Burned out SCF offices in Najaf

Live: SCF offices attacked in Najaf; Kurdish parties in election scramble

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KRG addresses protestor demands by upgrading Kifri council 

The KRG has met one of the demands of Kifri protestors, following Prime Minister Barzani's commitment to address their grievances. Newly-appointed KRG spokesperson Peshawa Hawrami announced that the prime minister agreed to elevate the status of the Kifri council.

A decree dated July 17, as reported by Kurdistan 24, indicates Barzani's agreement to upgrade Kifri from a second-tier council to a first-tier. This advancement would grant the council head of the PUK-controlled town, located in the disputed territories, additional powers. 

Kifri citizens have been demonstrating against inadequate services for several days, protests which have been widely covered by media outlets close to Masrour Barzani. The PM has often accused the PUK of impeding KRG services in towns under its control. However, the PUK has countered by accusing the KDP-led KRG of discriminatory service provision. PUK leader Bafel Talabani recently criticized the KDP for disparity in project implementation between Sulaymaniyah and KDP-controlled Erbil.

Addressing Kifri residents yesterday, Barzani acknowledged their demands and committed to forming a special committee to address their needs swiftly. Earlier, Hawrami shared a video of Barzani promising to serve Sulaymaniyah residents, claiming, "If they let me serve the people of Sulaymaniyah the way I serve here [in Erbil], I would certainly serve Sulaymaniyah too."

These developments coincide with an extensive media campaign by Barzani, widely viewed as a bid for re-election, although no date for the KRI elections has been set.

Iraqi oil ministry rejects Turkish claims surrounding Kurdistan oil exports

The Iraqi oil ministry has countered recent statements from the Turkish president, asserting that there are no issues between Erbil and Baghdad hindering the resumption of oil exports from the Kurdistan Region. Bassem Khazera, the deputy oil minister, was quoted by Rudaw as stating that Baghdad and Erbil share a "single vision and perspective" on oil exports, which align with public interests.

While Erbil is eager to resume oil exports, it is Baghdad that incurs the primary losses, missing out on revenues from approximately 400,000 barrels of oil per day. Iraq has signaled on several occasions that agreements have been reached between Erbil and Baghdad to recommence oil flow via the Ceyhan pipeline. Ankara, however, has been blamed for the delay.

Turkish President Erdogan commented last week, "We do not have an issue in receiving oil from Iraq. This issue stems from tensions between the federal government of Iraq and northern Iraq. My relevant colleagues are holding meetings in this regard.”

While Ankara has officially cited technical and maintenance issues with the pipelines, multiple reports suggest Turkey may be avoiding the payment of a $1.4 billion fine imposed on it by the ICC court in Paris in March.

Iraq's parliament wraps up first readings of four draft laws 

Iraq's parliament held a session today, completing the first readings of four proposed laws. Here are summaries of these draft laws as posted on the parliament's website:

  1. National Intelligence Agency Draft Law: The objective of this draft law is to establish the National Intelligence Agency and delineate its tasks. It aims to enhance the agency's role in ensuring Iraq's security in a manner that aligns with human rights.
  2. Anti-Terrorism Draft Law: Its goal is to mitigate terrorist activities, safeguard citizens' rights, and ensure the security of economic and social infrastructure. The proposed law also intends to unify legal texts related to these crimes to broaden their scope and increase their deterrent effect.
  3. Army Aviation College Draft Law: This one aims to establish a specialized Army Aviation College. This institution will be responsible for training and qualifying officers and technicians to operate army aircraft.
  4. Draft Law on Diplomatic, Service, and Special Passport Holders' Visa Exemption Agreement Between Iraq and Russia: The law seeks to bolster mutual relations between Iraq and Russia and facilitate diplomatic and service travel by exempting holders of diplomatic, service, and special passports from entry visas.

Sadr, Judicial Council urge parliament to outlaw 'defamation' of religious symbols

Sadr recently denounced the ongoing Shiite infighting and appealed to parliament to enact a law against the defamation of religious figures and symbols.

In a tweet, Sadr cautioned his followers against exacerbating the situation with violent actions and weapons. He suggested that some parties aim to sow discord for their own gain.

He urged his followers to remain peaceful to avoid sectarian conflicts, emphasizing, "A bloody war must absolutely be avoided because it is prohibited by our beliefs and religions." 

He further clarified that, "Even if a law is not passed criminalizing the insult of scholars without a legitimate reason or without constructive criticism, we have non-violent alternatives. Our homeland can no longer endure such reckless behavior."

Sadr suggested the convergence of some parliamentary political groups to pass this law under the umbrella of the parliament offers hope for diffusing tension, regardless of their underlying motives. He emphasized precision in formulating the law to avoid unintended consequences, or, as they express it, creating a "double-edged sword."

Simultaneously, the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council issued a directive to increase enforcement against those who commit 'crimes of offense' against religious symbols and beliefs.

In a statement, the judicial media cited the rising frequency of these offenses and said, "The Supreme Judicial Council directed the competent courts to strengthen judicial measures against those guilty of these crimes, which represent a clear violation of the provisions of Article 372 of the current Penal Code." It also encouraged the House of Representatives to prioritize the enactment of the Cyber Crime Bill. This draft law ostensibly aims to ensure that social media is not used as a platform to incite discord, undermine community security, and protect the symbolism and status of religious, social, and political references. 

Researcher Elizabeth Tsurkov reportedly initiated contact with her abductors

New reports suggest Russian-Israeli researcher, Elizabeth Tsurkov, who was abducted in Iraq, may have initiated contact with her kidnappers for her doctoral research on Shiite movements.

It is reported she met with senior officials from Kataeb Hezbollah, who allegedly discovered her Israeli identity and decided to abduct her. Attempts were allegedly made to move her to Iran.

Umed Sabah Othman, the President of the Diwan of Council of Ministers, has announced a high-level meeting between Erbil and Baghdad that focused on implementing provisions of the federal budget law.

Additionally, Othman revealed plans for a high-level meeting in the upcoming days to further the discussions.

Othman confirmed the formation of a high-level joint committee by the KRG and the federal government to oversee the budget implementation. The KRG's team will include representatives 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.

He stated that the Iraq team was assembled three days ago by order of the Iraqi PM. The prime minister's office will lead the team, which includes members from the finance and oil ministries and representatives from the Board of Supreme Audit.

Statement in full

Today, Monday, July 17, 2023, a high-level team from the Kurdistan Regional Government met with a high-level team from the Federal Iraqi Government in Baghdad.

The meeting discussed the implementation of provisions related to the commitment of the Kurdistan Region and the rights and financial entitlements of the Kurdistan Region in the federal budget.

The meeting decided to continue working with the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Oil, and the Iraqi financial auditing body. A high-level meeting is scheduled for the coming days.
PUK election officials claim that the Gorran Movement and the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party are aligned with the PUK in their intent to participate in the Iraqi provincial elections as a unified Kurdish list. These statements were made during a press conference that followed separate meetings with Gorran and the Socialists.

Rizgar Hama, head of the PUK's elections office, stated in the press conference that the provincial elections would shape the identity of the provinces. He further explained that if Kurdish parties in disputed territories stand united, they can reassert the Kurdish identity of these provinces.

According to Hama, Arab political parties are capitalizing on the Kurdish division. He mentioned that the PUK aims to prevent these parties from seizing this opportunity. "Instead, by uniting the Kurds in these areas, we can affirm their Kurdishness," Hama said. He added that the PUK doesn't want internal disputes to fragment the Kurdish vote.

Heyman Hussein, an Iraqi Election official, revealed on Monday that over 270 political parties have registered for the Iraqi provincial elections so far. He added that another 15 parties are in the process of registering and predicted that the number of participating parties will increase in the days to come.

For the PUK, the problem seems to lie in the fear of lagging further behind their rival, the KDP, especially due to internal disputes within the PUK. The removal of former co-president Lahur Talabany is perceived as a significant hit to the party's popularity in Kirkuk, traditionally a PUK stronghold.
The New York Times has published an insightful piece on the intensifying crackdown on social media influencers and critics of the government in Iraq, demonstrating how a series of new Interior Ministry rules against "indecent" or "immoral" content on social media has resulted in the sentencing and imprisonment of many formerly influential personalities.

Author Alissa J. Rubin notes that this is part of a broader campaign that has sought to silence, sideline, or co-opt individuals who publicly question or criticise the government, a campaign which has its roots in the large scale demonstrations of 2019 and 2020, when young Iraqis demanded an end to corruption, reduced Iranian influence, and greater transparency and openness.

Despite the current relative calm in Iraq, the repression of free speech and social media has continued to intensify, with a particular focus on preventing a recurrence of the unrest that occurred four years ago.

"Human rights and democracy advocates say that to prevent any recurrence of the upheaval that occurred four years ago, the government seeks to limit independent voices in the public square, using lawsuits, detentions, online harassment, threats and occasionally kidnapping or assassination."

The idea is to silence any criticism, anything that can instigate the public, change the public attitude and anything that might in the future escalate public unrest

Dr. Ali Al-Bayati

Peregaf reports a Turkish drone crashed in the village of Zarukani Sarw, located in the Sangasar district of the Raperin administration.
According to the report, local residents quickly gathered at the crash site, recording and sharing footage of the Turkish-flagged aircraft wreckage on social media platforms.

The Turkish military has yet to comment on the reports.
New KRG representative in Washington DC
The KRG has named Treefa Aziz as its new Washington representative, succeeding seasoned politician Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman. Abdul Rahman, who previously served as the KRG representative in London before her Washington appointment, is heading back to Kurdistan after being named the PM's advisor for foreign relations and climate change.

Under Abdul Rahman's tenure, the KRG's diplomatic ties with powerful allies were fortified.

KRG's international representatives have historically been divided along political party lines, primarily alternating between the KDP and PUK. Before Abdul Rahman, Current KRG Deputy PM Qubad Talabani (PUK) represented the KRG in Washington, and PUK's Karwan Jamal Tahir replaced Abdul Rahman in London.

With Aziz's appointment, the KDP retains the top KRG diplomatic posting.

Full statement

Prime Minister Masrour Barzani today appointed Treefa Aziz as the new KRG Representative to the United States.

Ms Aziz was most recently Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister and previously worked for over 25 years in the United States in various capacities in the public and private sector. She was also the KDP Representative in Washington D.C. in the 1990s.

The outgoing representative Ms Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman will return to the Kurdistan Region after eight successful years in Washington D.C. Previously, she was the Representative to the United Kingdom for 10 years, after a long career as a journalist.
Ms [sic] Abdul Rahman will join the Prime Minister’s Office in Erbil as Senior Advisor for Foreign Affairs and Climate Change.

The Prime Minister’s Office congratulates both officials on their new postings and looks forward to their continuing their diligent service to the people of Kurdistan.


The tension between Sadr and Maliki traces back to 2008

Under Maliki's first government, he led a significant military operation named Sawlat Al-Fursan (Operation Knight's Charge) in Basra and other southern provinces. This campaign reportedly led to the death and capture of hundreds of Sadr Movement members over several weeks. While the official purpose of the operation was to restore security and uphold the rule of law, many speculated that the true motive was a power struggle, suggesting this was the key driver for the operations.

Tensions between the two leaders heightened after the parliamentary elections in March 2010. Sadr was strongly against Maliki's reappointment for a second term. However, Iranian pressure on Sadr, who was residing in Iran at the time, and other political factions led to the sanction of Maliki's second term. This term saw persistent power struggles between the two leaders.

These disputes resurfaced when deputies from the Sadrist Al-Ahrar bloc attempted to interrogate and dismiss Maliki in 2012, citing corruption and abuse of power. After the fall of Mosul and other Iraqi cities to ISIS in 2014, the Sadrists blamed Maliki for allowing the organization to take over a significant portion of Iraqi territory. Sadr endorsed Haider Al-Abadi for government leadership in 2014, creating further discord with Maliki, who aspired to a third term. He didn't get it. 

Dawa issues de-escalatory statement

In an attempt to de-escalate tensions, the Dawa Party has issued a statement affirming their respect for the supreme religious authority, particularly emphasizing their honor for the memory of the two Sadrist 'martyrs': "This is evident to everyone, especially preachers, the Dawa Party, and its supporters. It is a support that has never ceased," the party stated following a meeting between Maliki and party leadership yesterday.

During this meeting, Dawa Party members expressed surprise at the sudden accusations of disrespect towards the martyred al-Sadr II. The party called for "tangible proof" of such slanders, insisting on knowing the specific offender or the platform where these alleged insults were made. They say this information is crucial for them to take appropriate disciplinary actions.

The party also denounced recent attacks on their offices, describing them as unjustifiable legal and political infractions. 

In their concluding remarks, the party said: "The meeting emphasized that the Islamic Dawa will not be diverted by minor disputes with any party, despite political differences. The party is committed to the path laid out for it by the respected leader and scholar, the martyred Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr. The party continues to promote unity and cooperation with all parties for the common good. The Islamic Call remains steadfast in defending the nation's rights and greatest interests, dutifully following the directives of the supreme religious authority in its quest for civil peace and avoiding bloodshed."


Former PM condemns attacks on party offices

Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of the Dawa Party has condemned attacks on the offices of Shiite political parties and is calling on Iraqi security forces for protection. Three political party offices in the southern city of Najaf came under heavy fire early Monday morning amidst ongoing tensions between the Sadrists and factions of the Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF).

Unknown assailants opened fire on the offices of the al-Badr Organisation, led by Hadi Al-Amiri; Harakat Ansar Allah al-Awfiya (Loyal Supporters of God), led by Haidar Al-Azzawi; and Harakat Asaib Ahl Al-Haq (League of the Righteous), led by Qais Al-Khazali, using medium-sized weapons and RPG-7s, according to Shafaq News. The attacks resulted in one injury.

In the past two days, Dawa Party offices have also been targeted due to an escalating dispute between the Dawa Party and followers of Muqtada Al-Sadr. The contention is over alleged attempts to "tarnish the image" of Sadr's father, the late revered cleric Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr.

Sadr was seen in a video released today visiting one of the attacked offices, demonstrating his rejection of the violence, as stated by Salih Muhammad Al-Iraqi.

Captagon production facility discovered in Iraq

Iraq announced Sunday it has discovered a captagon production site in a province bordering Saudi Arabia, a rare find in a country that has primarily been a transit route for the illegal drug.

"Today, and perhaps for the first time, we found a laboratory where captagon is produced," said Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Saad Maan in a video posted online.

Long a conduit for captagon, the amphetamine-like stimulant rampant in the Middle East, Iraq has also reportedly become a consumer market for the drug.

The laboratory was uncovered in the southern province of Muthana, according to a ministry statement.

The main market for the drug is believed to be oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

While no arrests were announced, the ministry said the site contained machines capable of producing captagon pills, along with 27.5 kilograms of raw materials.

Most of the region's captagon, which got its name from a once legal drug used to combat narcolepsy, is produced in Syria and Lebanon, both neighbors of Iraq.

Iraqi authorities have ramped up raids that have seized large amounts of captagon.

However, Sunday's announcement represents a significant shift, according to Maan, who said the discovery of the laboratory indicates that some are attempting to initiate captagon production within the country. 

On Friday, Iraqi security forces claimed to have dismantled an "international drug trafficking ring," arresting three members in Muthana province and seizing two million captagon pills.

In a May meeting of Arab foreign ministers, Syria announced it was prepared to "strengthen cooperation" with Jordan and Iraq, both affected by drug-trafficking and smuggling across the Syrian border.

Regions in central and southern Iraq bordering Iran have become major narcotics trafficking routes for drugs, including crystal methamphetamine.

In November 2022, Iraqi security forces arrested a man accused of producing "large quantities of crystal meth" in Iraq, using fabrication skills acquired abroad.


Morning briefing

Good morning from London. Let's delve into what's making headlines today:

  • Amid ongoing tensions between the Sadrists Movement and factions within the Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), three SCF offices were attacked with heavy fire in Najaf province. The Dawa party has condemned the attacks and called for protection.
  • As the December date for the Iraqi provincial elections slowly approaches, the Kurdish political parties are scrambling to make the best of the situation. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is holding meetings with the Change Movement (Gorran) and other parties to discuss plans for the elections. Meanwhile, the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) appears to have dismissed PUK's calls for a unified Kurdish political party election.
  • The first captagon lab has been discovered in Iraq, as announced by the Interior Ministry. 
  • The Iraqi cabinet has submitted a draft of the long-awaited oil and gas law to the consultative council for review.