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Live: News from Kurdistan and Iraq on eve of Eid

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In their Eid al-Adha message, the PUK appeals for "enhancing the sense of brotherhood, reinforcing peace and stability in the region, and ensuring our people can celebrate and experience joy during religious and national holidays." 

Nothing worth lingering on here – a rather cookie cutter message.
The Shoshme border crossing with Iran is set to officially open today. Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani (PUK) stated during his visit to the crossing on June 18 that its opening would bolster the economies of Halabja and Hawraman.

According to NRT Kurdish, the official opening is scheduled for today.

Earlier this month, the Halabja governorate issued a statement revealing that Azad Tofiq, the governor of Halabja, and Tayib Sahrayi, the governor of Kermanshah, had agreed to open the border crossing and had made the necessary arrangements.

In an interview with Kurdistan 24, the governor of Sulaymaniyah, Haval Abubakr, confirmed these updates, emphasizing the intention to enhance trade with Iran.

Mullah Qadir Qadiri, a prominent religious cleric in Paveh who supports the border's opening on the Iranian side, indicated that the opening might align with the Eid al-Adha celebrations by the end of the month.

Situated in Tawela, east of Halabja province, the Shoshme border crossing is designed to stimulate tourism and trade between the Kurdistan Region and Iran. The Kurdistan Region shares a long border with Iran, with three primary border crossings and several additional semi-official crossings linking the two regions.

Dimming prospects of parliamentary elections by year's end 

Concerns regarding the feasibility of Kurdistan parliamentary elections this year have been heightened, given emerging signals from Baghdad suggesting the improbability holding them this year.

During a recent visit to Baghdad, Nechirvan Barzani (KDP), president of the Kurdistan Region, expressed little optimism regarding the prospect of the federal electoral commission's ability to oversee the elections in the region this year.

Sources speaking to Kurdish news outlet Bwar News revealed that PM Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani informed Barzani that the commission would be unable to supervise the elections this year.

According to Bwar News, the postponement isn't related to the commission's technical readiness. Rather, it's due to the PUK applying pressure to prevent the elections from happening this year.

Although there is increasing pressure on the KDP and PUK to organize elections, practical steps toward facilitating them are yet to be taken, despite public assurances and commitments made during meetings with foreign representatives.

Kirkuk oil being diverted for domestic consumption following the passage of budget law

Following the official implementation of the Iraqi Budget Law, as marked by its publication in the Iraqi Official Chronicle, the Iraqi government has begun enacting the law's provisions.

Notably, Kirkuk oil, once sent to the KAR refinery, is now being allocated for local use in Iraq. This shift, sparked by the start of the new budget, may lead to increased domestic use of KRG oil.

The Iraqi Ministry of Oil had previously sent between 55,000 to 65,000 barrels per day to the KAR refinery, which charged $8 per barrel for refining. In a curious twist, the Iraqi government's current strategy towards the Kurdistan Region appears to diverge, with Iraq continuing to send oil to the Qaiwan refinery, a company alleged to have ties with PUK officials, according to a source who spoke to Rudaw.

The policy change, which started yesterday, redirects Khurmala oil, previously sent to KAR, to meet internal needs in the Nineveh province. Further elaborating on this decision, a source from the Oil Ministry told Rudaw that Iraq plans to use Khurmala oil for Nineveh's energy needs, suggesting that more of the Kurdistan Region's oil may be used domestically.

Since 2014, in the aftermath of IS attacks and due to a shortage of refineries, Iraq had individual contracts with KAR (reportedly affiliated with the KDP) and Qaiwan to refine 100,000 barrels of oil per day in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.

Experts warn that redirecting KRG oil for internal use could introduce a host of complications, given existing contracts for exporting oil, shipment, and pipeline protection.
The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Iran's formidable fighting force, has appointed a new leader for a key base involved in suppressing Iranian Kurdish opposition groups in the Kurdistan Region, reports the Tasnim news agency.

At the ceremony introducing the new commander, Maj. Gen. Salami issued stark warnings against the Kurdish groups, asserting that Iranian forces won't allow any "conspiracies" by "separatist" factions.

Brig. Gen. Ali Akbar Pourjamshidian is set to replace Brig. Gen. Mohammad Taqi Osanlou as the leader of the Hamzeh Seyyed Al-Shohada Base, as reported yesterday. The change in command was endorsed by IRGC's top leader, Maj. Gen. Hussein Salami. Prior to his new assignment, Pourjamshidian served as the coordination deputy for the IRGC Ground Forces.

The base has consistently engaged in military actions against Kurdish groups in the Kurdistan Region. Most recently, the base spearheaded an operation aimed at "purging" the Kosalan Mountains, located near the Iranian city of Mariwan. The IRGC recently stated that dozens of Kurdish fighters were killed in the attacks and confirmed at least one casualty on its side.
مراسم تکریم و معارفه فرمانده قرارگاه حمزه سیدالشهدا(ع)، فرمانده قرارگاه شهید بروجردی و فرمانده سپاه شهدای آذربایجان‌غربی با حضور فرمانده کل سپاه آغاز شد.
خبرگزاری تسنیم | Tasnim
Tensions appear to continue unabated between the KDP and the PUK, despite high-level meetings yesterday. Kemal Kerkuki, an outspoken member of the KDP politburo, declared that Kirkuk is an invaded city and pointed to the "betrayal of October 16" as the cause. He further stated that in the upcoming elections, the KDP would be open to provisional alliances with all political parties except for those involved in the alleged betrayal.

The Kurdistan Region's independence referendum, which was swiftly followed by the takeover of Kirkuk and other disputed territories by Iraqi forces and Shia militias, has been a source of conflict between the two parties. The KDP claims that the PUK facilitated and supported the Iraqi takeover of disputed territories, while the PUK argues that the referendum was the catalyst for the attack.

During a press conference after meeting with several political parties in Kirkuk, Kerkuki elaborated on discussions regarding the provisional elections. Kerkuki did not limit his criticism to the PUK, but also called the governor of Kirkuk "corrupt." He claimed that the governor was imposed on the city by chauvinists and should be removed from his position. He suggested these views were shared by all parties in attendance, although this has not been confirmed by the other parties.

The meeting took place at the KDP's leadership council of Kirkuk-Garmyan in Erbil. All political parties in the Kurdistan Region were invited except for the PUK, as confirmed by a senior KDP official. Rudaw reports that Gorran and Komal did not attend the meeting but stated they would be ready for a meeting after Eid.

Kerkuki urged the Kurdish people to vote in order to stabilize the situation in Kirkuk and encourage Kurdish resettlement in the city.

With Iraq's provisional elections expected to take place this November, it seems that internal tensions in the Kurdistan Region could lead to the separate participation of Kurdish political parties. This approach may weaken the position of Kurdish parties outside the Kurdistan Region, potentially resulting in lost votes and seats in provincial councils.
Lahur Talabany is once again proving a headache for Bafel Talabani as he plans to form a coalition of Kurdish parties for the upcoming provincial elections in Kirkuk, Nineveh, Diyala, and Saladin provinces.

Lahur Talabany, the ousted co-president of the PUK, has reached out to various Kurdish political parties with the intention of forming a coalition for the provisional elections scheduled for later this year.

In response, PUK President Bafel Talabani, in his meetings with the Change Movement (Gorran), Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), and Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal), has made it clear that he does not wish for these parties to join a coalition that could potentially harm PUK's interests. According to Bwar News, the PUK president also suggested that these parties form a coalition with the PUK instead, indicating his readiness to negotiate arrangements with these parties.

Despite being ousted, Lahur Talabany continues to identify himself as the co-chair of PUK and has sought to form a coalition with Kurdish political parties for the provisional Iraqi elections outside of the Kurdistan Region. However, no political parties have expressed willingness to join this coalition. Not yet, anyway.

In a separate development adding to the internal strife within PUK, Gorran has sent an official letter of congratulations to Lahur Talabany in recognition of Eid, without referencing his political position. The letter, which was published by Masrour Barzani's Kurdistan 24 amid signs of tension with PUK, re-emphasizes the need for political unity among Kurdish parties. 

It further suggests finding a solution to tensions in the Kurdistan Region in response to new political developments, and to eliminate risks to the population and protect the constitutional position of the Region.
The PUK has responded to yesterday's decision by the KDP and the Turkmen Reform Party to suspend their activities in the Kurdistan Parliament. Ziyad Jabar, an ex-PUK MP from the last parliament , told PUK media that the KDP and Turkmen are putting on a show and deceiving people. According to Jabar, the Kurdistan Parliament is already dissolved based on the Iraqi Federal Court's decision.

Yesterday, the KDP faction in lapsed Kurdistan parliament announced their 'withdrawal' from the already dissolved legislature. They called on the Kurdistan parliament's presidency to begin legal procedures for their MPs' retirement, and 'refused to accept' salary payments starting from June 2023 onwards.

Approximately two hours later, Muna Kahveci, secretary of the Kurdistan parliament, announced she and "all other Turkmen members" would suspend their activities. Kahveci's Turkmen political party has close ties to the KDP.

Jabar said that no activities were taking place in the Kurdistan parliament following the federal court's ruling to dissolve it. According to him, only one decision remains: the Presidency of the Kurdistan parliament must inform the KRG to retire MPs or reassign them to their previous occupations. He also stated that all belongings and entitlements given to MPs should be returned to Parliament and the Government following this decision. It's unclear whether outgoing parliament's leadership still has the authority to put affairs in order given the federal court's retroactive dissolution of parliament dated October 2022. Any activities conducted in parliament after this date (the original date of dissolution before parliament voted to 'extend' its own term last year) have been declared null and void.

Before the Iraqi Court's ruling on May 30, the New Generation Movement, the Kurdistan Islamic Union, and the Kurdistan Justice Group had already resigned or boycotted the Kurdistan Parliament.

When the PUK returned to the cabinet of the KRG early last month, it was expected to ease tensions between the KDP and the PUK. However, these expectations were short-lived as political strife resumed just two weeks later. London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat has reported on the recent KDP-PUK meeting in Erbil, suggesting the ongoing Iraqi budget disputes led to accusations of "betrayal" from both parties.

Citing issues discussed in the meeting, the newspaper does not anticipate a definitive resolution to their current challenges. Instead, the focus appears to have shifted towards election procedures in the Kurdistan Region, over which the parties are currently in dispute.

The origins of the present tensions between KDP and PUK can be traced back to 2018 when both parties contested the position of the Iraqi President. Despite a prior agreement for the PUK to hold the Iraqi Presidency and the KDP to secure the presidency of the Kurdistan Region, the two parties clashed over the position. This led to the PUK's Barham Salih thrashing the KDP's Fuad Hussein in a humiliating rout after PUK leader Bafel Talabani refused to stand his candidate down before the vote in parliament. 

Budget disputes in Baghdad have also inflamed tensions between the KDP and PUK. The PUK advocated for a separate share and direct budget for Kurdistan Region's provinces in conflict with the KRG. This stance resulted in the KDP indirectly accusing the PUK of "treason" and compromising the constitutional position of the KRG. The PUK refuted these claims, arguing that Dohuk and Erbil (KDP-controlled provinces) could also directly receive their share from Baghdad.

According to Draw Media, the recent KDP-PUK meeting did not yield any concrete results, with a primary point of dispute being election procedures and relations with Baghdad. The PUK proposed addressing all issues as a package, while the KDP insisted on resolving the upcoming elections and relations with Baghdad before discussing other matters.

Over the past month, the KDP and PUK have been at loggerheads over the election law for the Kurdistan Parliament. Moreover, they have been disputing the independent share of the provinces of the Kurdistan Region in the Iraqi budget. The KDP has accused the PUK of "treason" and of undermining the sovereignty and constitutional position of the Kurdistan Region, allegations that the PUK has denied.

Iraq settles outstanding payments to Iran for natural gas imports following US sanction waivers

The Iraqi Ministry of Electricity has announced the settlement of all outstanding payments to Iran for natural gas imports. "The Ministry of Electricity has fully discharged the debts to Iran for gas imports," said Ahmed Mousa, a ministry spokesman, as reported by Iraq News Network's website on June 26. The debts to Tehran, totaling around $2.7 billion, have been paid in full.

Despite being OPEC's second-largest oil producer and having some of the world's largest oil and gas reserves, Iraq relies on Iran for a third of its gas and electricity supplies. This dependence leaves Baghdad vulnerable to pressure from both Iran and the United States. The latter has urged Iraq to reduce its reliance on Iran's energy resources, granting temporary sanction exemptions to prevent power shortages.

Matthew Miller, the spokesperson for the US State Department, responded to reports of the debt settlement on the same day, stating, "Consistent with U.S. sanctions, these funds can only be accessed for humanitarian and other non-sanctionable transactions. The money is distributed only to approved third parties. It is not transferred directly to Iran, and we, the United States, continue to approve transactions for the use of funds on a case-by-case basis."

Since 2018, Washington has issued sanction waivers allowing Iraq to pay for natural gas imports and maintain its electricity production. This process encountered challenges in 2022 when the US introduced new measures, including halting money transfers to 14 Iraqi banks, in an effort to limit the flow of dollars to Iran.

On June 8, during the ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State in Riyadh, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly gave his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein, the necessary clearance to settle the Iranian debts.

On Sunday, Hassan Montazer Torbati, director of the National Iranian Gas Company, confirmed that Iraq had settled all bills related to natural gas imports from Iran, according to the Iranian Mehr news agency.
1:41 p.m. EDT MR MILLER:  Good afternoon, everyone.  I am very sorry to be late.  But on the plus side, I don’t have – on the plus side — QUESTION:  On the plus side, you have so much information to impart to us that — MR MILLER:  On the plus side, I don’t have any […]
United States Department of State

Morning briefing

Good morning, everyone. Let's dive into the most recent updates from Iraq and the Kurdistan Region:

  • As the Iraqi provincial elections draw near, Kurdish parties are hurriedly war-gaming their approach. They are set to present one or more lists in Kurdish towns outside the Kurdistan Region. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) expresses concern over the potential return of Lahur Talabany, the ousted co-chair of the PUK, who is currently engaged in coalition discussions for Kurdish parties in disputed territories. The PUK has reached out to various political groups, cautioning them against supporting Lahur. Given the current strain between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the PUK, Lahur might garner additional support or coordination from the KDP to establish a list in the contested areas. A recent development saw Gorran sending an Eid letter to Lahur, not acknowledging his position, but advocating for unity and tranquility in the Kurdistan Region.
  • As Eid al-Adha approaches, with many Muslims expected to carry out animal sacrifices, the rise in cases of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever in the Kurdistan Region raise alarms. The KRG Minister of Health revealed that out of 23 cases of the disease, 11 have been confirmed, resulting in 5 fatalities. These numbers have increased significantly over the past two weeks.
  • The Iraqi authorities have verified the complete settlement of outstanding payments to Iran for natural gas imports. "The Ministry of Electricity has fully discharged the debts for gas imports to Iran," announced ministry spokesperson, Ahmed Mousa, on June 26. Despite U.S. approval for the debt repayment, U.S. Department of State Spokesperson, Matthew Miller, asserted there has been no policy change towards Iran or Iraq from the U.S. standpoint, and the Biden Administration continues to enforce sanctions on Iran.
  • Kirkuk oil is being diverted from the KAR refinery for local use in Iraq, a decision precipitated by the start of the Iraqi budget, potentially utilizing KRG oil domestically. The Iraqi Ministry of Oil used to dispatch between 55 to 65 thousand barrels per day to be refined by KAR, which received 8 USD for each barrel. Intriguingly, the Iraqi government continues to send oil to the Qaiwan  refinery (a PUK affiliated company), as per a source reporting to Rudaw.