Live: All Tuesday news from Iraq and Kurdistan Region

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Iraqi Parliament Speaker discusses KRI parliamentary elections with UNAMI chief

Here is the revised statement from the Speaker's press office:

Muhammed al-Halbusi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, welcomed Jeanine Hennis Plasschaert, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in Iraq, for a meeting.

They engaged in a discussion on the latest political developments in the country, touching on a variety of topics. This included matters related to the upcoming provincial council elections, the Kurdistan Region Parliament elections, and the operations of the Electoral Commission.

Cairo backs Baghdad, summons Swedish envoy over Quran row

credit: Murtadha al-Sudani - AA
The Egyptian foreign ministry has summoned Sweden's envoy over protests in Stockholm that desecrated the Quran, Cairo said Tuesday, adding to a wave of diplomatic condemnations across the Muslim world.

The charge d'affaires at the Swedish embassy in Cairo was informed "of the Egyptian government and people's complete rejection of the unfortunate, repeated incidents of copies of the holy Quran being burnt or desecrated in Sweden," a foreign ministry statement said.

Egypt has publicly condemned recent incidents in the Swedish capital where copies of the Quran were burnt or stamped on, warning of "escalating Islamophobia and hate crimes".

Last month, Sweden-based Iraqi refugee Salwan Momika burnt pages of the Quran outside Stockholm's main mosque. And last week, he stepped on the Quran but did not burn it in a protest near the Iraqi embassy. Both acts have triggered widespread condemnation across the Muslim world and beyond. Swedish authorities had allowed the demonstrations on free-speech grounds but said their permission did not signal any approval of the action.

In an interview published last week, Momika -- who describes himself as an atheist -- defended his actions and said they were meant to highlight discrimination against minority groups in Iraq. "I will keep burning Korans as long as I am legally allowed to," he told French magazine Marianne.

Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world's most prestigious educational institution, has called for boycotting Swedish products.
In its latest statement Friday, Al-Azhar condemned "repeated provocations" by Swedish authorities, charging that Stockholm had granted permission for the protests "under the false slogan of freedom of expression" while supporting extremism and Islamophobia.

The events have raised diplomatic tensions throughout the region, with Swedish envoys also summoned in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Sweden's ambassador has been expelled from Iraq, while Iran said it would not allow a new Swedish ambassador into the country, after repeated protests at embassies in both Baghdad and Tehran.

The Iraqi government remaines silent amid concerns over the delayed June salaries for civil servants in the Kurdistan Region.

The question of who is responsible for paying the tens of thousands of public sector employees in the region has led to escalating disputes, yet the Iraqi government did not discuss the issue in their weekly meeting today.

The KRG stated earlier that Baghdad is now responsible for paying these public sector salaries, as oil revenues have dwindled following the suspension of exports in March. The statement noted that Erbil has complied with the agreements made between the two parties, indicating that the next move lies with Baghdad.
Michael Knights of The Washington Institute writes about the recent controversy surrounding the annulment of a presidential decree. This decree had appointed Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako as the leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq and globally, and entrusted him with the Church's assets.

Knights delves into the details of how Rayan al-Kildani, a U.S.-sanctioned, Iran-backed militia leader, plans to marginalize Iraq’s Chaldean Patriarch and seize billions of dollars’ worth of Christian property.

Decree 147 forms part of a longstanding tradition of interfaith tolerance in Iraq, which has roots in the early Islamic period and continued through the Ottoman Empire into the present day. Traditionally, the Caliph of Baghdad would issue an edict that vested each new Patriarch with temporal power over the Christian population. This allowed him to supervise matters of personal status in accordance with church law and tasked him with collecting tributes for the treasury as the caliph’s representative. Similar decrees were issued to the leaders of other religions and sects, such as the Syriac Catholic Church, the Yazidis, and the Sabean-Mandaeans.

Michael Knights

Winthrop Rodgers, the former NRT English editor, has just dropped a gripping piece on the alarming condition of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. 

He paints a vivid picture of how climate change, pollution, and drought are gradually strangling these once-thriving rivers that cradle the Mesopotamian Basin.

Co-published by Foreign Policy and The Dial, the story spotlights an urgent need to step up and protect these legendary rivers from their impending doom.

Iraq is in desperate need of environmental protections, but activism in the country comes with risks.

Winthrop Rodgers

In case you haven't noticed, it's the anniversary of the Change Movement (Gorran).

In the span of 14 years, Gorran has transitioned from a powerful opposition party to a feeble government partner, with its relevance dwindling precipitously.

Gorran splintered from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in 2009. Under the leadership of the late Nawshirwan Mustafa, Gorran rose swiftly to become the second largest party in the Kurdistan Region, securing more seats (25 out of 111) in the parliamentary elections the same year than the PUK.

Gorran succeeded in mobilizing many in the Kurdistan Region and vowed to transform the governing structure, only to falter significantly. The party gradually lost its relevance after the death of its founder.

In 2018, Gorran won 12 seats in the Kurdistan Parliament, and in the 2021 Iraqi elections, it failed to secure a single seat in Baghdad. Gorran's executive committee issued an apology to its members for this failure, stating the committee "bears responsibility for the faults and incompetence," as it "has failed to gain people's confidence". Following this, General Coordinator Omar Sayid Ali and the executive committee resigned.

The party's popularity continues to wane. In May, on the anniversary of Nawshirwan Mustafa's death, his sons published an open letter urging former members to return to the party.

Many Gorran supporters and former members place the blame squarely on Mustafa’s sons. They accuse them of transforming Gorran into the same kind of family enterprise that the party was initially formed to oppose. As a result, many have quit the party in droves. This week, in response, Mustafa’s sons issued an open letter urging these former members to return to the party fold.

We're losing count

All smiles as Talabani visits Iraq's speaker of parliament, Mohammed Al-Halbousi. 

Tweet translation

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Al-Halbousi, received the President of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Bafel Talabani, and his accompanying delegation. The meeting discussed the political situation in the country, the importance of supporting the government in implementing its program, and underscored the need for dialogue and coordination to solve outstanding issues based on the constitution. The topic of local elections and the elections for the Parliament of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq were also discussed, with a focus on the importance of supporting the Commission to fulfill these constitutional obligations. 
Once again, civil servants are bearing the brunt of political disputes between Erbil and Baghdad.
Analyst Yerevan Saeed characterizes the KRG's recent statement as "self-defeating," stating, “we don't have the funds to pay, and all inquiries regarding salary should be directed to Baghdad.”

More more more!

Bafel Talabani's supermarket sweep of political meetings in Baghdad continues apace. This time it's 'receiving' the Iraqi defence minister at (presumably) the PUK offices in Baghdad.
NRT Kurdish reporter Goran Mohammed has stated that two people sustained injuries, including the driver and a nearby individual, during an incident in Takiya, Chamchamal.

According to Mohammed, local authorities have not yet confirmed whether this incident was a result of a drone attack.

Earlier, Esta had reported that one person had died, though Mohammed says the driver is alive but in critical condition.

NRT Kurdish journalists detained once more

NRT Kurdish journalists were temporarily detained by Erbil security forces while reporting on a water shortage in an Erbil neighborhood.

Omid Chomani and Goran Abdulkhaliq claim they were taken into custody by a group of security forces in an unmarked vehicle. The pair were transported to Erbil's mayoral office before being released.

The live coverage of the incident was abruptly halted by the intervening forces, as captured in the attached video.

Reporters from NRT regularly encounter constraints while working in the Kurdistan Region, notably in the Erbil and Duhok provinces, which are under the control of the KDP.
Bafel Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Qais Khazali, the secretary general of the pro-Iranian faction Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, convened to discuss the ongoing disputes between Erbil and Baghdad.

The timing of these discussions is significant given the recent flare-up of tensions over public sector salary payments in the Kurdistan Region. The KRG has reiterated that it's now up to Baghdad to handle these payments, though Baghdad has yet to comment on the situation.

Talabani met with PM Sudani on Monday and confirmed that the topic of salaries was on the agenda. Official PUK Media quoted him as insisting on the "necessity to resolve the issues between Erbil and Baghdad, and to deliver the Kurdistan Region's financial entitlements, affirming that this is a matter of the rights of the civil servants and the people of Kurdistan and bears no relation to any political party."

Interestingly, Sudani's press office statement was absent of confirmation for this agenda item, an omission pointed out by both KDP news outlet Kurdistan 24, and the opposition New Generation Movement's broadcaster, NRT Kurdish.
A vehicle in the Chamchamal district of Sulaymaniyah province was reportedly hit in a suspected Turkish drone strike, according to Shar Press. Images of the extensively damaged car have been posted all over social media.

Esta reports that someone has died in the incident 

Turkey routinely targets members of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) and its affiliates in the Kurdistan Region.
Iraqi security forces have arrested a suspect in Diyala with reported ties to the Islamic State (IS) group, according to a statement released by the Iraqi Security Media Cells. 

The individual is alleged to have participated in transferring weapons and funds to IS militants and was involved in human trafficking, including the illicit organ trade.

The suspect's father, reportedly a known terrorist, is currently on death row for his role in the 2016 car bomb attack targeting citizens in Diyala's Jdeidet al-Shatt area.
The statement by the KRG spokesperson appears to be a direct rebuke of opposition New Generation leader Shaswar Abdulwahid, who yesterday called for protest throughout all towns in the Kurdistan Region.

Statement by KRG spokesperson 

The issue of the Kurdistan Region public sector salaries has always been a priority for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). For as long as we were able to rely on local [non-oil] and oil revenues, the KRG remained unwavering in its commitment to ensuring these salaries were paid in full every month.

Now, as per an agreement with the Iraqi Government, the control of oil revenues no longer rests with the KRG. Consequently, we view the Iraqi Government as responsible for the provision of public sector salaries and other financial dues to the citizens of the Kurdistan Region according to the budget law. We have upheld all our responsibilities under the agreement and adhered strictly to the law. Until today, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region has been in communication with the Iraqi Government to expedite the distribution of salaries and avoid further delays.

Here is our message to some political factions and individuals who have consistently disregarded the legal and constitutional status of the Kurdistan Region for years, and have not acted in the interest of their fellow citizens: Do not further undermine the status of the Kurdistan Region, and for once act responsibly towards the people of Kurdistan and respect their constitutional rights. This issue directly impacts the lives of our people and is not a matter for political manoeuvring or election campaigning. It should not be used as a tool to attack the constitutional and legal status of the Kurdistan Region.

Peshwawa Hawrami
KRG Spokesperson

Major captagon drug bust in Baghdad

Iraqi authorities reported a major drug bust on Monday, seizing nearly one million captagon pills from a foreign trafficker in the capital. The operation is one of many as Iraq, a key route for this amphetamine-type drug, often intercepted from Syria along the 370-mile porous border. 

The foreign suspect was arrested in Baghdad, intending to transport a significant quantity of captagon concealed in a truck to a province in the north. His nationality remains undisclosed. 

This follows the July 16 revelation by the interior ministry of an unusual captagon manufacturing lab in southern Iraq. While drug consumption has seen a surge in the country in recent years, drug production is virtually non-existent.

Earlier, authorities announced the takedown of an international drug trafficking ring, arresting three members and seizing two million captagon pills in the southern province of Muthanna, adjacent to the Saudi Arabian border. 

These measures come as governments in the region ramp up their anti-drug trafficking efforts, responding to concerns from affluent Gulf states — the primary markets for captagon.

Suspected suicide bomber apprehended in Kirkuk – local police

Police apprehended a suspected suicide bomber carrying multiple improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Kirkuk on Tuesday, according to local police director Kawa Gharib.

The suspect, whose identity remains unknown, was arrested in the city's bus depot early in the morning. The devices were successfully defused. Further details have not been released.
That's a whole lot of lot to get through in one meeting. 

Here's the full readout from the Iraqi PM's office on the Jordanian premier's visit to Baghdad

Iraqi and Jordanian PMs in joint presser
Iraqi and Jordanian PMs in joint presser   credit: Iraq PM's office
The closing statement of the joint Iraqi-Jordanian committee meeting held in Baghdad, 7/24/2023.

  • Within the context of the deep-rooted relations between the Republic of Iraq and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the pursuit of reinforcing ties and heightening collaboration in the economic, commercial, industrial, security sectors, among others, was underlined. The shared drive for strategic integration between the two nations was also emphasized.
  • Both sides confirmed the strength of the historic and unwavering fraternal ties between the two countries. They aspire to deepen their cooperation and mutual coordination to address all challenges, further advancing bilateral relations.
  • Jordan reaffirmed the strategic importance of Iraq and its security as a crucial pillar of the region. Jordan also expressed full support for Iraq's governmental efforts towards achieving the Iraqi people's aspirations following their historic victory over terrorist groups.
  • The discussion covered several Arab issues, including the Palestinian issue and efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis. Both parties pledged to continue working, coordinating, and consulting in their efforts to solve regional crises and advance Arab interests, contributing to regional security and stability.
  • Both sides condemned the repeated desecration of the Holy Qur’an, urging nations to respect others' beliefs and to confront acts that incite hatred and racism.
  • Iraq acknowledged the historical Hashemite Custodianship over the Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, praising its role in safeguarding these sanctuaries and preserving their Arab, Islamic, and Christian identity.
  • The conversation centered on enhancing trade, expanding mutual cooperation in economic, commercial, and investment sectors, and bolstering the private sector's role in augmenting trade between the two nations in various fields. These include industry, energy, investment, transport, agriculture, environment, health, and education.
  • Both parties emphasized the need to overcome challenges that hinder improving bilateral relations, urging joint action to develop economic and trade relations as a key pillar of these ties.
  • They stressed the need to implement the agreements reached during the 29th session of the Iraqi-Jordanian joint committee and the documents signed at its conclusion.
  • Within the trilateral framework, they emphasized the need for measures to implement the outcomes of the Iraqi-Jordanian-Egyptian summits, most notably the projects and partnerships derived from the Memorandum of Understanding for industrial integration.
  • They reviewed the progress of the joint economic city project and encouraged the Iraqi-Jordanian Industrial Company to continue its work with increased momentum, adhering to the defined timeline.
  • Both sides underscored the importance of enhancing cooperation in the energy sector and reviewed the measures taken to complete the electrical interconnection project. They also discussed the latest developments concerning the extension of an oil pipeline for exporting Iraqi oil through Jordan.
  • They agreed to expedite the procedures for issuing entry visas through both countries' embassies.
  • The importance of improving food security, promoting food integration, and increasing the strategic stockpile of essential commodities was emphasized.
  • In the health sector, both sides underscored the significance of strengthening cooperation and exchanging experiences, including the mutual registration of medicines and the recognition of national medical fellowships in both countries.
  • In the field of investment, they reviewed the investment climate in both countries and agreed to form a joint Iraqi-Jordanian working group to facilitate investments from both sides.
  • In the transportation sector, both parties underlined the crucial role it plays in stimulating economic growth and creating job opportunities. They urged relevant stakeholders to maintain open communication to address challenges in this sector.
  • They also discussed crucial projects for Iraqi economic development, like the Basra project - Iraq's economic capital, and the Iraqi development road project, discussing the progress achieved in these initiatives.


Morning briefing

Hello! Some bits to catch up on overnight so let's get straight to it:

  • Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani welcomed his Jordanian counterpart Bisher Al-Khasawneh in Baghdad last night.
  • PUK leader Bafel Talabani's trip to Baghdad continues as he meets the president of the Supreme Judicial Council.
  • The Iraqi electoral commission says the process of updating voter registration in the Kurdistan Region is well underway, claiming that there's a 'high chance' long-delayed Kurdistan parliamentary elections will be held in February.