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9. July 2023 17:52
Following PUK leader Bafel Talabani's angry exit from the KDP-PUK meeting earlier today, Salar Osman, a member of the KDP's central committee, issued a statement claiming that the views he expressed during his interview with Rudaw do not reflect official KDP policy.
The impact of this is still unclear, though we presume the PUK will not be appeased by this non-apology.
In a televised interview with Rudaw today, I stressed the importance of unity and collaboration with the PUK. Still, I noted that the PUK, given recent events, no longer holds the same influence and significance, and must realistically confront both its current status and that of its rivals. However, I want to make it clear that this perspective is my own and does not echo the official position of the KDP.
Member of the KDP's Central Committee
9. July 2023 16:53
KDP leaves meeting with PUK in damage control mode
"PUK doesn't have the same size and standing it did before, and it should revise its policies," is what Salar Osman, a member of KDP's central committee, said in an interview while the high-level KDP and PUK meeting was taking place. This statement seemingly caused the meeting to go sideways.
During his first statement to the press after the interview, a visibly angry Bafel Talabani opened by remarking, "PUK won't remain silent. Anything happening from today onward will be responded to accordingly. PUK is its history, the blood of its martyrs, its sacrifices. PUK is power," a clear reference to Osman's remarks.
Shortly thereafter, the KDP's Fazil Mirani gave an interview to the press where he immediately began by damage cont the statement, asserting that it doesn't represent official KDP policy. He went on to state that such statements shouldn't impede talks and that negotiations are a process of give and take, striking a noticeably conciliatory tone.
This episode illustrates how the volatile political environment in Kurdistan, which is dominated by individuals, can cause high-level talks between the two leading parties to be completely derailed by statements from mid-level politicians. In an interview some time later, Bafel confirmed the meetings didn't achieve any agreement, stating, "no agreement was reached."
Al Jazeera English has analysis on Iraq's "illusory stability", with authors Kamaran Palani and Khogir Mohammed arguing that renewal turmoil is a question of if, not when.
They pair argue that the country is propped up by oil revenues that merely serve to appease political elites and maintain the status quo. The crisis of legitimacy at the heart of government is, they argue, merely being masked by the relative stability afforded by short-term oil price spikes.
The Fatah Alliance's seats in the Iraqi parliament were slashed from 48 to 17 in the most recent elections but still managed to wrestle government formation away from the victors.
Despite losing the elections, they managed to gain power by thwarting the formation of a national majority government by the Sadr Movement, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and the Sunni “Sovereignty Alliance”, which performed well in the elections.
The government's major moves, like a huge budget increase and expansion of public services, are deemed insufficient to address deep-seated issues such as socio-economic troubles and climate challenges. Moreover, the focus on bolstering public sector employment and security structures is seen as perpetuating problems rather than solving them.
Couple this with the looming threat of climate change, and Iraq is facing a difficult future. The authors argue that substantial systemic change is urgently needed, but the political will for such reform appears lacking. Thus, they predict further turmoil in Iraq isn't a matter of 'if' but 'when'.
The redistribution of oil profits has appeased the political elites, but the peace and quiet will not last long.
9. July 2023 16:17
Politburo meeting ends (again) without concrete results
The PUK and the KDP have just concluded their second high-level meeting in the past two weeks. The meetings, led by PUK leader Bafel Talabani and KDP Politburo Secretary Fazil Mirani, aim to resolve recent disputes between the two parties around elections, revenue allocation, and policy towards Baghdad.
Though the meetings have yet to produce concrete progress, the latest gathering appears to have also gone sideways, in part due to a potentially deliberate faux pas by a KDP member.
The member claimed on live TV that the PUK no longer carries any political weight. This is merely the latest in a string of unfortunate and oddly timed statements from certain KDP leaders coinciding with PUK and KDP meetings aimed at resolving their differences, increasingly suggesting significant internal disagreements within the KDP regarding their relationship with the PUK.
In a post-meeting interview, Fazil Mirani indicated that another meeting will occur in the near future, although no definitive timeline was provided. One thing remains clear: there's no light at the end of the tunnel just yet.
The US Central Command (CENTCOM) has reported the death of an IS leader in a recent strike in eastern Syria. "On July 7, [CENTCOM] carried out a strike in Syria resulting in the death of Usamah Al-Muhajir, an IS leader in eastern Syria," the statement read.
Little is known about Al-Muhajir, but according to CENTCOM, his death will "disrupt and degrade IS’s ability to coordinate and conduct terror attacks."
The statement said that "CENTCOM’s operations against IS, in conjunction with partner forces in Iraq and Syria, will continue in order to secure the group’s lasting defeat."
Though IS officially lost its last stronghold in eastern Syria in 2019, marking its conventional defeat, the terrorist group continues to wage a low-level guerrilla campaign in both Iraq and Syria.
TAMPA, Fla. – On July 7, U.S. Central Command conducted a strike in Syria that resulted in the death of Usamah al-Muhajir, an ISIS leader in eastern Syria.
U.S. Central Command
9. July 2023 15:18
More on the government's security reshuffles throughout Iraq
In early June, Prime Minister Sudani made sweeping changes to top security posts throughout the country. While the full scope of these changes is still emerging, early reports suggest they affect the heads of the National Security Service and Intelligence Service. Further changes were revealed yesterday, with the leaders of police and intelligence in Anbar also being replaced. A leader of the Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF) indicated that such changes would occur across ten provinces.
The reason behind these extensive changes remains unclear. A source, speaking on the condition of anonymity to The New Arab, stated these come after political parties reached a consensus regarding key security positions in the country. These appointments largely follow an informal "muhasasa" system, where key government positions are divided among political parties based on their ethnic or sectarian affiliation and parliamentary representation.
Abdul Karim Abd Fadel, a founder of the Falcons Cell and a key SCF figure under former Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, will replace the head of the National Security Service according to a government statement.
These changes come at a notable time for Anbar province. Recently, pro-Iranian outlets have launched an attack on Speaker of Parliament Halbousi and his party's administration of Anbar, coinciding with the Iraqi government's corruption charges against officials in the province and local protests.
Halbousi, a Sunni politician, was initially affiliated with the SCF following the defeat of ISIS in Sunni regions. However, as his power and profile grew, and pro-Iranian militias' control over Sunni regions lessened, Halbousi began distancing himself from some SCF leaders. This culminated after the 2021 election when Halbousi joined Sadr's push for a "national majority government" that aimed to exclude some SCF elements. This led to rocket attacks on Halbousi's home in an attempt to dissuade him from this alliance.
Despite a reconciliation after Sadr's temporary withdrawal from politics, tensions between SCF elements and Halbousi continue, with efforts to weaken him and strengthen his rivals in Anbar ongoing.
The security changes in Anbar's context remain unclear. Following the announcement of the changes, Halbousi met with PM Sudani, affirming his full support for the government's reshuffle, which he said fell within the government's vision of comprehensive administrative reform.
Iraqi officials confirmed on Wednesday that rockets which fell close to the house of the parliament speaker came from an area under the control of the pro-Iran Kataib Hezbollah militia.
The New Arab
9. July 2023 13:32
Military parade in Sulaymaniyah
In a first, the PUK's CTG conducted a large military parade in Sulaymaniyah yesterday. PUK party leader Bafel Talabani personally oversaw the parade, which featured the group's equipment and personnel.
The display took place one day prior to PUK's high-level meeting with the KDP. The parade prominently featured CTG leader Wahab Halabjay, whom the KDP blames for orchestrating a terror attack that resulted in the death of a former PUK commander close to ousted PUK leader Lahur Talabani in Erbil.
There have been reports in recent weeks suggesting that, as a compromise with the KDP, the PUK agreed to demote Halabjay and decrease his influence within the CTG; this parade appears to be a direct rebuke of these rumors.
The event also underscored the expanding role and clout of the CTG within the PUK-controlled region and its institutions.
Bafel's increased reliance on the CTG, among other forces, to solidify his control over the PUK and the Sulaymaniyah region has become increasingly apparent over the past year.
SCF demands payment approval for imported Iranian gas
The Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF) has asked the US to approve Iraq's payment for imported Iranian gas, according to a statement received by the Iraqi News Agency (INA). The SCF wants this issue to be 'non-political' and urges the Iraqi government and its foreign affairs ministry to push the US to approve these payments immediately.
Recently, individual politicians within the SCF have been more openly critical of the US. Two weeks ago, Shiite leader Qais al-Khazali, claimed Iraq lacked financial autonomy by needing US approval to access its own funds. He condemned U.S. activities in Iraq, accused them of spying, and praised Iran for allowing gas supply to continue despite unpaid bills.
Iraq relies heavily on Iranian gas for its electricity. Due to US sanctions imposed after it withdrew from the JCPOA, its debt to Iran now exceeding $10 billion because of the inability to disburse payments to Iran without contravening sanctions. Last month, a source from the Iraqi foreign ministry told Reuters anonymously that the US agreed to waive sanctions and permit Iraq to pay $2.76 billion of its debt to Iran. This information surfaced as the New York Times reported the US and Iran are working on an informal deal to prevent further conflict.
It's unclear if the SCF's demands aim to pressure the US and Iraqi governments to release more funds to Iran, or if this suggests a shift in their previous non-confrontational policy towards the US
The talks reflect a resumption of diplomacy between the United States and Iran after the collapse of negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.
The New York Times
9. July 2023 11:30
Hello and welcome to the Sunday edition of the live blog. Here's what's on the agenda for today:
The PUK and KDP are engaged in a high-level meeting headed by Fazil Mirani, the Secretary of the KDP Politburo, and PUK leader Bafel Talabani. This is the second meeting of this nature in two weeks, though the direction of the negotiations remains unclear.
This meeting follows directly after Bafel oversaw a military parade by the PUK's Counterterrorism Group (CTG) yesterday. The parade prominently displayed weapons, equipment, and the CTG's controversial leader Wahab Halabjay.
After making sweeping changes to the security apparatus, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani met with Parliament Speaker Mohamed Al-Halbusi yesterday. According to a readout from the meeting, the speaker affirmed his full support for the government's changes to the security and administrative leadership. These changes fall within the framework of the government's vision of comprehensive administrative reform. Today, the PM is meeting with a number of these new security leaders in Anbar.