KRG cabinet meeting – File photo, KRG media office

Live: KRG gears up for cabinet meeting with busy agenda

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The US defence delegation is continuing its engagements in the Kurdistan Region. 

A separate meeting took place between Dana Stroul, and KRG Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani (PUK), following her earlier meeting with Prime Minister Masrour Barzani (KDP). This separation of meetings signifies the existing divisions between the KDP and PUK Peshmerga factions.

In line with this divide, Barzani's delegation only included KDP government officials, while Talabani's delegation was made up of PUK officials.

The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East held discussions on the ongoing reform efforts and unification of Peshmerga forces, emphasizing that US and Coalition support for the Peshmerga is contingent on the effective implementation of these reforms.

The Minister of Peshmerga Shoresh Ismail, as reported previously, has stepped down from his post due to internal tensions within the PUK. During his meeting with the US representatives, Talabani proposed the appointment of an acting Peshmerga minister to oversee the ministry and to ensure the execution of the reforms and memorandum of understanding between the Peshmerga and the US Department of Defense. 

Talabani expressed readiness to accelerate the reform process within the Peshmerga ministry. A similar stance is likely from the KDP, though tangible steps toward these reforms remain to be seen.
The KRG held its weekly cabinet meeting, during which it officially declared its refusal to accept any discriminatory practices against the Kurdistan Region. The KRG emphasizes that no justification exists for such actions as the Kurdistan Region has fulfilled all constitutional prerequisites.

The KRG expressed that the use of oil as a pretext to withhold the Kurdistan Region's share and unpaid entitlements is no longer acceptable. Consequently, it argues that it's the central government's responsibility to enforce the budget law and provide for all of the KRG's entitlements.

Regarding the agreements between Baghdad and the KRG, the prime minister highlighted amendments to the KRG's entitlements. The PM firmly stated that any modifications to the mutual agreement between the KRG and Federal Government are unacceptable.

As Eid al-Adha draws near, religious obligations are expected to lead to animal slaughters in the region amidst an outbreak of Congo hemorrhagic fever. The KRG has consequently discussed plans to enforce measures by various ministries and to educate the public to combat this disease.

As previously discussed on today's news blog, the Article 140 committee has been reinstated and the Baath Party's resolutions regarding farmland in Kirkuk have been rescinded. While the KRG cabinet welcomes these changes, they underscore the importance of law enforcement. The KRG has instructed the Ministerial Committee for Implementation of Article 140 to monitor these resolutions along with Kurdish MPs and ministers in Iraq.

Two important matters were overlooked in the readout of today's meeting: PM Barzani's recent visit to Turkey and the salaries of KRG employees. The Ministry of Finance is facing a deficit, impacting its ability to pay all employees by Eid, which falls on June 28.


Statement from Iraqi presidency on budget ratification

On Wednesday, June 21, 2023, the President of the Republic of Iraq, Abdullatif Jamal Rashid endorsed the country's Federal Financial Budget Law.

Approval and ratification of the general budget is a first step in implementing the government's agenda, which includes meeting citizens' needs and enhancing public welfare. Besides improving health and educational conditions, the rehabilitation of infrastructure and the implementation of vital and strategic projects are also important to improve living standards.

President Rashid underlined that our country's economic and environmental challenges cannot be met without the rationalization of government spending, preservation of public funds, and diversification of the economy.

In the approval of the country's budget, His Excellency praised all the parties' efforts, and priority was given to operational and investment expenditures, which can ease the burden on low-income groups to achieve social justice.

President Rashid ratified the federal budget after being sent to the Presidency of the Republic by Parliament.
The Turkish defense ministry reports that security forces have "neutralized" five suspected members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq and Syria.
Turkish authorities use the term "neutralized" to signify that the individuals in question have either surrendered, been killed, or captured.

Two of these individuals were in the Kurdistan Region's areas falling under Turkey's Operation Claw-Lock, an ongoing military campaign in Duhok province against PKK fighters. The other three were located in the Operation Olive Branch area of northern Syria, according to the ministry.
The privately-owned daily Hawlati has reported that a representative from the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan said the KRG has given their fighters a six-month ultimatum to move to camps or leave the region.

The unnamed military source indicated that KRG officials, out of options, have tried unsuccessfully to negotiate between Tehran and Baghdad. Tehran originally proposed a two-month period, but the KRG requested six months to implement the plan. Tehran has reportedly acceded to the KRG's request.

Iran has increased pressure on Iranian Kurdish opposition groups based in the Kurdistan Region, demanding their members relocate to camps or surrender to Tehran. The six-month time frame aligns with previous reports from the Kurdish Service of Voice of America (VOA). Unnamed sources told VOA Kurdish that Tehran's plan to disarm the opposition groups in the Kurdistan Region is now underway, with orders for the groups to move to three refugee camps, one in Sulaymaniyah and two in Erbil, within the next six months.

However, the plan has incited conflicts within these groups, with the military branches refusing the plan and asserting their intention to resume armed resistance in the mountains. This discord may explain why the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party – Iran (KDP-I) announced their split, only six months after unification.

Contradicting Hawlati's anonymous source, Navid Mihrawar, a Leadership Council member of Komala, told Hawlati that his party had not received any relocation orders. Komala leader Abdullah Mohtadi told BBC HardTalk last month that the KRG had asked Komala and other Iranian Kurdish opposition groups to temper their activities and avoid armed conflict with Tehran, rather than relocating to camps.

Tehran has sporadically targeted these groups' bases for years, but the frequency and intensity of attacks have escalated in recent months. One of the most deadly incidents occurred in the Koya district of the Erbil province in September, resulting in more than 13 deaths. This escalation aligns with increasing pressure from Tehran on these groups, who are believed to have played a significant role in prolonged anti-government protests that emerged last year following the death of an Iranian Kurdish woman, Jina [Mahsa] Amini, in police custody.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) reported that it had killed 24 "counter-revolutionaries" in strikes against Kurdish opposition factions in Iraq's Kurdistan Region over recent months. This refers to reported clashes between the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), an offshoot of the PKK, and Iranian forces. PJAK commander Shiyar Shevger told Hawlati that surrendering arms would mean the end of their movement and promised a military response to any threats from Tehran.

Tehran has intensified its efforts to control parts of its eastern border, which harbors the opposition fighters. The targeted region, known as Kosalan in Hawraman near Mariwan, straddles the border with the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. Despite previous unsuccessful attempts to seize the Kosalan range, the IRGC now professes its complete commitment to the area's capture.

KRG officials have yet to comment on this matter. However, security officials have recently participated in Iraq-Iran security talks.

US affirms support for Peshmerga forces

In a meeting with KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, Dana Stroul, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, reaffirmed US and Coalition Forces' continued support for Peshmerga forces combating terrorism, specifically aiming at permanently eradicating ISIS.

The dialogue also tackled proposed reforms within the Peshmerga and the execution of the Memorandum of Understanding between the KRG Peshmerga Ministry and the U.S. Department of Defense. Interestingly, the Peshmerga Minister Shoresh Ismail was conspicuously absent from the meeting, fueling rumors of an ongoing dispute with his own party, the PUK.

Kurdish media outlets have reported since November of last year that Ismail is in a disagreement with PUK President Bafel Talabani. Despite this, Ismail has been spotted meeting with the President's brother, Deputy PM Qubad Talabani, who is recognized for his more diplomatic approach to political matters. Subsequently, the PUK selected Rebaz Berkoti as Ismail's successor. 

On March 9, Nechirvan Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan Region, introduced Berkoti as the Minister of Peshmerga to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. This introduction occurred despite Berkoti not yet officially assuming the position and the legal process for his selection remaining incomplete. The dissolution of Kurdistan's parliament has stalled the process of replacing the minister of peshmerga and other senior officials proposed by the PUK to the KRG. 

Amid these tensions, Ismail has reportedly boycotted Ministry of Peshmerga and cabinet meetings, with some sources claiming he was dismissed by the PUK.

Recently, PUK's Jabar Yawar, the former Secretary of the Peshmerga Ministry, publicly announced that if the Peshmerga do not unify their forces within 90 days, Coalition Forces will withdraw from the Kurdistan Region, mirroring their earlier exit from Afghanistan. Though this claim should be taken with a pinch of salt. 

Additionally, the meeting addressed recent events in Kirkuk. An official statement on the KRG website revealed discussions on "ending the invasion of Kurdish and Turkoman lands in Kirkuk."

The US currently supplies the Ministry of Peshmerga with $20 million per month to meet the salaries of unified Peshmerga units. Both the U.S. and Coalition Forces have frequently advocated for the unification of Peshmerga forces in the Kurdistan Region.

Yet more calls for elections As Soon As Possible

KRG PM Masrour Barzani and Unami Chief Jeanine Plasschaert have once again emphasized the urgency of holding the Kurdistan Region parliamentary elections "as soon as possible".

Barzani, in a statement, asserted the democratic process shouldn't be held hostage to any political party's "wishes and desires", seemingly a reference to the PUK's push to amend the election law.

While KDP officials argue for November elections, accusing the PUK of evasion, the PUK counters that elections without reform are unfair. It's accurate to say both parties seek elections on their terms.

The PUK proposes amendments to the election system, including changing to a multi-constituency system, reforms to how the 11 minority quota seats are allocated, and voter registration.

Conversely, the KDP prefers to maintain the status quo, which allowed it to secure a simple majority with assistance from minority quota seats in the last elections held in 2018.

Iraqi counter-terror service to establish Sulaymaniyah unit

The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) plans to establish a unit in Sulaymaniyah in collaboration with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's Counter Terrorism Group (PUK's CTG), according to Abdul Wahab Al-Saadi, President of CTS. They also plan to develop a similar unit in Erbil, pending coordination with the KRG.

In a press conference, Saadi noted their past joint successes with Erbil forces, including the arrest of "40 terrorists" from various places. He also mentioned a recent joint operation with Sulaymaniyah security forces, which resulted in two more arrests.

The creation of a CTS unit marks a new stage in Kurdistan-Baghdad relations concerning counterterrorism and the presence of Iraqi forces in the region. Presently, only Iraqi border forces, largely led by Kurdish commanders, operate on the Iraq border. The Sulaymaniyah CTS unit may similarly employ Kurdish personnel, though Saadi didn't elaborate further.

The CTS and the PUK's CTG have recently shown signs of closer cooperation, participating in joint operations in the PUK zone, Kirkuk, and elsewhere. Video footage of commanders visiting each other's headquarters further indicates this growing trust.

However, it's unclear whether the KRG, specifically the Kurdistan Regional Security Council (KRSC), will approve CTS's move to create a Sulaymaniyah unit, given that CTG falls under the KRSC, which is largely controlled by the KDP.

Iraq to launch indictments over torture under Kadhimi government

Iraq is set to prosecute police and civil servants, including nine officers, accused of detainee torture under the former government of former PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

On Wednesday, the government announced the indictments targeting members of the now-disbanded Committee 29, known for its unchecked authority in 2020 to interrogate officials suspected of corruption. 

The committee, previously led by influential Police General Ahmed Taha Hashem, allegedly used "torture" and "extortion," according to an internal report cited by AFP.

The probe began in December under current Premier Mohammed Al-Sudani, following a Washington Post report detailing accusations of Committee 29's use of torture for confessions. 

Government spokesperson Bassem al-Awadi confirmed that the enquiry recommended sending the investigation files to the judiciary due to "proven shortcomings" implicating the accused. The statement also calls for an examination of possible "enrichment" among the accused or their relatives. 

High-profile arrests by Committee 29 include the former director of the Iraqi pension fund, the Baghdad Investment Commission president, and the Qi Card's ex-director. 

Sudani, in office since 2022, has continually pledged to prioritize fighting corruption and safeguarding public funds, as Iraq grapples with deep-seated corruption across the state.


More on the budget bill being signed into law by President Rashid

Signing ceremony
Signing ceremony   credit: Iraq president's website
Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid confirmed the approval of the country's budget today, calling it a significant step towards implementing government programs.

President Rashid emphasized the need for prudent spending, urging diversification of the economy amidst financial and environmental challenges.

On June 12, Iraq's parliament approved one of the country's largest budgets since 2003, amounting to $153bn for 2023-2025. This budget empowers the Iraqi government to review the KRG's oil contracts and oversee its oil exports.

Just in: Iraqi President Latif Rashid has signed the Iraqi Budget Law for the fiscal years 2023-25

More tensions reported in Kirkuk's Palkana

The Eighth Division of the Iraqi Army reportedly attacked Palkana village last night, destroying farming equipment and detaining prominent local farmer and tribal leader, Dashti Agha

Witnesses told Kurdish media outlets that the army also seized agricultural vehicles.

Agha later confirmed his arrest to the media, asserting that his only 'crime' was attempting to irrigate the land. Kurdish farmers in Palkana, north of Kirkuk, are seeking resolution to their ongoing issues with the Iraqi Army and security forces, who arrest people farming on disputed land. This land was originally populated with Sunni Arabs by Saddam Hussein's regime as part of an Arabization process.

Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, which has yet to be implemented, aims to resolve these land disputes. On June 19, former Kurdistan Parliament Speaker Yousif Mohammed Sadiq, PUK's Dilan Ghafour MP, lawyer Zardasht Khalid Mohammed, and several Kurdish farmers filed a lawsuit in the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court to expedite this resolution.

Prior to this, Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Supreme Committee for the Implementation of Article 140, sent a letter to Kirkuk officials. The letter indicated that Arab farmers' agricultural land contracts in Kirkuk should not be renewed, according to the Iraqi Cabinet Resolution No. 29 of 2012. This resolution seeks to rescind decisions made by Hussein's Baath Party and the now-defunct North Affairs Committee.

KDP-PUK relations continue to fluctuate amid media tensions and political discord in Baghdad. However, a forthcoming meeting between the two parties, hinted at by a KDP politburo member, could suggest respite is on the way.

Hoshyar Zebari, a member of the KDP politburo, revealed to Rudaw that the PUK has proposed a high-level meeting between the two parties. Zebari expects the meeting to occur next week, suggesting that any challenges can be discussed then, given their ongoing relationship with the PUK.

Contrarily, outspoken KDP politburo member Kemal Kerkuki stated during a webinar with the KDP's Europe-based 6th Branch that he would dismiss the PUK from cabinet and government posts if he had the power. The webinar was attended by KDP members from the diaspora and the Kurdistan Region. Kerkuki suggested that Iraq is unwilling to reach an agreement with the KRG due to envy over the Kurdistan Region's development, security, and coexistence.

Kerkuki also attributed the security challenges faced by Kurds in disputed areas to the "October 16 betrayal." This refers to the takeover of Kirkuk and most disputed areas by the Iraqi Army and the Popular Mobilization Forces following the Kurdistan Region's independence referendum in 2017. The KDP asserts that the PUK facilitated and supported this takeover.

Despite an agreement in early May, KDP and PUK tensions have resurfaced over disputes in the Kurdistan parliament regarding parliamentary elections. This was exacerbated by PUK's support for an amendment to the Iraqi budget allowing for direct payments to Kurdistan Region provinces from Baghdad, a move the KDP strongly opposes as detrimental to Kurdistan's autonomy.
Iraqi economist Nabil Al-Marsoumi has voiced concerns about the KRG oil export halt.

Marsoumi argues that the halt in KRG oil exports could isolate the region's oil sector from the international energy market. This could potentially undo years of development and contracts with foreign oil firms.

During former-PM Nechirvan Barzani's tenure, when the KRG decided to export oil independently of Baghdad. His administration hailed the move as the start of Kurdistan's economic independence. Many KDP hardliners even claimed that there would no longer be a need for Baghdad in Kurdistan. Amid current struggles, videos and quotes of KRG officials stating "Baghdad is bankrupt" (including by President Nechirvan Barzani himself) are resurfacing on social media.

Marsoumi believes this stoppage threatens the backbone of KRG's economy. This could undermine the region's economic independence, making it increasingly reliant on Baghdad and restricting its economy.

He adds that the oil sector played a significant role in expanding the Kurdistan Region's international relations and attracting foreign investments.

Despite oil's vital role, Marsoumi points out that the KRG's geopolitical positioning is still an advantage. All routes into Iraq from Turkey pass through the Kurdistan Region, which also has three official border crossings with Iran.

KRG's oil exports were halted on March 25, following long-running arbitration. The ICC found that Turkey had violated a 1973 agreement with Iraq by exporting resources from the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region without Baghdad's consent from 2014 to 2018. The halt has inflicted losses totalling over $2b for the Kurdistan Region and Iraq.

Former Rasan staffer offers thoughts on the NGO's legal issues


Incoming British ambassador to Iraq posts first message on new role

The newly-appointed British Ambassador to Iraq, Stephen Hitchen, has announced his arrival to Baghdad, due this summer. He will be replacing outgoing Ambassador Mark Bryson-Richardson.

In his brief 29-second introduction, Hitchen also highlighted Erbil along with Baghdad, underscoring its relevance to the UK's foreign policy in Iraq.

With proven proficiency in Arabic, Hitchen's language skills were honed during an 18-month full-time Arabic training program while serving in the Ministry of Defence from 1996 - 2004. His extensive career includes various roles within the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), most notably serving as the Director of the Counter Terrorism Department for the past four years.

Hitchen is expected to assume his ambassadorial responsibilities in July.

Morning briefing

Good morning, everyone.

Here are the latest developments from Iraq and the Kurdistan Region that are currently on our radar:

  • Yesterday, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani (KDP) made a brief trip to Turkey. Today, the KRG cabinet will hold its regular weekly meeting. Despite this recent travel, the meeting's agenda does not mention the trip. Even amidst the simmering tension between the PUK and KDP reflected in the media, Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani (PUK) is in attendance. As stated on the KRG website, the cabinet will continue discussions regarding the approval of the Iraqi budget.
  • The meeting will also cover the Iraqi government's decision to activate the Committee for implementing Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution.
  • The ongoing spread of the Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever in the Kurdistan Region is another item on the agenda.
  • The instability in the Palkana and Sargaran areas, north of Kirkuk, continues. Late last night, a unit from Division Eight of the Iraqi Army attacked a group of Kurdish farmers. They arrested a Kurdish farmer and seized a number of agricultural and farming tools.
  • Six months after their reunion, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party – Iran (KDP-I) have announced their separation once again. This development follows their practical agreement in February, which was their first in 15 years. This announcement coincides with alleged increased deployment of Iranian forces into border areas. Furthermore, the Iranian forces have reportedly requested that the KRG and the Iraqi government disarm Iranian-Kurdish opposition parties in the Kurdistan Region.
  • Lastly, tensions within the Kurdistan Region persist. The PUK and KDP remain in a standoff, exemplified by a statement from KDP Politburo member Kemal Kerkuki yesterday. Speaking to the Kurdish diaspora in a webinar, he claimed, "If I had the power, I would dismiss the PUK team in the KRG." This is a bold claim, particularly since the approval of the Iraqi budget law in the Iraqi Parliament. Both PUK and KDP have been using their media outlets for yet more skirmishes in their ongoing media war.