. The two parties reportedly agree on the urgency of re-establishing the export as quickly as feasible.

Ankara informed Baghdad that the delay has been caused by ongoing maintenance work and testing on the pipeline. Al-Abadi added that Iraq is prepared to restart the pumping of 500,000 barrels of Kurdistan oil via the Ceyhan pipeline in Turkey. 

These announcements echo similar statements made by Iraqi officials over recent months, during a period when the KRG has experienced diminished revenues and relied on instalments from Baghdad to pay public servants.

Earlier, Reuters reported that technical discussions on resuming northern Iraq's oil exports were planned to start next week between Iraq and Turkey, though a speedy resolution appears unlikely.

The cessation of the 450,000 barrels per day oil exports since March 25 has cost the KRG $2b and counting. 
Regarding the situation of Wahab Halabjay and reports of his dismissal, Pira claimed ignorance, saying he has no information on the matter. He insisted, however, that the court's ruling on the case is politically motivated.
Pira admits uncertainty regarding when the KDP and PUK would convene, though he acknowledges the necessity of such a meeting. 

Pira accuses the KDP of treating the PUK as a partner of convenience, only acknowledging its importance when beneficial and disregarding it otherwise.

He insisted, "that would not work" and claimed such behaviour is inconsistent with a genuine partnership.

According to Pira, the KDP and PUK are indispensable partners without viable alternatives. He confidently states that any attempts by the KDP to gain leverage over the PUK would ultimately be unsuccessful.
Commenting on the recent federal court ruling that dissolved Kurdistan's parliament, Pira advocates for political parties to unite and prepare for the forthcoming parliamentary elections under the auspices of the Kurdistan Region Presidency.

He emphasizes that the PUK is eager for elections, but now it falls to the Kurdistan Region president to liaise with Baghdad to arrange these elections.
Pira characterizes the KDP's alleged interference with the Peshmerga ranks as a form of "bullying."
Pira dismisses recent reports suggesting the KDP had issued a decree ending the fifty-fifty sharing of posts within the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs.
He labels such actions as an "insult" and stressed they wouldn't contribute to the unification of the Peshmerga forces.

The unification has been a long-standing demand of the U.S. and other foreign countries, often tied to financial aid.
Pira further explained that the disagreement between the KDP and PUK in Baghdad is a consequence of previous tensions in the Kurdistan Parliament prior to the budget bill vote.
Saadi Ahmed Pira, a member of the PUK politburo, spoke to Rudaw TV assuring the KDP that they shouldn't be concerned about the federal budget's approval.
However, he conceded that the budget approval has negatively affected the relationship between the two parties.
Fuad Hussein, Iraq's deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, addressed a conference today alongside representatives from Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Egypt — the Middle Eastern countries hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees. 

According to the EU's website, the conference aims "to ensure continued support for the Syrian people, both within Syria and in the wider region, by rallying the international community in support of a comprehensive and credible resolution to the Syrian conflict, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254."

Hussein reiterated Iraq's call for the international community to take action concerning the al-Hol camp, urging nations to repatriate their citizens. Al-Hol camp shelters thousands of IS fighters and their families. This follows U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's earlier praise for countries that have repatriated their nationals from Syria and his urging for others to do the same.

Hussein underscored the grave humanitarian conditions in Syria, notably after the devastating earthquake in February. 
Speaking on the recent decision to re-integrate Syria into the Arab community, Hussein indicated that Iraq played a significant role in this process, which would facilitate the delivery of aid to Syria by easing sanctions. 

Despite the comprehensive Arab boycott, Iraq maintained a close alliance with Syria throughout the civil war. Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 following Assad's violent suppression of pro-democracy protestors, a conflict that rapidly escalated into a full-blown war.

You can follow the live event here 

Morning briefing

These are the critical developments we're following today:

  • High-level talks between representatives of Baghdad and Ankara are slated for June 19, focusing on the potential resumption of oil exports from the Kurdistan Region through the Ceyhan pipeline. The backdrop to this meeting is a hefty loss exceeding $2 billion for Iraq due to halted oil production.
  • The Iraqi foreign minister is currently participating in a Brussels-based ministerial summit, 'Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region.' Initiated by the EU, the seventh iteration of this important conference began yesterday and will continue throughout today.
  • Wahab Halabjay, a senior security official from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) who is facing a death sentence, has surfaced in a meeting with PUK leader Bafel Talabani. This occurrence dispels recent rumors suggesting Halabjay had been dismissed by the PUK.
  • In the wake of the federal budget's approval earlier this week, reaction from Kurdish officials continues to intensify the existing strain between the two primary ruling parties.