Live: Another anti-homosexuality draft bill sent to speaker’s desk

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KRG PM in townhall discussion 

KRG PM Masrour Barzani took part in a high profile townhall last night that was simulcast on six satellite channels and nearly 50 local broadcasters. 

He discussed his administration's reform efforts across various sectors, including the economy and service delivery. He admitted to facing resistance domestically, particularly from individuals who felt threatened by the changes, and from external forces applying economic and security pressures on his administration.

Upon taking office in 2019, Barzani pledged to introduce changes never before achieved, such as diversifying the economy away from oil, implementing a digital government to improve service delivery, and curbing financial and administrative corruption. However, many of the promises outlined in the 9th Cabinet's agenda have not been realized, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and internal party tensions between the KDP and the PUK.

Barzani stated that despite pressures, progress has been made, including the ongoing payment of public sector salaries. He asserted that the KRG will continue to work with Baghdad to resolve outstanding issues. However, there have been disruptions, delays, and cuts to civil servant payments, resulting in anti-government protests.

The audience selection process remains unclear, and most questions were mild, offering no critique of the KRG.

One audience member from Halabja province expressed that Barzani should have visited the region to initiate development projects. Barzani admitted that he had not visited Halabja as PM, attributing his absence to unforeseen circumstances. He claimed to have intended to visit and initiate significant projects but cited obstacles, including project unreadiness or improper planning.

His infrequent and brief visits to PUK-controlled areas like Sulaymaniyah have been criticized by local residents, who perceive Barzani as a PM representing only KDP-controlled areas of the KRI. Support for the KDP in Sulaymaniyah and Halabja is low.

When confronted about these issues, Barzani pointed blame at local authorities, likely referring to the PUK, for neglecting the province.

Barzani also implied that the PUK – who militarily control Sulaymaniyah and Halabja – obstruct his service to Sulaymaniyah due to "narrow political interests."

He claimed to have agreed to decentralize powers to the provinces at the PUK's request. However, he contends that local officials neglected the province after these powers were conferred. He indirectly held the PUK accountable for these shortcomings, without explicitly naming the party.

A traffic officer suggested that Barzani devise a strategy to deal with increasing car numbers, predicting that cities such as Erbil could face traffic overload soon, mainly due to the absence of public transportation. Barzani, however, interpreted the increasing number of cars on the road as a sign of prosperity.

Barzani also touched on KRG's work to advance the agriculture sector, build new schools, and address disputed territory issues in Kirkuk and Sinjar.

Among the approximately 100 audience members was former journalist rights advocate, Rahman Gharib, who questioned the rise of extremism in the Kurdistan Region. While Barzani condemned recent violence, his response did not directly address the issue of growing extremism or the rise of conservative views in society.

The meeting largely avoided addressing critical topics such as human rights violations, violations against journalists, honor killings, and increasing gun violence. No one in the audience criticized the PM, suggesting that the questions and the audience were likely screened. Further, no follow-up questions were apparently allowed.

More on the fight against Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever

The Iraqi Cabinet has approved the allocation of 3 billion dinars by the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Health/National High Committee for battling the disease.
In a meeting at the Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Baku, Fuad Hussein, Iraq's foreign minister and deputy prime minister, met Amir Hussein Abdollahian, Iran's foreign minister.

They discussed strategies for enhancing bilateral cooperation and aligning their responses to regional and global issues, according to a statement issued by the Iraqi FM's office.

Hussein emphasized the importance of regional stability for both nations' interests, referencing a recently enacted security agreement.

The leaders also discussed the ongoing matter of Iran's gas dues and the necessity of continuing its supply to prevent energy shortages, particularly during the summer months.
US Central Command and its coalition partners conducted 37 operations against IS in Iraq and Syria in June 2023, with the majority - 30 - in Iraq, according to coalition forces' published figures. 

The operations resulted in the elimination of 12 IS operatives and the detention of seven more within Iraq. The success of these operations illustrates the U.S. and its allies' persistent commitment to combating ISIS to maintain regional security and stability, the statement said.

Major Gen. Matthew McFarlane, the commanding general of the CJTF-OIR, attributed the decline in ISIS activities in Iraq to the commitment of partner forces to regional safety. Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla, CENTCOM commander, likewise lauded the proficiency, professionalism and commitment of the Iraqi and coalition partner forces.


Baghdad International Airport hit by electricity woes

A power outage has hit Baghdad International Airport.

Statement from airport management

Notice... Important

Baghdad International Airport management would like to inform our esteemed travelers and the airlines operating at the airport about a power outage due to the power supply lines connected to the airport. The airport management is currently working with those in charge in the Ministry of Electricity to address this technical issue as quickly as possible. Hence, this announcement is required.


Human Rights Watch report on the closure of Rasan

The order, issued on May 31, cited "activities in the field of homosexuality" as grounds for closure. The court specifically cited Rasan's rainbow-colored logo, considered a symbol of LGBT rights, as evidence. Rasan has since appealed the decision but cannot operate during the appeal process.

"Shuttering Rasan is not only an attack on civil society in Kurdistan but is also a direct threat to the lives and wellbeing of the vulnerable people they support," said Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

By closing Rasan, the government has sent a clear message that it does not respect freedom of association.

Adam Coogle

Tanya Kamal Darwish, CEO of Rasan, argued that the trial was focused on the activities of Rasan and that the logo was never an issue until the publication of the court decision. "We weren't expecting them to take any action against us since we weren't doing anything illegal. They used the logo as an excuse because they couldn't find anything illegal in our activities," said Darwish.

This court ruling is seen as part of a broader crackdown on LGBT rights activists and the LGBT community itself in the region. A proposed bill introduced in September 2022 sought to criminalize advocacy for LGBT rights, prompting fears of further discrimination and repression among activists. 

"The Kurdistan Regional Government should take immediate steps to ensure that organizations like Rasan are permitted to operate freely and cease harassment and targeting of LGBT advocates," Coogle said.

Read our original report on the closure here

Two weeks ago, we reported on the suspension of the license of Rasan, a non-governmental organization based in the Kurdistan Region, underlining the rise in homophobic sentiment across the country.

Jiay Eli, a civil society activist and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, spoke with NRT English about the threats faced by community members and what the government should do.

"Instead of hindering the progress made by civil society, the government should actively support these initiatives," Eli said.

"It's clear the LGBT+ movement was specifically targeted in the case of Rasan. But it's important to recognize that the movement won't simply disappear because one organization has been shut down.

"LGBT+ individuals are vital parts of society, serving in diverse roles such as teachers, doctors, artists, lawyers, and even law enforcement officers. We're present in every aspect of life, and our collective efforts will continue to effect positive change."

The Kurdistan Region has reported an additional case of Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, the first in the Choman district of Erbil province, according to Ahmed Hassan, head of the district's health directorate. Hassan told Kurdistan 24 today that a 35-year-old male Peshmerga member has been diagnosed with the disease.

The latest data from the Kurdistan Regional Government's health ministry shows at least 12 recorded cases of the disease, resulting in five fatalities. An additional 25 suspected cases have been identified.

More than 700 potential cases of the fever in central and southern provinces of Iraq have been reported, with at least 261 confirmed cases and 61 deaths.

The Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever has regularly spread in Iraq during the spring-summer season in recent years, but it seems to have infected more people this year. Both Federal and Kurdistan Regional Health Ministries and Provincial Authorities have introduced measures to contain its spread.

Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever is a severe tick-borne zoonotic disease with a high fatality rate that can infect both animals and humans. It primarily spreads through the bite of infected ticks or contact with the blood or tissues of infected animals or humans. Prevention involves using insect repellent, wearing protective clothing to avoid tick bites, and practicing good hygiene and safe handling when in contact with blood or tissues of potentially infected animals or people.
Iran and Iraq are reportedly on the verge of signing a "strategic partnership" pact, according to Iran's hardliner Tasnim News Agency.

The negotiations for this prospective agreement took place in Baghdad, where Ali Baqeri Kani, Iran's deputy foreign minister for political affairs, met with various Iraqi officials, including the PM and president.

Tasnim doesn't provide further details about the pact, suggesting that the contours of this agreement are still being developed. The report also noted that Baqeri Kani, along with his delegation, participated in the fifth meeting of the Iran-Iraq Joint Political Committee.
Iraqi authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Salwan Momika, an Iraqi-born resident of Sweden, following a protest during which he burned pages of a copy of the Quran in Stockholm last month.

According to a document from the head of the General Prosecutor addressed to international and Arab police authorities, the Kartkh investigations court issued an overseas arrest warrant. The charges relate to "attacking the creed of a religious minority."

The arrest warrant cites Article 372/1 of the Iraqi Penal Code. The article reads:

Paragraph 372 - The following persons are punishable by a period of detention not exceeding 3 years or by a fine not exceeding (amount not specified) dinars:

(1) Any person who attacks the creed of a religious minority or pours scorn on its religious practices.

Another anti-gay draft bill in parliament this week

Hassan Salim, a Sadiqoon lawmaker, drafted a letter on Thursday that was sent to the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament. It called for a bill to "criminalize homosexuality and its proliferation," and requested that it be forwarded to the relevant committees to pave the way for legislation.

Signed by more than a dozen lawmakers, the letter urged the Speaker to pass the request onto the legal, civil society and human rights parliamentary committees. The goal is "to complete the drafting and legislation of the bill, given its great significance in the current circumstances as the region experiences significant deviations that run counter to the customs and traditions of the Islamic religion."

The letter echoes a previous one signed by lawmaker Mortaza Al-Saidyee, the vice president of the Parliament’s legal committee. Both cite Article 60 of the constitution and the provisions of Article 120 and 121 from the Parliament's 2022 bylaw. The new letter also refers to Article 27 of the Parliament's 2018 bylaw.

Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in Iraq has grown after public protests last month against an Iraqi migrant who desecrated the Quran in Stockholm. Demonstrators often burned LGBTQ+ rainbow flags. This public sentiment could increase the likelihood of the proposed bill passing. A similar proposal was introduced in 2022 but failed to become law.

This new proposal follows recent anti-LGBTQ+ movements, sparked by cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr's response to U.S. President Joe Biden's criticism of Uganda's stringent new laws against homosexuality. Sadr's condemnation of U.S. policy on Twitter garnered substantial support from Iraqis on social media.

Morning briefing

Good morning and welcome to today's live blog.

  • Another Iraqi parliamentary bloc has submitted a bill seeking to outlaw homosexuality. The Al-Sadiqoon bloc, the political wing of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq (Leagues of the Righteous) militia, stated that given the "major importance of the current situation in the region, where there are large deviations from customs and traditions," they recommend drafting laws banning homosexuality. This is the second proposal this week on the same subject. These moves are in line with recent calls for such a ban by influential Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr.
  • Tehran and Baghdad are reported to have signed a "strategic partnership" pact. While few details have been shared, this comes after the Iranian Foreign Minister's visit to Baghdad earlier this week.
  • Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Masrour Barzani addressed questions from a handpicked audience in Erbil, in what was described by his public relations team as a 'townhall event'. Titled The Prime Minister and People, the recorded TV show saw Barzani answering questions on various topics including issues related to public sector salaries, the disputed territories, and relations between Erbil and Baghdad.
  • The first case of Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever has been recorded in Erbil province. Following two confirmed deaths from the disease in the Kurdistan Region, the KRG Health Ministry has already introduced measures to curb its spread.