Iraq, TotalEnergies signing ceremony
Iraq and TotalEnergies at signing ceremony

Live: Iraq signs huge energy deal with TotalEnergies

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Some tweets from KRG event celebrating four years of the 9th cabinet

PUK members of the appear seem to be conspicuously absent from the event.

Protests in Kifri over basic services

Images from the protest site in Kifri
Images from the protest site in Kifri   credit: NRT Kurdish
Dozens of people are protesting the lack of basic services and job opportunities in the Kifri district of Diyala province, part of the disputed territories under PUK control. NRT Kurdish is providing on-the-ground reporting from the protest site, where demonstrators claim that services aren't reaching their town.

Protesters have set up tents as shelter from the scorching sun, planning to stay overnight until their demands are addressed, according to one demonstrator. The poor services they're protesting include deteriorating road conditions, inadequate school and hospital services, water and electricity shortages, and a lack of job opportunities.

Kurdish journalist and former Rudaw op-ed contributor Rebwar Karim Wali has offered his own appraisal of the Barzani cabinet

  • 'Not only have the cabinet's programs gone unfulfilled, but significant damage inflicted on Kurdistan's infrastructure over the past four years may not be easily repaired.'
  • 'During this time, Kurdistan has split into two administrations, undoing prior efforts to eliminate the legacy of civil war.'
  • 'Having made a single visit  to Sulaymaniyah, public distrust towards him remains high.'
  • 'The KDP abandoned national ambitions to avoid further weakening the ninth cabinet, ultimately surrendering independent oil exports to Baghdad.'
  • 'Even with a rise in oil prices, the government hasn't achieved economic progress, and salary arrears still go unpaid.'
  • 'The KRG's pledge to fight corruption in Kurdistan remains unfulfilled, as alleged corrupt individuals reportedly made peace with the government instead of facing justice.'
  • 'Freedom of expression was suppressed, with numerous journalists and activists arrested and charged with terrorism.'
  • 'From the onset, the cabinet was poised for two administrations, with 51% of it composed of the KDP and its allies to prevent collapse.'
  • 'While the Prime Minister has traveled to various countries multiple times in the last four years, visits by foreign ministers to Kurdistan and domestic capital have decreased.'
  • 'If these policies and methods of governance persist, they could potentially drive Kurdistan to the brink of ruin.'

But apart from all that...
As Masrour Barzani's KRG cabinet marks its fourth anniversary, Rudaw Media Network, reportedly owned by former KRG PM and current president Nechirvan Barzani, has largely stayed quiet about the event.

While the rivalry between Nechirvan and current PM Masrour Barzani, who are cousins, is longstanding, the current turbulence in the Kurdistan Region is exerting additional pressure on both Barzanis.

PM Masrour Barzani, aiming for re-election in upcoming elections championed by his party, needs to demonstrate tangible achievements. He has often indicated that many current challenges, including substantial debts, were legacies from his predecessor's administration. Nechirvan Barzani is also credited with (or blamed for) the Kurdish oil policy, having strong ties with Turkey's Erdogan.

Presently, Rudaw seems to be grappling with a dilemma: report on the region's challenges or overlook the anniversary entirely. For the time being, it appears to have chosen the safer latter option.

In contrast, a significant portion of today's coverage on Kurdistan 24 and Bas News, media outlets allegedly associated with Masrour Barzani, is devoted to the anniversary.

Rudaw has become a lot more critical towards KRG policies and failures of statecraft in recent times, especially as the PM consolidated his grip over the party apparatus to his cousin Nechirvan's detriment. It was once under a de facto ban from many KRG press conferences. Though this restriction was later lifted.  
In the Kurdistan Region, two Turkish soldiers were fatally wounded in an attack perpetrated by the PKK fighters, according to a statement made by Turkey's Ministry of National Defense on Sunday. Infantrymen Hasan Tas and Furkan Gunergok were rushed to the hospital but later died from their injuries.

Turkey's state-owned Anadolu Agency also reported today that Turkish security forces had "neutralized" a high-ranking PKK figure in the Kurdistan Region's Zap area.

According to the report, Ferit Yuksel, dubbed as the PKK's communications officer, was "neutralized" in a cave where he had taken refuge.

The term "neutralize" is often used by Turkish officials to suggest that the individuals involved were either captured, surrendered, or killed. They claim investigations reveal Yuksel was managing communications within the region.

Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanani fervently denied claims of Russia-facilitated negotiations for a prisoner exchange with Israel, as reported by the official IRNA news agency. During a regular press briefing, Kanani dismissed these claims as mere distractions stirred up by the "Zionist media."

The rebuttal appears to be a response to Israeli media reports, which sourced information from London-based daily Asharq al-Awsat. These reports alleged that Russia was mediating discussions following the supposed abduction of an Israeli-Russian researcher, Elizabeth Tsurkov, by Iranian affiliates in Iraq. 

This incident allegedly occurred after an operation by Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence agency, on June 29. During this operation, Mossad purportedly detained and interrogated a figure believed to be the mastermind behind a plot to murder Israelis in Cyprus.
The British Daily Mirror reports that a new group of British trainers is set to travel to Iraq in the coming weeks to aid in the training of Iraqi commandos in the fight against IS fighters. 

The UK's counter-terror forces are joining the effort to train local commandos, complementing US assistance as part of the global coalition forces against IS. The British Ministry of Defence could not confirm nor deny the report. 

The Mirror notes that the British forces were invited to aid Iraq’s elite “Golden Division” in combatting a resurging IS network.

General Abdul Wahab Al-Saadi, head of the Iraq Counter Terror Service, indicates that a new team of British counter-terror experts is planning the trip to aid with training. 

Despite Iraq's declaration of victory over IS in 2017, sporadic attacks on civilians and military personnel persist, particularly in the disputed territories of Kirkuk, Salahadina, and Diyala provinces.

Snazzy video by the KRG's media team highlights some of their wins 

Big focus on infrastructure projects like Erbil's huge new ring road and Duhok's mountainside cable car.

High-end medical facilities and agriculture also featured.  

PM meets TotalEnergies boss in Baghdad – Full readout

The Prime Minister, Mr Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, received today, Monday, the CEO of the French TotalEnergies Group, Mr Patrick Pouyanne. 

During the meeting, they discussed aspects of cooperation within the recently concluded contract between Iraq and TotalEnergies Company.

His Excellency blessed the commencement of the implementation steps on the ground, and stressed that the government has made great strides in commitments and reaching this stage. He indicated that the contract with the company and the fifth licensing round fall within the strategic vision to invest in gas, an area where Iraq was late to start investing.

His Excellency renewed the government's orientation towards concluding serious partnerships with major companies regarding investing in natural resources, particularly benefiting from associated gas.

For his part, Mr Pouyanne indicated his company's direction towards broad cooperation with Iraq, expressing confidence in partnership in the fields of energy, and investing in promising and ambitious sectors in this field. He stressed that the company's technical teams would begin their work on site within days.

Snap analysis: four years under PM Masrour Barzani

Today, the KRG marks four years under PM Masrour Barzani's leadership. Barzani's first venture into public leadership from an intelligence background has seen mixed results. While the Kurdistan Region should be commended for launching initiatives like the e-Visa portal, Digital Payment Transformation Program, and various infrastructure projects, it struggled with political and economic setbacks, including ongoing tensions with Baghdad.

Significantly, the KRG saw hopes for oil independence fade as it ceded control over its energy sector following the ICC verdict in March. This ruling resulted in the suspension of Kurdistan oil exports via Turkey, a crucial aspect of the KRI's oil independence ambitions and its economic lifeline.

Former NRT English editor Winthrop Rodgers' portrayal of the Kurdistan Region as a precarious "House of Cards" hit a nerve with the administration, which grew increasingly self-conscious about criticism, especially on the global stage. The once promising beacon of democracy for Iraq is now teetering under partisan divisions, violations against free expression, and crumbling institutions. This is highlighted by the Kurdistan parliament's dissolution following a federal court ruling. The region is facing its toughest time since the 1990s' civil war.

The region’s political institutions are driven by partisan divisions and leaders who regularly deny citizens freedom of expression

Winthrop Rodgers

Barzani's tenure has also seen relations between the KDP and PUK hit a multi-year low. The PM's lack of engagement with Sulaymaniyah, a PUK-controlled region, and the breakdown in his professional relationship with Deputy PM Qubad Talabani (PUK), have exacerbated this. Such tensions have can be linked to an increase in gun violence and hints of dual administrations and parallel government.

Relations with Baghdad have also suffered, with intra-Kurdish disputes exacerbating the issue. However, Masrour Barzani has been more successful in fostering good relations with the latest Iraqi PM, Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani. Though this warming in relations comes under the shadow of Kurdistan's diminished stature within Iraq's balance of power. The passing of the Iraqi federal budget underlined the shift in power dynamics, with Erbil losing significant control over its economy and administration.

Freedom of speech has seen a decline, and there has been an rise in religious extremism and deterioration in human rights, especially of sexual minorities. While several factors contribute to the current situation, the existing KRG cabinet shares some responsibility.

Furthermore, the KRG has largely failed to fulfill promises to combat corruption, diversify the economy, and bolster the private sector. The result: young people are still emigrating in large numbers, disillusioned by the Region's economy.

Lastly, Arab Gulf States Institute analyst Yerevan Saeed suggests that Kurdish parties' failure to concentrate on governance and development has negatively impacted the Region's capacity to build strong institutions and its national and international standing.

More details on the deal as reported by Reuters

  • The deal between Iraq and TotalEnergies, originally signed in 2021, was delayed due to disputes among Iraqi politicians.
  • Iraq has agreed to a smaller stake in the project (30%) than initially demanded in order to push the deal through.
  • TotalEnergies will hold a 45% stake, with QatarEnergy possessing the remaining 25%.
  • The $27 billion investment targets four projects aimed at enhancing Iraq's oil production and energy production capacity.
  • A significant portion of the project investment, $10 billion, will be allocated within the next four years.
  • The project includes a plan to recover flared gas from three oilfields to power plants, thus reducing Iraq's import expenditure. 
  • TotalEnergies plans to develop a 1 GW solar power plant to provide electricity to the Basra regional grid, in collaboration with Saudi company ACWA Power.
  • The project includes a treatment plant that allows Iraq to utilize seawater instead of limited freshwater in oil production.
  • This agreement is expected to attract further foreign investment into Iraq's energy sector.
  • The deal also plans to increase oil production at Basra's Ratawi field to 120,000 barrels per day within two years, and then to 210,000 barrels per day within four years.

Speaking of Kurdish oil...

Rudaw reports that 150,000 barrels of the approximately 450,000 Kurdistan usually exports have been rerouted to federal Iraqi refineries for domestic consumption.

Citing Iraqi oil ministry officials, the Nechirvan Barzani-linked outlet says the Kirkuk oil is also once again being exported via Basra rather than Turkey's Ceyhan.

Turkey closed its doors to Iraqi Kurdish oil exports after an arbitration ruling that deemed it liable for damages to Iraq after facilitating Kurdistan's independent energy policy.

The Iraqi oil minister says negotiations with Turkey are still ongoing after his government and the KRG came to an agreement on how to handle Kurdistan's oil output. 

Breaking news coming in from Kurdistan 24 regarding Erdogan's visit to Iraq and the Kurdistan Region

Although we knew that Erdogan would be visiting Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, K24, an outlet close to KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani has indicated that they will discuss oil-related issues.

Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani had a meeting with Erdogan last month in Ankara aimed at unblocking Kurdish oil exports via Turkey's Ceyhan port. 

Here's why Iraq is eager to rebuild its worn-out power infrastructure

Rumors are circulating that Tehran has once again halted its gas exports to Iraq. However, reports suggesting a permanent stop in Tehran's gas exports are being dismissed by Iraq's Ministry of Electricity.

Still, the ministry acknowledges a reduction in the quantity of gas received from Tehran, declining from 45 million cubic meters to 20 million cubic meters. Tehran has either stopped or cut back its gas transfers to Iraq for various reasons, including technical issues and ensuring payment compliance.

Yesterday, the Coordination Framework — a coalition of Iran-affiliated Shiite parties that hold significant sway in Iraq's parliament — urged the government to implore the U.S. to immediately release unpaid bills associated with Iranian gas imports. According to electricity ministry spokesperson Ahmed Moussa, Iraq has deposited all payments for Iranian energy imports in an account at the Trade Bank of Iraq, amounting to around $11 billion.

However, all payments must secure approval from Washington to clear the account.

The pro-Iran coalition condemned frequent power outages across much of the country during the hot summer months, when temperatures regularly reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). Baghdad added that discussions with Iran are ongoing to secure the agreed-upon gas quantity.
شفق نيوز/ نفت وزارة الكهرباء العراقية، يوم الاثنين، الانباء التي تحدثت عن إيقاف إيران تصدير الغاز للعراق بشكل نهائي دون إشعار مسبق. وقال المتحدث باسم الوزارة أحمد العبادي، لوكالة شفق نيوز، ان "الان
وزارة الكهرباء تكشف حقيقة إيقاف إيران تصدير الغاز للعراق بشكل نهائي - شفق نيوز
In other news: The British Embassy is looking for plumbers in Baghdad

Seems like it's all about the pipes today, whether in energy or plumbing.
During the contract signing ceremony, Oil Minister Hayan Abdul Ghani highlighted the significance of the projects. As reported by the semi-official Iraqi News Agency (INA), he detailed that the first project involves using seawater for reservoir support. This economically viable project aims to provide seawater to maintain pressure in various oil fields.

The second project, he explained, capitalizes on associated gas with a capacity of 600 million cubic feet per day, divided into two phases of 300 cubic meters each.

The third initiative focuses on the development of the Artawi oil field and plans to boost production from this field to more than 210,000 barrels of oil per day.

Abdul Ghani referred to the fourth contract project as an "important addition to the renewable energy sector in Iraq." This venture will exploit solar energy, providing a capacity of one gigawatt, or 1,000 megawatts. He hailed it as one of the largest energy consolidation projects in the region and a genuine kick-start for renewable energy investment in Iraq.

French embassy hails Iraq's 'biggest' foreign investment yet 

The French Embassy in Baghdad, via Twitter, heralded the signing of a $27 billion deal for oil, gas and renewable energy projects in southern Iraq as "the largest foreign investment in Iraq." Negotiations for this deal have been ongoing for years; the initial agreement was signed in 2021 with an upfront investment of $10 billion, promising additional funds over 25 years.

The projects aim to bolster Iraq's power production capacities by tapping into oil, gas and renewable resources. This represents a significant step forward for the cabinet of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, who has pledged to address the country's chronic power shortage issues.

Despite being OPEC's second-largest oil producer and possessing some of the world's largest oil and gas reserves, Iraq relies on Iran for a third of its gas and electricity needs. This reliance exerts pressure not only from Iran, but also from the US, which has imposed sanctions against Iranian exports.

The US often issues sanctions exemptions to Iraq so that it can pay dues to Iran and prevent power cuts.

Morning briefing

Good morning to all. Here's what we are monitoring today:

  • TotalEnergies and Iraq have signed a long-awaited $27 billion mega-project energy agreement, involving oil, gas, and renewable projects.
  • Relations between the PUK and KDP are once again strained following yesterday's high-level meeting that failed to reach a consensus. The lack of a breakthrough in tensions between the two parties is further undermining the already weakened position of the Kurdistan Region. With Erbil left without a legislature, the prospects of holding elections this year are close to zero, and the suspension of KRI oil exports has depleted most of the region's revenues. There couldn't be a worse time for a stalemate between the two parties.
  • Turkey has announced the death of two of its soldiers in the Kurdistan Region.