Live: ‘Technical difficulties’ blamed for Iranian gas import halt

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Braving the sweltering heat, dozens of protestors filled the streets of Basra today, calling for the evacuation of the presidential palaces currently occupied by pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) fighters, according to Sumaria News website.

Security forces have been deployed, and multiple roads leading to the presidential complex in the central Al-Baradiyah area of Basra have been blocked off. The city has three palaces; the PMF uses two, and the third was converted into a museum in 2016. Just last month, a sound bomb targeted one of the palaces, though it didn't cause any damage.

Over 100 opulent palaces were built by former dictator Saddam Hussein throughout the country. While some are still in use, others remain in ruin.
Baghdad has released its estimated population, which is reported at 43.324 million, according to the Ministry of Planning.

The Ministry is making preparations for a nationwide population census next year, marking the first official nationwide one in over 35 years. The Ministry stated that the growth rate is currently at 2.5%.

The latest demographic data indicates that males make up 50.5% and females 49.5% of Iraq's total population. Forty percent of the population is under the age of 15, while the age group of 15 to 64 years accounts for 75% of the population. Notably, young people, aged 15 to 24, represent 28% of the total population.

The data further reveals that half of the population is densely concentrated in the governorates of Baghdad, Nineveh, Basra, and Dhi Qar. It classifies 70% of the population as urban dwellers, leaving a 30% rural populace.

Pre-trial 'terrorists'

Although it's typical for Iraqi official sites and certain media outlets to brand suspects as "terrorists" or "criminals" prior to any trial, it's surprising that the US-led anti-ISIS coalition forces use the same terminology.
Let's not overlook the fact that the publishing images of these suspects posed as they are below is also dehumanizing.

KDP MP says Turkey softening stance on Kurdish oil exports

Party mouthpiece quotes Sabah Subhi (KDP), a member of the Iraqi parliament's oil and gas committee, stating that Turkey is now open to resuming oil exports from the Kurdistan Region. This comes after recognizing that Iraq can utilize the region's oil for local consumption.

Although this could be wishful thinking from KDP officials, the reality is that both Ankara and Iraq are losing millions of dollars from halted oil exports. The cessation of oil exports, around 450,000 barrels per day since March 25, has cost the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over $2 billion.

Subhi suggests that Turkey has reconsidered its decision to continue halting oil exports from the Kurdistan region. "Regretting this, Turkey is seeking new talks with Iraq to assess a decision to export 485,000 barrels per day from Kurdistan," he said.

Reports indicate that President Erdogan is scheduled to visit Baghdad and Erbil later this month, where he will discuss bilateral issues, including energy matters.

Subhi asserts that this reevaluation comes after Turkey acknowledged that Iraq could use this oil for domestic needs within its budget framework. However, he notes that Turkey's reassessment comes with conditions - mainly, the due payment of a $1.5 billion fine by Turkey to Iraq and a second complaint lodged against Ankara in 2018.

He suggests that, as previously rumored, proposals to reroute Kurdistan oil exports to Beji instead of Basra are also under consideration.

Speaking of hot weather

Iraqi man drapes head in wet towel to stave off oppressive heat
Iraqi man drapes head in wet towel to stave off oppressive heat   credit: Hussein Faleh, AFP
According to a report by Shafaq News, Basra, Iraq's southern port city, achieved the dubious distinction of being the "hottest" city worldwide in the past 24 hours, hitting a scorching 49.4 degrees Celsius (121 degrees Fahrenheit), per data from the Placerville station in California.

The station's survey included 15 of the hottest regions around the globe. Trailing closely behind Basra's Al-Hussein region was Algeria's Beksara region, which logged 48.8 degrees Celsius (119.8f).

Al-Qaisuma city in Saudi Arabia ranked third with 48.4 degrees (119.1f), while Algeria's Bouira and Chlef regions capped the top five, registering 48.4 and 48.3 degrees (119.1f and 118.9f) respectively.
After a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Anadolu Agency reporter Ömer Çam asked Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg about PKK activities. In response, Stoltenberg did not mention the PKK, focusing instead on the Islamic State.

Stoltenberg stated, "Nato has for many years played an important role in the fight against terrorism, especially after 9/11. We're part of the global coalition to defeat Daesh, addressing the two main threats Nato is facing: terrorism and Russia.

"Terrorism is addressed in many ways across Nato, and having a coordinator to align these efforts will strengthen our fight against terrorism."

Stoltenberg further elaborated on Nato missions and partnerships, like the training mission in Iraq and partnerships with Jordan, Mauritania, Tunisia, among others, that have been part of the efforts against terrorism. Turkey has advocated for a coordinator position to address counter-terrorism efforts.
Jens Stoltenberg
Jens Stoltenberg   credit: Nato

US to proceed with F-16 jet deliveries to Turkey as roadblocks to Sweden's Nato bid eased

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has confirmed that the US is ready to deliver F-16 fighter jets to Turkey pending congressional consultations, according to Reuters. This development comes as Turkey agrees to finally grant Sweden its blessing for Nato membership.

The delivery of these jets could impact Turkey's Kurdish rebel group, the PKK, and its Syrian affiliates, often targeted by this aircraft model. Turkish warplanes have recently conducted strikes near the Turkey-Kurdistan Region border.

Turkey's resistance to Sweden's Nato bid seemed to soften in October 2021 when it showed interest in buying $20 billion worth of F-16 fighters and modernization kits from Lockheed Martin Corp.

Before a Nato leaders summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sullivan said President Joe Biden supports the transfer, with "no caveats." However, Sullivan didn't provide a timeline for the transaction.

US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, who previously blocked the transfer, stated he's in talks with the Biden administration about his hold and might endorse the transfer "in the next week." The shift suggests a potential trade-off, with the U.S. approving F-16 transfers to Turkey in exchange for Turkey's approval of Sweden's Nato membership.
Washington will move ahead with the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in consultation with Congress, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday, a day after Ankara gave the green light for Sweden to join NATO.
Iranian commander sets deadline for disarming Iranian-Kurdish opposition in Iraq

Iran's Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, warned that Iran might take direct action against Kurdish opposition groups in Iraq if the Iraqi government doesn't comply with a disarmament agreement, IRIB News Agency reported.

According to the agreement, Iraq must disarm these 'separatist' groups by Shahrivar, the last month of the Iranian summer calendar (23 August - 22 September). "We are committed to honoring the agreement until then," Baqeri said, warning of intervention if Iraq doesn't fulfill its obligations.

Baqeri made these remarks in Iran's northeastern province of Khorasan Razavi, expressing discontent with "certain neighboring countries" neglecting border security.

While rumors of an ultimatum to Kurdish groups from Tehran have circulated, this marks the first time an official has provided a precise deadline. Tehran has been pressuring these groups since anti-government protests sparked last year after a 22-year-old woman, Jina [Mahsa] Amini, died in police custody for allegedly breaching strict Islamic dress codes.
رئیس ستادکل نیروهای مسلح گفت: اگر دولت عراق تا شهریورماه به تعهداتش در مورد گروهک‌های تروریستی در شمال عراق عمل نکند و این‌ها مسلح باقی بمانند، عملیات علیه این گروهک‌ها را با شدت بیشتری تکرار می‌کنیم.
خبرگزاری صدا و سیما | IRIB NEWS AGENCY

Was he following the same meeting?

KDP spokesperson Mahmoud Mohammed told Kurdistan 24 that Sunday's meeting with the was "constructive" and "blunt."

Well, not sure about constructive but it was certainly blunt. 

He said discussions centered on bridging differences to resolve outstanding issues, suggesting the meeting was positive. Mohammed also hinted at future meetings, acknowledging the need to rebuild trust.

Yet, the PUK leader Bafel Talabani's brief media statement post-meeting painted a different picture. His visible frustration and threats of worsening relations seem to imply a far less productive meeting. As the highly-anticipated meeting was ongoing, a lower-ranked KDP official was on TV arguing that the PUK needed to operate with more understanding of its reduced leverage and power compared to past eras. This did not go down well when filtering into the politburo meeting.

Talabani was furious as he exited the meeting, telling the assembled local media that "the PUK is power," before swiftly leaving the scene without fielding questions. The KDP's Fazil Mirani was next out of the building, in damage control mode. His first move was to play down the remarks and insist they don't represent KDP policy. 

This discrepancy in tone might be an attempt by the KDP spokesperson to control the fallout from the remarks by KDP member Salar Osman.

Despite Mohammed's optimistic outlook, recent meetings between the two ruling parties haven't eased tensions, following disagreements over the Iraqi budget law. A third meeting is anticipated, though the date remains unconfirmed.

See our live blog posts covering the meeting over the weekend below:

Kurdistan Region's population to pass 6.5 million: Stats office

As the UN marks World Population Day on July 11, the Statistics Office of the Kurdistan Region estimates its population to exceed 6.556 million by the year's end. The population, split almost evenly between males and females, is predominantly urban (78%).

The Kurdistan Region's population growth rate is a sustainable 2%, slightly below Iraq's total growth of 2.2% in 2022.

The region hosted around 694,491 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 2022, mostly in Duhok province, followed by Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. The number of IDPs is down by 5.3% from last year as returns home continue, albeit slowly due to ongoing security concerns.

This year's World Population Day theme is gender equality, but the Statistics Office didn't provide any gender-related data. Efforts to address gender issues have met resistance in the region, with Sulaymaniyah's provincial council recently banning "gender" activities as harmful to families and youth.

A local court in Sulaymaniyah also revoked the license of an organization defending women's and LGBTQ+ rights.

KRG investment board extols sustainable energy projects

More snazzy videos from the KRG's various bodies and boards.

This time, the Board of Investment has some spectacular drone shots of projects exploiting Kurdistan's bountiful "sunlight, wind and water" to drive its transition to renewable energy. 
Projects in the pipeline include solar power plans in Duhok, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Garmiyan.

There are also plans to build river hydropower projects in all Kurdistan Region provinces to harness power from the five rivers that cross Kurdistan Region territory.

the investment board pledges 'full support' to international firms looking to invest in Kurdistan's renewable energy sector.

Iran accuses Iraqi-born Quran burner of 'Mossad ties', provides no evidence

Iran's Intelligence Ministry accuses Salwan Momika, an Iraqi-born individual, of desecrating a Quran in Sweden and having ties to Israel's Mossad. Iran alleges that Momika joined Mossad in 2019. Tehran claims Momika spied on resistance movements and contributed to Iraq's fragmentation. According to Iran, the 37-year-old was granted Swedish residency as a reward for his alleged betrayal of Iraq and Islam. The Ministry insists Momika burned the Quran to distract from Israeli actions in the West Bank, specifically Jenin.

The Ministry provided no evidence to support these outlandish claims. Iran often launches dubious, anti-Semitic accusations against Israel for global events. This latest allegation, conveniently for Iran, links two subjects Iran is currently protesting.

Momika's actions in Stockholm have led to protests in Muslim countries like Iraq and Pakistan.

Sudani convenes emergency meetings over electricity crisis

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani is likely sensing public unease, keen to communicate that his cabinet is addressing the power issues head-on. Widespread electricity shortages have triggered numerous protests throughout Iraq, and media outlets are already publishing reports on the situation. Sumaria News interviewed Iraqi citizens who claim the heat is becoming intolerable: "It's frightening. Children can't withstand such heat, and look at the streets; they're empty," one man states.

On Monday, Sudani held an emergency meeting with officials from the ministries of electricity and oil to evaluate the state of electricity production and suggest solutions for the emergency crisis affecting the national grid.

A statement from the Prime Minister's office attempted to reassure the public that the premier is doing everything within his power to address the issue. "The meeting involved a review of the steps taken to find immediate and effective solutions to the crisis caused by the interruption of imported Iranian gas," the statement read.

The government, since taking office, has identified the root causes of the electricity crisis and has been working on solutions at three levels: immediate, mid-term, and long-term. Immediate solutions include completing maintenance projects, power plant construction, cooling system activation, and the implementation of projects aimed at alleviating power distribution bottlenecks.

Sudani emphasized that government measures had led to a record level of electricity production in the country, reaching 26,000 megawatts. However, this production's stability hinges on the continued supply of Iranian gas. He noted that US sanctions and failure to adhere to the agreed gas payment mechanism of 2018 have resulted in a reduction of Iranian gas supplies by more than half, which adversely affects the national production system.

The prime minister also stressed that the government is moving forward with its mid-term plans, which include implementing contracts with TotalEnergies and beginning contracts from the fifth licencing round. These actions will help give Iraq alternatives to imported gas.

Sudani instructed a swift implementation of alternative solutions and explored the idea of providing fuel to domestic generators for free or at minimal cost. Meanwhile, efforts to import gas from Turkmenistan and Qatar will continue.

He directed the Ministry of Oil to finalize the remaining licenses for the fifth round, work with international companies to develop energy fields, and emphasized the need for the Ministry of Electricity to expedite investment in power stations and production. He advocated for urgent work on solar energy generation projects.

While these plans seem promising, Iraqis' immediate concern is surviving the summer as temperatures soar to a record 50 degrees Celsius.

Technical Reasons for Decline in Iranian Gas Export to Iraq - Tehran

Most Iraqis cannot recall a time when their country had a steady power supply. Electricity is inconsistent, and although residents have adapted to these fluctuations, few solutions exist during the blistering summer months of July and August. That's why the issue of Iranian gas exports, which Iraq heavily relies on for producing electricity, has become such a contentious topic.

Mohammad Reza Jolayee, Director of the Distribution Network at the National Iranian Gas Company, denies reports that Tehran has stopped gas exports to Iraq. However, he acknowledges there has been a decrease in volume due to technical reasons.

Jolayee attributes the recent disruptions in Iran's gas network, leading to a decrease in exports to neighboring Iraq, to the extreme heatwaves in southern and southwestern Iran, according to Iranian Tasnim Agency reports.

Iraq's Ministry of Electricity confirms a reduction in the volume of gas received from Tehran, decreasing from 45 million cubic meters to 20 million cubic meters. This is not the first instance of Tehran reducing its gas transfers to Iraq. Such reductions occur either due to technical issues or when payments fail to reach Iranian banks because of U.S. sanctions.

Baghdad asserts that all overdue payments to Iran, amounting to roughly $11 billion, have been deposited. However, it remains unclear whether Tehran has received these payments, as all transactions must receive approval from Washington to clear the account.

Despite the decrease in exports, Jolayee insists the overall numbers remain strong. "Last month, the average daily gas exports to Iraq were 30 million cubic meters. This month, that figure has dropped to 21 million cubic meters," Jolayee explains.

UN warns of severe heat threat to Iraq's marshlands

The United Nations warned on Monday that southern Iraq's renowned marshland is undergoing its most severe heatwave in 40 years, resulting in a significant decrease in water levels.

Iraq, predominantly arid and ranking among the top five nations most affected by certain impacts of climate change per UN figures, is reportedly experiencing its fourth consecutive year of drought, according to local authorities.

The country grapples with harsh summer heat, frequent dust storms, decreased rainfall, and diminished flow of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers due to upstream dams.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) expressed deep concern in a statement about the serious implications of climate change and water scarcity on the marshes and buffalo breeders in southern Iraq.

The FAO cited alarming field reports from its personnel working in collaboration with the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture. These reports indicate that the marshes are enduring the worst heatwave in four decades, coinciding with an abrupt water shortage in the Euphrates river.

This critical situation is wreaking havoc on the marshes ecosystem, buffalo breeders, farmers and fishermen, forcing many to abandon the region.

In Chibayish, located in Dhi Qar province, the Euphrates' water level is a mere 56 centimeters (22 inches), and marshes have water levels ranging from zero to 30 centimeters. The FAO highlights high salinity levels exceeding 6,000 parts per million that are causing alarm among farmers, particularly buffalo breeders and fishermen.

Citing official data, the statement notes that nearly 70% of the marshes are devoid of water.

In a stark display of the issue, thousands of fish were found dead on the banks of the Amshan river in Majar al-Kabir, a Maysan province located near the Iran border. This region is celebrated for its marshland, nourished by the Tigris river.

Environmental activist Ahmed Saleh Neema attributes the issue to a temperature rise causing increased evaporation and reduced water flow, leading to oxygen scarcity and high salinity levels in the river.


Morning briefing

Good morning from London. Here's a snapshot of today's main stories:

  • Iran attributes its decrease in gas exports to Iraq to technical difficulties, amid rumours of a complete halt. The sudden drop has stirred a crisis in Iraq's power sector, prompting the Premier to convene an emergency meeting with officials from the Ministry of Electricity yesterday.
  • The Statistics Office of the Kurdistan Region estimates the region's population to reach over 6.5 million by year's end. Approximately 700,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) resided in the KRI as of 2022, according to unofficial data. Iraq has not conducted an nationwide official census in over forty years.
  • Turkey has intensified its bombing campaign along the Kurdistan Region border, ostensibly aiming at Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighters. Over the weekend, Turkey reported the loss of two soldiers.
  • Protests in the town of Kifri enter their second day, with residents voicing their frustration over the lack of basic services and job opportunities.