Live: Senior KDP intelligence figure dead in apparent car explosion

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KRG's Interior Ministry has declared the conclusion of the one-year registration window for unlicensed firearms. The announcement was made on Monday by Hemin Mirani, the ministry's director general, who told reporters that over 17,000 firearms have been registered since July of the previous year. Mirani, however, also revealed a two-month extension period, serving as the final opportunity for those who have yet to register their unlicensed weapons.

The ministry has recently put forth new guidelines to regulate firearm possession with the goal of reducing incidents of violence. These directives include prohibiting off-duty security force members from carrying their weapons.

Kurdistan Region PM Masrour Barzani ordered the closure of all markets selling firearms and the seizure of unlicensed weapons in June 2022, however, the implementation of this process has been limited. 

And recently, Interior Minister Rebar Ahmed issued a statement calling on the political parties to cooperate with the ministry to limit the spread of unlicensed guns and control the use of licensed firearms. The new measures included raising awareness among the members of the political parties not to store weapons in their homes, “unless absolutely necessary,” and call on guards not to take guns home but rather store them in dedicated storage in the buildings they work at. It also called on political parties not to gift guns to their members.
A dramatically edited video by the Media and Information Office of the KRG, urges Baghdad to dispense Erbil's share of the federal budget.

The video underlines the KRG's adherence to the agreement made in April, featuring the moment when the Prime Minister of the KRG, Barzani, and the Iraqi Premier, Sudani, shook hands.

It outlines the KRG's commitments under the agreement: agreeing to sell crude oil through SOMO, sending 50-60 thousand barrels of oil per day to Baghdad, relinquishing 50% of the non-oil revenues, and collaborating with federal authorities in managing border points.

The video ends with a demand: "The Iraqi Federal Government must pay the Kurdistan Region's financial entitlements from the budget and the salaries of the public sector."

This plea comes amid growing concerns regarding the future of salaries and pensions for the public sector within the KRI.

In a new video, the same Danish group burns a copy of the Quran and places a pair of shoes on the Iraqi flag. This marks the second time that this group has desecrated the Quran and the Iraqi flag.
The foreign ministry condemnation follows a video posted by extreme right group Danske Patrioter on Friday showing a man appearing to set fire to a Quran and stepping on an Iraqi flag. 

Copenhagen Deputy Police Chief Trine Fisker told AFP only a few protesters were across the street from the Iraqi embassy on Friday. "There was a book that was burnt, but we can't confirm which book it was," she said. 

Hours after the incident, the Danish Refugee Council office in Basra, Iraq's largest southern city, suffered an armed attack, according to Lilu Thapa, the executive director for the Middle East.

"While our staff present at the time were unharmed, the property sustained damage with structures set on fire," Thapa said.

Full statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemns, in the strongest terms, the repeated burning of a copy of the Noble Quran in front of the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq in Denmark.

These systematic actions allow extremism and hatred to flourish, presenting societies with a tangible threat to peaceful coexistence.

The Ministry calls on the authorities in the European Union to swiftly reconsider their understanding of freedom of expression and the right to protest.

It also urges for a clear collective stance to prevent such abuses outside the premises of the embassies of the Republic of Iraq within their territory.

The silence and lack of decisive measures against the perpetrators of these acts have paved the way for the spread of such dangerous behavior.

The Ministry reasserts the Government of Iraq's stance, calling for international resolutions and mechanisms to criminalize these acts, maintaining respect for religious symbols and holy texts in an equal and transparent manner, free from discrimination based on religion or race.

Here we go again

Baghdad has condemned a fresh Quran burning in front of IRaq's embassy in the Danish capital.

Danish diplomats have left Iraq on Saturday according to the Iraqi FM Fuad Hussein.

Taken to its logical conclusion, a single protestor in each state with guaranteed rights to free expression can cause Iraq to diplomatically isolate itself from the entire Western world.  

Counter-terrorism forces arrest 11 suspected IS members

Iraq's counter-terrorism forces announced the arrest of 11 suspected Islamic State (IS) members across several provinces in the country, including four in Sulaymaniyah, two in Baghdad, three in Anbar, and two in Kirkuk. 

The operation in Sulaymaniyah, carried out in coordination with PUK security forces, resulted in the capture of a reported IS group Emir. 

PM Masrour Barzani issues statement on the death of Sindi

In an incident shrouded in suspicion, the car of Mohammed Mirza Yunus Sofi, a relentless retired officer of the Kurdistan Region's Security Agency, exploded in the city of Zakho, leading to his death.

I express my deepest condolences to the family, colleagues, and admirers of the deceased. I hope for his soul to be at peace in heaven and for strength and patience to be granted to his family during this difficult time.

I've instructed the relevant authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into this incident and ensure that those responsible for this reprehensible act are held accountable.

Masrour Barzani
Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region

Iraqi PM meets EU, other diplomats amid security concerns

Prime Minister Sudani held a meeting with EU and other foreign diplomats in Baghdad, where he underscored the government's responsibility to ensure the safety of all diplomatic missions.

He referenced the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and confirmed Iraq's commitment to it.

Sudani emphasized the need to reject hate speech and extremism, including actions offensive to people's sanctities and beliefs. His comments were in response to recent incidents of the Quran and the Iraqi flag's desecration.

The discussions follow last week's attack on the Swedish Embassy when enraged protestors breached the embassy, set it ablaze, and forced diplomats to evacuate. It remains to be seen whether Sudani's assurances will alleviate concerns among other diplomatic missions in Baghdad about their safety.

Take a deep breath before reading the federation's statement

Possibly the longest sentence we'll ever have to translate:

In a new heroic position taken by the Fencing Federation, our players are withdrawing from the World Championship in refusal to engage with the Zionist entity, a decision stemming from established national principles, obedience to our religious authorities, and adherence to government and parliamentary decisions criminalizing normalization with the Zionist entity, which led the Iraqi Fencing Federation to instruct our players' withdrawal from the World Championship competitions in Italy, currently taking place in the city of Milan, after the draw placed them in a group including players from the Zionist entity, marking the withdrawal from individual competitions of the fencing weapon and the individual weapon of the fencing sword, despite the championship's status as one of the world's largest and its significant role in scoring for the Olympic Games, a fact that prompted early preparations for participation in this tournament ahead of the Asian Games but did not outweigh our steadfast national principles, hence the decision to withdraw with dignity and pride.

[editor's note: breathe]

While it's worth noting that our players participating in the other competitions of this championship will continue their matches successively in their different groups within the ongoing World Championship.


In other news, fencing's off the menu

The Iraqi Fencing Federation announced Monday its withdrawal from the ongoing World Championship in Milan, Italy, after tournament officials placed its players in the same group as athletes from Israel. The federation said in a statement that 'national principles' outweigh the prestige of any championship, prompting the decision to withdraw with 'pride and dignity'. 

Iraq maintains no diplomatic ties with Israel, and the weaponization of anti-western sentiments have surged recently, largely due to the current government's backing by pro-Iran Shiite factions. Influential Shia cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, despite not holding a government position, has consistently criticized Israel, especially in light of the recent controversy over perceived disrespect toward the Quran and the Iraqi flag in Sweden. Not sure how the two are connected, but OK.

Sadr warned that such actions could lead to increased global instability and hamper normalization efforts with Israel, stating, "Islamic and Arab countries are angry, and from now on, Israel will not normalize relations with them."

New Generation leader claims protests to be held in 'all towns'

Shaswar Abdulwahid, leader of the New Generation Movement, announced on Sunday that widespread protests are under discussion in the Kurdistan Region due to dissatisfaction with the KRG alleged failure to serve its citizens. Abdulwahid claims various groups, including teachers, pensioners, healthcare volunteers, and civil society activists, are planning these protests, though a timeframe hasn't been finalized. 

In response to KRG Finance Minister Awat Sheikh Janab's comments regarding the inability to pay civil servants with local revenues alone, Abdulwahid expressed disdain, stating, "Today, the KRG announced that it cannot pay salaries, to be honest that is a shame, if this was anyone else, they would have resigned by now." He urged the electorate to remove the ruling parties from power, accusing them of incompetence. 

Following the cessation of oil exports on March 25, the KRG has relied on Baghdad for the payment of public sector salaries and pensions due to severe revenue shortages. Abdulwahid challenged the KRG, stating, "If a government is not able to pay salaries, not able to deliver basic services, the [Kurdistan] parliament is dissolved, why don't you go home."

Despite recent KRG efforts to promote its accomplishments through an anniversary campaign, many in the region continue to face financial instability due to ongoing disputes with Baghdad leading to salary cuts and delays. The passage of the Iraqi federal budget, however, offers a glimmer of hope for more regular salary payments.

Statement from PUK Media on Talabani-Sudani meeting

Sudani (left) and Talabani meet in Baghdad
Sudani (left) and Talabani meet in Baghdad   credit: PUK Media
Bafel Jalal Talabani, the President of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia' al-Sudani in Baghdad.

The meeting was attended by Rafaat Abdullah, the Executive Decision-Maker of the PUK Political Bureau, Darbaz Kosrat Rasul, a member of the PUK Political Bureau's Executive Board, and Saadi Ahmed Pira, a Political Bureau Member. They discussed the country's political, economic, and security circumstances and underlined the importance of finding solutions as well as the success of the government's agenda to better serve the people.

President Bafel Jalal Talabani reaffirmed his support for the government's agenda and stated that upholding political agreements and defending everyone's rights within the bounds of the law and the Constitution is the only way to ensure that the country remains stable, peaceful and that government programs are successful.

He urged political issues to stop standing in the way of the government's plan being carried out and instead be used to the benefit of all the country's communities.

President Bafel emphasized the significance of resolving the disagreements between Erbil and Baghdad and sending the region's financial entitlements in this framework. According to him, this is a right that belongs to Kurdistan's citizens and salaried workers, and it has nothing to do with any political party.

Iraqi leaders warn they'll cut ties with countries allowing Quran stunts

Iraqi leaders, including President Abdul Latif Rashid, Prime Minister Sudani, Parliamentary Speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi, and Chief of the Supreme Judicial Council Fayek Zaydan, have warned of severing ties with any nation that allows the disrespect of the Quran.

The warning, as per the statement from the PM's office, extends to Sweden or any other country accused of "disrespecting Muslim sacred matters or supporting actions that violate these sacred matters and faiths". 

The leaders voiced their outrage over what they perceive as a direct affront by Swedish authorities to the holy Quran and the Iraqi flag. Meanwhile, they called for the protection of foreign diplomatic missions within Iraq. 

The statement follows recent incidents where the Baghdad embassy was breached and set on fire after Sweden permitted protests that desecrated the Quran, leading to severed diplomatic ties and protests in Baghdad against Swedish authorities.

More on the Talabani-Sudani meeting

Following up on PUK leader Bafel Talabani's visit to Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, the two leaders have engaged in substantial talks. According to a statement from the Prime Minister's press office, the forthcoming Kurdistan Region parliamentary elections and support for government programs were high on the agenda.

Both leaders emphasized the importance of achieving consensus in political affairs, including the parliamentary elections in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. They underscored this as a means to enhance the democratic experience and ensure political stability across all regions of the country. They further reiterated their support for the cabinet in the execution of its programs and initiatives.

On the subject of resolving national issues and political disputes, Talabani and Sudani advocated for adherence to the Iraqi constitution and dialogue as the primary tools.

It's important to note that both the PUK and its rival, the KDP, are part of the coalition government in Baghdad. Despite trailing the KDP in terms of parliamentary seats in the Iraqi Parliament, the PUK has managed to leverage its close relations with some pro-Iran Shiite political parties to make notable political advances. This underscores the current trend of separate relations between the major Kurdish parties and Baghdad, marking a noticeable shift in Kurdistan-Baghdad relations.

Hundreds rally for jailed journalist Sherwan Sherwani in Kurdistan Region

Hundreds gathered in the Kurdistan Region Sunday to rally for jailed journalist Sherwan Sherwani, who received an additional sentence just prior to his expected release last week. Sherwani, former editor of the monthly Bashur known for its corruption investigations, was arrested in 2020 and sentenced in 2021 for "espionage" and "incitement to protest and destabilise the region."

His release was anticipated in September, following a presidential decree that reduced his sentence, according to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ). However, Sherwani received a new four-year term for "falsification" related to a petition drafted in prison, CPJ reported Thursday.

Sherwani's lawyer, Ramazan Artisi, claimed his client was accused of forging a fellow inmate's signature despite having the inmate's authorization. Artisi called the verdict "unfair" and said he plans to appeal.

Around 300 individuals protested Sherwani's new sentence in Sulaymaniyah, the region's second-largest city. "His second conviction shows there is no independent justice in Kurdistan, and there is clear political pressure," activist Samale Rahim stated.

Corruption and arbitrary arrests are prevalent in Kurdistan, despite its portrayal as stable haven, activists say. The NGO Community Peacemaker Teams stated Saturday that Sherwani did not receive a fair trial, but a Kurdistan government entity tasked with responding to international reports countered Sunday, asserting that powers of attorney between prisoners are illegal.
PUK leader Bafel Talabani is meeting Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani in Baghdad at the moment, having made the short flight in the early morning hours.
The timing is interesting given the postponement of yesterday's meeting between a KRG delegation and the federal government over budget implementation. The KRG's finance minister has sounded the alarm over Kurdistan's ability to pay public sector salaries, flippantly telling a reporter to "ask Baghdad" when asked when salaries would be paid.

The delegation was mostly stuffed with KDP figures and, as is custom these days, lacking in PUK representation.

It appears the trend of separate relations between the Kurdistan Region's two main parties and Baghdad is continuing to take root. A united Kurdish front in Baghdad seems as remote as it's ever been since the 2003 invasion. 

Reuters is corroborating reports that Sindi's car exploded, citing local security sources.
Colonel Mohammed Mirza Sindi, the former head of the Kurdistan Region's Parastin intelligence organization, was killed in what appears to be a car explosion on Sunday in Duhok province's Zakho, according to local media.

The cause of the explosion, which occurred around 9.10PM local time, remains unclear.

Parastin is a prominent intelligence unit affiliated with the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). 

Initial reports suggest the possibility of a drone attack or an improvised explosive device, but security agencies have yet to comment. A local Police spokesperson told Rudaw that they're investigating and have no further comment to make at this time.

Morning briefing

Good morning, all. Here's what we have lined up for you to start the day.

  • Colonel Mohammed Mirza Sindi, ex-head of the Kurdistan Region's Parastin intelligence unit has been killed in what appears to be a car explosion.
  • Mala Bakhtiyar, a member of the PUK's Supreme Political Council, has continued his assault on party leader (and son-in-law) Bafel Talabani. 
  • Awat Sheikh Janab, Kurdistan Region finance minister, once again says his government cannot pay public sector salaries from inland revenues alone.
  • More fallout from the fresh sentencing of journalist Sherwan Sherwani