Garraf oil field Photo credit: KMSK

Live: All of Tuesday’s news from Iraq and Kurdistan Region

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Dozens of violations of journalistic freedom recorded in Kurdistan Region so far this year

Press freedom in the Kurdistan Region has been subjected to dozens of violations in 2023, according to a mid-year report from the Reporters Organisation for Rights and Development (RORD). 

The report documented a total of 49 incidents involving 114 journalists, with the majority of violations occurring in the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)-controlled provinces of Erbil and Duhok. Sulaymaniyah saw the fewest incidents, RORD data shows. Although the numbers remain high, they are lower than the more than 430 incidents recorded last year.

The geographical distribution of these incidents aligns with data from previous years, suggesting that the KDP is responsible for the majority of press freedom violations in the region.

RORD's tally is higher than the 44 incidents involving 84 journalists and media organizations reported by the Kurdistan Journalists’ Syndicate (KJS) for the first half of the year.

The RORD report detailed the following types of violations:
  • Six arrests 
  • Two lawsuits against journalists
  • Nineteen incidents of coverage prevention
  • Thirty-eight obstructions of journalists attempting to report
  • Sixteen cases of journalists' belongings being broken
  • Fourteen cases of attacks and insults against journalists 

RORD also documented unfair treatment of journalists by their own organizations, including 25 cases of journalists and media workers being dismissed without reason.

Violation counts by province, according to RORD:
  • Duhok: 25 cases
  • Erbil: 16 cases
  • Sulaymaniyah: 4 cases
  • Halabja: 5 cases

The KJS report noted that the highest number of assaults occurred in Erbil, with 14 cases, followed by Duhok with 10, and Sulaymaniyah with 8.
In a meeting with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Ali Bagheri Kani in Baghdad, Iraqi President Abdullatif Jamal Rashid stressed "the critical importance" of bolstering cooperation in the areas of trade and energy. 

Iraq is heavily dependent on Iranian gas to power its electricity, a dependency that Tehran views as a vital revenue source as it grapples with severe Western sanctions linked to its nuclear program. As we reported earlier, Iran is set to receive $10 billion in previously frozen funds due to U.S. banking sanctions on Tehran. Baghdad regularly secures exemptions for such transactions. 

Here is the statement published in English on the presidency's website:

On Tuesday, July 24, 2023, the President of the Republic of Iraq, Abdullatif Jamal Rashid met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Ali Bagheri Kani alongside his delegation, at the Baghdad Palace.

Deputy Minister Kani presented greetings from the Iranian President and leadership to President Rashid at the beginning of the meeting. Following this, His Excellency President Rashid reciprocated, asking the guest to convey his greetings to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, wishing the Iranian people future progress and prosperity.
 In his remarks, President Rashid highlighted the importance of the close relationship across a wide range of fields between the two friendly nations and peoples. He also highlighted how the promotion of these ties could serve the region's states.
 Strengthening cooperation in trade and energy is of critical importance, His Excellency President Rashid said.

As a result of Iran's strong support for Iraq, the President expressed his thanks and gratitude. Further cooperation and coordination between the countries on common concern issues is a paramount, he stated, adding that Iran's participation in international affairs as well as the return of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are both beneficial to the strengthening of international peace and security.

The Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs of Iran, Ali Bagheri Kani, emphasised the significance of enhancing bilateral relations and expanding cooperation prospects in a manner that would most benefit both nations' relations.There has been a long history of cooperation between Iraq and Iran, he said.

In addition, Mr. Kani spoke about the significant potential of these two countries, as well as their central role in promoting stability and security in the region.The Minister expressed his appreciation for His Excellency's enthusiasm and constructive attitude toward regional developments when he expressed his desire to further develop positive relations with Iran.

A further comment was made by the guest, who commended the late President Talabani for his support of the relationship between the two countries.

Likewise, Rashid said that Jalal Talabani considered cooperation and coordination with Iran crucial to regional security.
Everyone appears to have accepted yet another delay to the postponed date for the regional elections in the KRI. 

It's a  topic Iraqi President Abdullatif Jamal Rashid discussed with Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) officials in Baghdad today.

According to a statement on the presidency's website, the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners pointed to technical difficulties as the cause of the delay, despite the desire of Kurdistan Region officials for the elections to proceed on schedule.

However, the reality appears to be more political than technical. The initial postponement from November was reportedly due to disagreements between ruling parties in the Kurdistan Region. The ongoing delay is likewise attributed to continuing disputes over the election law and plans to reactivate the regional elections commission. 

Rashid's party, the PUK, also bears a good deal of responsibility for the election delays.
Iraqi President Abdullatif Jamal Rashid met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Ali Bagheri Kani and his delegation at the Baghdad Palace.

Kani began the meeting by delivering greetings from Iran's president and leadership to Rashid. The Iraqi president responded in kind, asking Kani to relay his well-wishes to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, with hopes for the Iranian people's future progress and prosperity.

Rashid emphasized the importance of the close relationship between the two nations across various sectors. He underscored that strengthening these ties could potentially benefit the regional states. He also mentioned the critical importance of bolstering cooperation in trade and energy.

Rashid expressed gratitude for Iran's robust support for Iraq and stressed the importance of further cooperation and coordination on issues of mutual concern. He added that Iran's active participation in international affairs and the resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia could contribute significantly to international peace and security.

Kani stressed the importance of enhancing bilateral relations and expanding cooperative opportunities for the betterment of both nations. He acknowledged the longstanding history of cooperation between Iraq and Iran.

Moreover, Kani highlighted the significant potential of both countries and their pivotal role in promoting regional stability and security. He also voiced his appreciation for Rashid's constructive approach towards regional developments and his desire to further develop positive relations with Iran.

Kani praised the late President Jalal Talabani for his support of the relationship between the two countries. In response, Rashid noted that Talabani saw cooperation and coordination with Iran as key to regional security.
The Iraqi Council of Ministers condemned the burning of a copy of the Quran in Sweden during its weekly session today and instructed the Foreign Ministry to follow up on the matter with the UN.


The Council of Ministers condemns the crime of burning the Holy Quran in the Kingdom of Sweden. We view this heinous act as a flagrant assault on the beliefs of Muslims and a violation of their sanctities. We stress that the principles of freedom, personal rights, and freedom of expression must respect sacred entities without transgression or abuse.

The Cabinet upholds the content of the letter from the Supreme Marja Office in Najaf addressed to His Excellency, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Consequently, we direct the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take necessary measures to address the issue with the United Nations, with the goal of achieving international commitments to prevent such attacks in the future.

Furthermore, the Council urges the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to engage with the countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and affirm Iraq's request to host an emergency conference at the level of leaders or ministers.

Media Office of the Prime Minister

Today's cabinet meeting
Today's cabinet meeting   credit: PM's media office

Petronas to divest from Iraqi oil field

According to Iraq Oil Report, Malaysia's Petronas has reportedly signaled its intention to sell its 45% operating stake in Iraq's Gharraf oil field, which produces 155,000 barrels per day.

Senior officials from Petronas disclosed their plans to the Iraqi Oil Minister during a meeting on May 29.

If the sale goes through, Indonesia's Pertamina is expected to acquire Petronas's stake.

Iran to recover $10 billion in frozen funds

In a significant financial development, Iran will receive $10 billion of its funds that were previously frozen due to U.S. banking sanctions on Tehran, according to Yahya Ale Eshaq, head of the Iran-Iraq Joint Chamber of Commerce.

The money will be deposited at the Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) and will be used to purchase commodities that are not subject to US sanctions, such as medicine. 

The Iraqi government owes this substantial amount primarily for the import of natural gas and electricity from Iran. The inability to make direct payments due to the US banking sanctions led to these funds being held up in Iraq.

Eshaq expressed optimism about the financial exchanges between the two nations, asserting there are "no obstacles or problems" and termed the current phase a "strategic opportunity." This development follows last month's agreement where Iraq agreed to release $2.7b in gas and electricity debt after securing a sanctions waiver from the US.

The released funds are expected to be allocated to various sectors including aiding Iranian pilgrims in Iraq and providing basic commodities. Eshaq emphasized that "pursuing national interests" is a priority for President Ebrahim Raisi's administration and also mentioned potential business opportunities in Iraq that could help increase the volume of trade to $20 billion in the next few years.

Despite its huge oil and gas reserves, Iraq relies heavily on Iran for its energy needs, which include a third of its gas and electricity supplies. The arrears in energy payments have led Iran to reduce its gas and electricity supplies to Iraq several times, resulting in frequent power outages.


Erbil Security Forces seize large unlicensed weapons, ammunition cache; suspect arrested

credit: Screen grab, Erbil Security Forces
Erbil security forces announced the seizure of an unlicensed weapons cache in the city of Erbil and the arrest of its owner, according to a Facebook post by the Directorate of Erbil Security. Following "precise intelligence and investigative collaboration" between local forces and Zervani intelligence, the storage was located in the Lawan neighbourhood.

The statement said that tens of different types of weapons, including AK47s, handguns, M4s, sniper rifles, and PK machine guns were found, along with "a large number of rounds of ammunition." Additionally, hundreds of gun parts and specialized equipment used for gun repair, testing and modifications were discovered.

The security forces also released a video showing the extensive arsenal of guns and ammunition.

Alan Zandi, a Kurdistan 24 reporter who was present during the operation, described the location as "dangerous". He stated that the seizure was part of a decision by KRG PM Masrour Barzani and the Interior Ministry's ongoing efforts to curb the presence of unlicensed weapons. Zandi also said that several other suspects were arrested and numerous residency cards were seized. Kurdistan 24 is known to have close ties to Barzani.

Zandi's video report was shared by Erbil security forces on their Facebook page.

In 2020, KRG PM Barzani ordered the closure of all markets selling firearms and the seizure of unlicensed weapons. However, the enforcement of this policy has been slow and limited. This year, Interior Minister Rebar Ahmed issued a statement urging political parties to cooperate with the ministry to restrict the spread of unlicensed guns and control the use of licensed firearms. New measures include raising awareness among party members about the dangers of storing weapons in their homes, “unless absolutely necessary,” and instructing guards to store weapons in dedicated armories at their places of work, rather than taking them home.

Iraqi security forces have arrested two IS suspects in connection with carrying out "terrorist operations" and planting roadside bombs in Kirkuk province, the Security Media Cell has said. This comes as security forces launched anti-terror operations across several provinces, including Kirkuk, as they continue to grapple with lingering elements of IS.
UN rights council to discuss Quran burning

The UN Human Rights Council will hold an urgent session to address the burning of a copy of Quran in Stockholm that sparked global outrage.

Salwan Momika, 37, who fled from Iraq to Sweden several years ago, stomped on a copy of the Quran and set several pages alight as Muslims around the world began marking the Eid al-Adha holiday and as the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia was drawing to a close. The incident lead to widespread anger among some Muslim countries.

The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, which is meeting in session until July 14, will change its agenda to stage an urgent debate, following a request from Pakistan. "The UN Human Rights Council will hold an urgent debate to 'discuss the alarming rise in premeditated and public acts of religious hatred, as manifested by the current desecration of the holy Koran in some European and other countries'," council spokesman Pascal Sim told reporters, citing the wording of the request.

"This urgent debate will be convened following a request of Pakistan, sent on behalf of several members of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, including those that are members of the Human Rights Council. "The urgent debate will most likely be convened this week at a date and time to be determined by the bureau of the Human Rights Council that is meeting today."

There are 47 members of the Human Rights Council. The UN's top rights body is currently in the second of its three regular sessions per year.
Here is a short video on the mass fish die-off in Iraq's Maysan province.

The Ministry of Agriculture has blamed low oxygen, high salinity, and reduced water levels for the wildlife disaster—a crisis underlining Iraq's vulnerability to climate change and poses new threats to agriculture and the environment.


France repatriates 10 women, 25 children from Syrian camps

The French government has repatriated 10 women and 25 children from northeastern Syrian prison camps housing suspected jihadists on Tuesday. This marks the fourth such operation in a year, according to the foreign ministry.

The ministry said in a statement that the children would be transferred to child care services, while the adult returnees would be handed over to judicial authorities.

These women had willingly travelled to territories in Syria and Iraq under the control of the Islamic State group.

They were captured when the group lost control of its self-proclaimed "caliphate" in 2019. The repatriation of relatives of captured or slain jihadist fighters has been contentious, particularly in France, a frequent target of jihadist attacks.

In France, any adult who travelled to and stayed in the Iraq-Syria region faces legal action.

The French government discontinued its criticized "case by case" repatriation approach a year ago. The first repatriation operation brought back 16 women and 35 children, followed in October by the return of 15 women and 40 children. Another 15 women and 32 children were repatriated in January, soon after a UN Committee against Torture condemnation. The committee stated that France was breaching the UN Convention against Torture by refusing to repatriate women and minors in Syria.

"France thanked the local administration in northeastern Syria for its cooperation, which made this operation possible," the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

Until mid-2022, France pursued a policy of targeted repatriation, mainly returning orphans or minors whose mothers had agreed to relinquish their parental rights.

Under this approach, only about 30 presumed orphans had been repatriated by France by early 2021.


Draft bill to ban homosexuality revived in federal parliament

A bill to ban homosexuality has been revived in Iraq's parliament after failing to pass last year. This coincides with recent anti-homosexual sentiment driven by influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Mortaza Al-Saidyee, an Iraqi MP, submitted a draft "anti-homosexuality" bill to the Parliament Speaker for review in the next parliamentary season. The document, dated July 3 and signed by al-Saidyee, a vice president of the parliament’s legal committee, states, "In compliance with Article 60 of the constitution and the provisions of Article 121 of the parliament’s 2022 bylaw, attached is a proposed law to ban homosexuality, supported by several lawmakers."

Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment surged when Iraqis publicly protested against an Iraqi migrant's desecration of the Quran in Stockholm last month. Demonstrators were frequently seen burning LGBTQ+ rainbow flags. This public sentiment may bolster the bill's chances of passing.

A similar measure was introduced in 2022 but did not become law.

The renewed proposal follows recent anti-LGBTQ+ moves, triggered by Sadr's response to U.S. President Joe Biden's criticism of Uganda's harsh new laws against homosexuality. Sadr's condemnation of U.S. policy in a tweet received widespread support from Iraqis on social media.

Last year, Sadr proposed a "day of action" to fight homosexuality and launched a campaign to gather a million signatures against it.

Moreover, last September, an anti-homosexuality bill presented to the Erbil assembly earned the backing of 76 out of 110 members but did not advance to a floor vote.

Fish die-off in Iraq's Maysan province linked to climate factors

The cause behind the mass fish deaths in Maysan province that we reported on yesterday's blog has been linked to low oxygen levels, increased salt content, and reduced water levels, according to the Ministry of Agriculture's recent investigation.

Officials and environmental activists suggest climate change and decreased water flow are likely contributors. A similar, unexplained incident occurred in 2018. 

Ranked by the United Nations as one of the top five countries most affected by climate change, Iraq is no stranger to environmental challenges. It has experienced decreased rainfall over the past four years, leading to reduced flow in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Read our full story here:

Morning briefing

Good morning and welcome to today's live blog. Here's what we're monitoring today:

  • Iran is set to receive $10 billion of its frozen assets in Iraq, through the Trade Bank of Iraq, to buy US-sanctions exempt goods such as medicine.
  • Iraqi security forces have launched anti-terror operations across several provinces, arresting two suspected terrorists, as they continue to grapple with lingering elements of the Islamic State (IS).
  • Malaysia's Petronas is reportedly looking to sell its 45% operating stake in Iraq's 155,000 barrel per day Gharraf oil field to Indonesia's Pertamina, marking growing discontent with Iraq’s investment climate.
  • A bill seeking to outlaw homosexuality has been reintroduced in Iraq's parliament, gaining momentum after similar legislation failed last year. This move is in line with recent calls for such a ban by influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
  • The mass die-off of thousands of fish in southern Maysan province have been traced back to a lethal combination of low oxygen levels, high salt content, and reduced water levels, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture. The mass fish fatalities were observed on the banks of the Amshan river in Majar al-Kabir, near the Iranian border.
  • France carried out its fourth repatriation operation within a year, bringing back 10 women and 25 children from northeast Syrian prison camps for suspected jihadists, as confirmed by the country's foreign ministry on Tuesday.