Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani en route to Syria

Live: Sudani in official visit to Syria

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The President of the Diwan of Council of Ministers, Umed Sabah Othman, addressed key questions on budget implementation in a press conference. Othman confirmed the formation of a high-level joint committee by the KRG and the federal government for this purpose. 

Kurdistan's team will include members from the Diwan of Council of Ministers, the head of the Department of Coordination and Follow-Up, and general managers from the finance and natural resources ministries, among others.

According to Othman, Iraq's team was assembled two days prior by an order from the Iraqi Prime Minister. The PM's office will head the team, which comprises members from the finance and oil ministries and representatives of the Board of Supreme Audit.

Othman indicated this committee will oversee the implementation of the budget agreement between the two sides. Their first meeting is slated for 10AM tomorrow at the Iraqi PM's office.

Despite some reservations, the KRG team is prepared to fulfill all obligations under the budget, Othman noted. The team has readied its financial and oil "files" to present in Baghdad and assert its share of the budget. He revealed that KRG has "comments" on several budget stipulations and is pursuing a lawsuit against certain clauses in the FSC, specifically mentioning issues with "eight to nine clauses" of the budget.

Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi met with heads of parliamentary blocs this afternoon, his media office confirmed.

They discussed the agenda for the upcoming legislative term, as well as the laws under consideration by the standing committees.

Tensions have reportedly arisen within the SCF over the distribution of security-related government positions, according to media sources. 

As laws pertaining to the country's National Intelligence Agency and anti-terrorism measures are set to be discussed in tomorrow's Parliamentary session, some suggest that Halbousi's meeting was an attempt to mediate disagreements and ensure a smooth proceeding.

کۆبوونەوەی سەرۆکایەتی ئەنجومەنی نوێنەران و سەرۆکی فراکسیۆنەکان بەرێوەچوو محەمەد حەلبوسی سەرۆکی ئەنجومەنی نوێنەران، ئەمرۆ یەکشەممە، کۆبونەوەیەکی لەگەڵ سەرۆکی فراکسیۆنەکان ئەنجامدا. لە کۆبوونەوەکە گفتوگۆ کرا سەبارەت بە خشتەی کاری دانیشتنەکانی ئەنجومەن بۆ وەرزی یاسادانانی نوێ، و ئەو یاسایانە رەوانەی لیژنە هەمیشەییەکان کراوە بەمەبەستی دەرکردنیان. هەر لە کۆبونەوەکە گفتوگۆ سەبارەت بە چەند پرسێکی تابەت بە کارەکانی ئەمجومەنی نوێنەران کرا و تەئکید کرایەوە لەسەر پتەوکردنی رۆڵی چاودێری ئەنجومەن و لیژنەکانی. ====== نوسینگەی ڕاگەیاندنی سەرۆکی ئەنجومەنی نوێنەران 16 تەموز 2023 Parliament Presidency meeting with heads of parliamentary blocs The Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halboosi held, on Sunday, an expanded meeting with the heads of parliamentary blocs. The meeting discussed the topics and the agenda of the Parliament's sessions for the new legislative term, and the laws that the permanent committees have to work on approving them. The meeting also discussed a number of issues related to the work of the Parliament…

PUK lawsuit against Kurdistan electoral commission dismissed

The Federal Supreme Court (FSC) of Iraq has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Ziyad Jabar Muhammad, the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) caucus in the Iraqi Parliament.

The suit called for the court to deem the current Kurdistan Election Commission Board illegitimate, arguing that the mandates of all its members have expired. However, the FSC ruled that the lawsuit falls outside its purview as per Article 93 of the constitution.

The PUK's intentions behind this move remain unclear, as the current Election Commission will not supervise the upcoming Kurdistan election, and the PUK is not underrepresented in its composition. Some speculate that the PUK may have intended to further delay the elections, using the lawsuit as a stalling tactic, but this remains conjecture at this stage.

Britain's Foreign Office releases its annual report on human rights

The British government's Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office has released its annual Human Rights and Democracy report.

The section dedicated to Iraq opens by noting the precarious conditions of human rights in the region: "The human rights situation in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) remained concerning. The protracted government formation process, following elections in October 2021, hindered progress significantly. Civil society space and freedom of expression was constrained. Armed groups continued to operate with impunity, and targeted killings and intimidation of political activists persisted."

The report went on to note the limited space for journalism and reporting in the country: "The space for independent journalism and human rights defenders remained limited. Freedom of expression was inhibited by the use of intimidation and prosecution, including for social media activity." And particularly regarding Kurdistan, it notes that "journalists were arrested and detained without warrants, including ahead of planned protests in August."

The Iraqi justice system is next, and the report isn't very kind, "there are reports of widespread use of torture, including to extract forced confessions, and a consistent lack of respect for the conditions of a fair trial and procedural safeguards in the KRI and Federal Iraq."

Last but not least, the report touches on minority rights in the country stating, "Iraq’s religious and ethnic minority populations have significantly declined since 2003 due to exclusion, sectarianism and conflict, and many continued to face extreme challenges." though noting some limited progress has been made.
Prime Minister Sudani met briefly with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus to discuss relations between the two countries. Following their meeting, a joint press conference was held.

Assad began by welcoming Sudani, recounting the historical, cultural and ethnic ties shared by Iraq and Syria. He then thanked the Iraqi government and its people for their support during a decade of war, which he described as "Syria being aggressed upon." He said, "Iraq has been a voice for Syria during this period in Arab, regional, and international arenas rejecting the aggression against Syria." Assad also expressed gratitude to the Iraqi armed forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces for their victories alongside the Syrian Arab army.

Sudani, in turn, thanked al-Assad for the invitation. He underscored the cultural, economic and societal ties that bind Syria and Iraq and called for increased cooperation and coordination to address common challenges. He stated, "the Iraqi government supports the unity of the Syrian state and the control of the Syrian government over all of its land." Sudani then shifted focus to Iraq's priorities, such as combating terrorism, drug trafficking, and addressing the issue of Iraqi refugees still residing in Syrian camps.

After the meeting, the Iraqi government's media office published a summary of Sudani's speech, highlighting the key topics discussed.
In a televised statement, Qais Al-Khazali, leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), lauded Sadiq Al-Sadr and his legacy, pledging to uphold his path. This is likely an attempt to defuse tension with the Sadrists. 
Despite significant disagreements and armed conflicts with Muqtada Sadr, Khazali typically publicly expresses admiration for Sadr's father, given his religious influence and popularity among devout Shiites.
الشيخ الخزعلي يذكر بمناقب السيد الشهيد محمد محمد صادق الصدر
Hassan Al-Azari, leader of the now-defunct Sadrist bloc in parliament, alleged yesterday that parties associated with the Shiite Coordination Framework are waging a coordinated campaign to tarnish the reputation of Mohammad Sadiq Al-Sadr, Muqtada's father, by associating him with the Ba'athist regime.

Azari further asserted that if these parties are not directly involved in the campaign, they should spearhead a law criminalizing insults to Sadiq al-Sadr in Iraq. Soon after, Sadrist supporters launched attacks on several Da'wa party headquarters across various Iraqi provinces, effectively closing them down.

This incident is the latest in an ongoing rivalry between the Sadrists and factions within the Shiite Coordination Framework, a conflict that rears its head frequently. Analyst Tamer Badawi pointed out that just a week ago, clashes erupted in Basrah between Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) and Sadr's militia, Saraya al Salam. Often, these tribal and financial disputes can escalate into violent confrontations between rival political parties, although the violence tends to be contained within areas of Iraq where these parties have established deep tribal connections.

Kurdistan students to get two-day weekend from next year

In a press conference, the Kurdistan Region's Education Minister Alan Hama Saeed announced that, starting next year, public education attendance will be reduced from six to five days a week. Students will now have both Friday and Saturday off.

This is a significant change to Kurdistan's education system, where many schools still operate two to three shifts in classrooms designed to accommodate 30 to 50 people due to the limited number of available schools.

This policy will significantly cut students' time in school, in a system that many experts already criticize as being substandard. According to the World Bank's Human Capital Project, Iraq has one of the lowest scores on the Human Capital Index. This index measures a country's success in developing its people's knowledge, skills, and health - all considered essential aspects of 'human capital'. The data indicates that students in Iraq score considerably lower on standardized tests than their peers in neighboring countries.

Sudani welcomed at Assad's presidential palace

The Iraqi PM has arrived in Damascus. The visit caps off a flurry of diplomatic activity for Syria's beleaguered president this year after his brutal actions in Syria's civil war led to diplomatic isolation for the best part of a decade. 

Kurdistan Region PM makes rare concession to protestors

Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani addressed the people of Kifri, a town at the southernmost tip of Kurdistan, in a tweet, stating, "Dearest citizens of Kifri, Greetings. I am aware of your demands, and I have decided to form a special committee comprising representatives from the Office of the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Interior, and the Garmiyan Autonomous Administration to attend to your needs promptly. Rest assured that we will do everything in our power to serve you, and I will stand by you with a Garmian spirit."

Citizens of Kifri have been protesting poor services for several days, with these demonstrations receiving extensive coverage from media outlets close to Masrour Barzani.

Although this statement might seem benign on the surface, it is indeed unprecedented. It is extraordinarily rare for Masrour to directly address protests (especially this congenially).

Furthermore, this move represents a direct challenge to Bafel's authority in Garmiyan, an area regarded as the heart of PUK's support. This statement is likely to elicit a response from Bafel, either directly or indirectly, through the PUK.
PUK MP Dilan Ghafoor has issued a statement strongly opposing changes made to the personnel of the North Oil Company, a state-owned entity tasked with extracting and transporting crude oil from the oil-rich and ethnically diverse province of Kirkuk.

"The Deputy General Manager of the NOC, who is facing parliamentary recommendations for dismissal due to legal violations, replaced seven department directors [in the NOC] without considering the demographics of the governorate, and did not assign a single director position to the Kurds," she stated.

"We reject these changes, and we will leverage all parliamentary and civil resources, including organizing large demonstrations in front of the North Oil Company building to protest these measures. We will not permit the rights of the Kurdish component or any other group to be violated," she continued.

The PUK, which had military control over the province and managed most of NOC's oil fields in early 2017, has increasingly lost influence in the city following the withdrawal of Peshmerga forces in 2017. Several attempts to regain some of its influence have largely been unsuccessful so far. The reason behind these recent changes in the NOC remains unclear.

The Iraqi parliament has published the agenda for tomorrow's sitting

Four draft laws to have their first reading:

  1. The first reading of the draft National Intelligence Agency Law (Security and Defense Committee), comprising 22 articles.
  2. The first reading of the draft Anti-terrorism Law (Security and Defense Committee, Human Rights Committee), consisting of 22 articles.
  3. The first reading of the draft Army Aviation College Law (Security and Defense Committee), composed of 27 articles.
  4. The first reading of the draft law ratifying an agreement exempting holders of diplomatic, service, and private passports from entry visas between the governments of the Republic of Iraq and the Government of the Russian Federation (Foreign Relations Committee), made up of 2 articles.

Following the passage of the controversial draft law, the Iraqi parliament has become increasingly active. No full texts of the draft laws have been published as far as we can see. We'll post an update if that changes.

Morning briefing

Good morning! We have lots of news stories for you today:

  • Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani has left Iraq on an official visit to Syria, as per his media office. He is reportedly scheduled to meet the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
  • Disputes between Maliki and Sadr have erupted again, it seems, with reports of Sadrist supporters storming Dawa party offices. Al Shafaq News Agency reports that a rocket has hit the Dawa Party headquarters in Najaf following accusations that they've slandered Muqtada Sadr's father, Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr, made by leading figures of the Sadrist movement.
  • The Turkish bombardment of the Biradost region in Kurdistan continues for a second day, according to local media reports. Speaking to Rudaw, a local subdistrict governor claims that a child has been lightly injured due to the strikes.