Live: Electoral commission begins updating voter register

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With two forthcoming elections – the Iraqi provincial elections and the Kurdistan Regional Parliamentary elections – the KDP seems to have kick-started its election campaign early. Coinciding with the fourth anniversary of the current cabinet's formation, the KRG has embarked on a media campaign to highlight the government's achievements. Interestingly, all these achievements are being attributed to PM Masrour Barzani, signalling a clear bid for his re-election.

Here is the latest from PM Barzani (who is currently on vacation): "Thank you to everyone who has supported us in our journey towards a stronger and more prosperous Kurdistan over the past four years. I would especially like to express my gratitude to the resilient people of Kurdistan. Rest assured, our pursuit of growth, reform, and prosperity will not cease in the future."
credit: Levi Meir Clancy
With its cooler climate compared to central and southern parts of Iraq, the Kurdistan Region serves as a sought-after destination for visitors from the rest of Iraq who wish to evade the sizzling summer heat.
Hengaw NGO voices deep concerns for the safety of its staff working in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, following the recent detention and threats by Iranian authorities.
Hengaw NGO, established in October 2016 by human rights activists to report on human rights violations in Iran, states that a member of their staff in the Kurdistan Region has been detained and threatened by Iranian authorities.
The Mesopotamian marshes of Iraq, recognized as UNESCO world heritage sites and the ancient home to the Marsh Arab culture, are facing an extreme drought that the United Nations has called the worst in 40 years. 

Mohammed Hamid Nour, a 23-year-old herder, has lost three-quarters of his water buffalo herd due to the increasingly saline water. The drought is attributed to upstream dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Turkey and Syria, as well as escalating temperatures due to climate change. The situation is further worsened by Iraq's poor water management, with the once water-rich marshes, measuring 20,000 square kilometers in the early 1990s, shrinking to a mere 4,000 square kilometers now.

Read the full report here:
Kurdistan 24 has shared a video of Iraqi Prime Minister Sudani and KDP leader Massoud Barzani visiting a tourist site in the Sotan administration.
Deloitte, the global professional services firm, has disclosed audit data for oil production, exports, expenses, and sales in Kurdistan Region for Q1 2023. Interestingly, these figures pertain to the first three months of the year, before oil exports were suspended on March 25, marking the end of the quarter.

According to the firm, the region produced a total of 36,723,475 barrels of oil during this period. Of this, 32,307,382 barrels were exported via the Ceyhan pipeline, while refineries contributed an additional 4,039,232 barrels. Domestic oil sales stood at 376,861 barrels.

Total oil revenue in the Kurdistan Region amounted to $2,199,684,396, with an average oil price of $67.639 per barrel. Revenue from domestic oil and refineries was listed as $22,098,456, with an average price of $58,638 per barrel.

Expenditures for oil in Q1 2023 totaled $1,253,187,254. After accounting for these expenses, the remaining revenue set aside for government salaries was $946,497,142.

As part of its auditing duties for the oil and gas sector in the Kurdistan Region, Deloitte routinely publishes these reports every four months. These reports are part of the transparency initiative of the Kurdistan Regional Government's work program, providing verified data on exports, consumption, expenditures, and oil revenues.

Given the halt in oil transportation via Ceyhan following the favorable ruling for Iraq by the French ICC court in a dispute with Turkey, the next audit is expected to reflect a fraction of these figures.

Breaking: PM Sudani in Kurdistan Region – Rudaw

According to Rudaw, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani and President Massoud Barzani recently held a meeting in Kurdistan as the Iraqi PM makes an unannounced visit to the Kurdistan Region

Barzan Mohammed, the director of the Pank tourism project in Rwandz, informed Rudaw that President Barzani and Sudani toured the tourism project on Thursday. They were accompanied by Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein.

KDP rebukes Bafel Talabani's London talk
The KDP has issued a withering rebuttal In response to PUK leader Bafel Talabani's talk at London's Chatham House yesterday.

The KDP, despite being in coalition with the PUK in Kurdistan's regional government, accuses the latter of exacerbating government issues throughout their time as coalition partners.

Talabani painted a grim picture of the Kurdistan Region in his speech, expressing frustration at the KDP's reluctance to reconcile with his party. He blamed the KDP for the dire state of the PUK-controlled Sulaymaniyah region.

The KDP's spokesperson, Mahmoud Mohammed, rebuked Talabani's comments about Sulaymaniyah, claiming that Talabani "presents the problems without stating the facts." Mohammed asserted that Talabani's party has hindered reconstruction and public service projects, including security and revenue collection.

Additionally, Mohammed argued that the PUK is acting as substitute for the government in regions it has control over security, not allowing the legitimate institutions to function.

When discussing the increasing role of the federal court in resolving inter-party disputes—a question asked by NRT English at the event—Mohammed retorted that Talabani "has forgotten how he introduced the federal government's institutions and the federal court into the process of governing the Kurdistan Region, thereby complicating dispute resolution."

Referencing Talabani's insinuations on KDP intra-party unity, Mohammed countered: "The KDP has one reference point and one position. Whatever is decided will be implemented."

He concluded by repeating that the KDP is committed to resolving problems, fostering a peaceful environment for citizens, promoting unity, and advancing the political process.

Oddly, he criticized Talabani's public airing of Kurdistan's dirty laundry seeing it as 'disregard for Kurdish unity'. 

We will have our report on the talk up soon.

Erbil Christians protest presidential decree

Hundreds of Christians in Erbil are protesting a decision by the Iraqi president to rescind a 2013 decree signed by his predecessor, the late Jalal Talabani, granting official recognition to Patriarch Card Louis Raphael Sako as the head of the Chaldean Church.

Members of the Christian community in Ankawa district of Erbil province were upset by the move. In response, President Abdul Latif Rashid said his decision wasn't specifically aimed at Raphael Sako but was made in relation to two religious figures concurrently. He maintained that renewing the decree lacked a "constitutional or legal basis."

Rashid added, "Presidential Decrees should only be issued for appointments within government institutions, ministries, and presidential offices. Religious institutions are not government agencies."

Despite Rashid's explanation, Christians in Erbil gathered in an unusual protest, expressing strong disapproval of his decision: "We condemn and denounce the step you took, which was perceived as an insult and humiliation of one of our religious symbols, our esteemed Patriarch and Cardinal Mar Louis Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq and globally."

The protest was organized by representatives of political parties and movements from the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syriacs, and Armenians, as well as heads and members of civil society organizations. Ankawa is home to one of Iraq's largest and last remaining Christian communities.

The protesters added that the insult to the leader of Iraq's largest church set a dangerous and unprecedented precedent. They warned it could have negative consequences for the Christian presence in Iraq and the wider region.

According to Asia News, a missionary website, Church assets are at the core of the issue. The site quotes a source saying the president's decision followed a meeting with Rayan al-Kaldani, leader of the Babylon Movement, a US-sanctioned Christian leader backed by pro-Iran Shia militias.

The site alleges that some people are trying to "intervene, dictate, and seize Christian assets." Traditionally, after a papal appointment, the patriarch's office would be officially recognized by a decree from the monarchy or the president, solidifying his role as the head of the Church and protector of its properties. With the rescinded decree, the primate is predicted to lose control over the Church's assets and properties.

A severe traffic accident occurred in the Zakho district of Duhok province, where numerous Yazidi IDPs have been reportedly injured.
Following the death of a Kurdistan Democratic Party-Iran (KDPI) member in Erbil, the party alleges that Kurdish Siamand Shaboi, born in Iran, was "assassinated by hitmen of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

A statement posted on Twitter reveals Shaboi went missing Tuesday, and his body was found the next day in Erbil's Baherka district. KDPI says this is the second such incident this month, with two other party members killed in Sulaymaniyah Province.

Norway-based NGO Hengaw reports Shaboi's body had multiple gunshot wounds. In a tweet, Hengaw suggests that members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its subgroups, including the Saberin unit, entered the Kurdistan Regional Government posing as businessmen, hinting at possible involvement in the deaths of Iranian opposition members.

This follows recent warnings from Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, Iran's Armed Forces Chief of Staff, that Iran may take action against Kurdish opposition groups in Iraq if the Iraqi government doesn't comply with a disarmament agreement by Sept. 22.

The pressure on these groups has increased since anti-government protests began last year, following the death in police custody of a 22-year-old woman, Jina [Mahsa] Amini, who allegedly breached strict Islamic dress codes.

In its statement, the KDPI urges Baghdad and Erbil to prevent such incidents and to stop Iran from using Iraqi territory to pursue its fighters, threatening party members and supporters. The party also calls on the international community to condemn these acts.
The IHEC has announced the start of voter registry updates in the Kurdistan Region. The updates, according to spokesperson Jumana Al-Ghalai, will begin today and continue through Aug. 11. She noted the updates include additions, corrections, deletions and transfers, affecting displaced persons and security forces.

Ghalai also mentioned the commissioners approved transfers within Erbil, Dohuk, and Sulaymaniyah provinces, but transfers to and from the rest of Iraq aren't permitted.

"The commission is working to update the voter registry to include births since 2005," she said, "and to meet international standards, we've agreed to open the voter registry in the Kurdistan Region to protect electoral rights."

Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani issued a formal request for the IHEC to supervise the Kurdistan Parliament legislative elections, slated for year-end. His decree references Regional Order No. 90 from March 26, 2023, which sets the election for Nov. 18, 2023. The decree requested the IHEC prepare to oversee the elections on that date, or with the Iraqi provincial council elections scheduled for Dec. 18, 2023.

Morning briefing

Good morning from London. Today, we're building on yesterday's update about the upcoming parliamentary elections in the Kurdistan Region, scheduled for later this year.

  • Kurdistan voter registry updates: The Iraqi Independent Higher Electoral Commission (IHEC) commences a month-long process to update the voter registry in the Kurdistan Region, allowing for additions, corrections, deletions, and transfers.
  • Assassination of KDPI member: The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI) alleges that one of its members, Siamand Shaboi, was assassinated by Iranian proxies in the Erbil province. 
  • Protests in Erbil over decree repeal: Christians gather in Erbil to protest the Iraqi president's decision to rescind a 2013 decree, which had officially recognised the patriarch as the head of the Chaldean Church. 
  • PUK leader's visit to London: PUK leader Bafel Talabani is in London, engaging in discussions about the political situation in the Kurdistan Region. His stay will continue for a few more days for additional talks and meetings.

We'll be bringing you more on this story and anything else that breaks throughout the day.