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Duhok's security forces prevent a planned gathering of civil society organizations intending to protest the recent four-year sentence handed down to journalist Sherwan Sherwani by an Erbil court.

Taef Goran, an NRT Kurdish reporter, said that security forces not only stopped the gathering but also prevented journalists from covering the event, which was scheduled to take place in front of Duhok Court on Wednesday.

Local activist Ayhan Saeed corroborated the report on his Facebook, noting that a large number of security forces, including undercover officers, impeded the gathering and denied the media crew access to interview the civil society representatives.

According to Saeed, the authorities justified their actions by stating the organizations lacked the necessary permit for such a gathering.

Vancouver-based oil company, ShaMaran Petroleum, has announced that it has secured confirmation to access cash reserves, to service its bond interest and other financial obligations, amidst looming payment uncertainties in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).

Oil companies in the KRI are currently grappling with a significant drop in revenues, a downturn that started at the end of March after Turkey halted oil exports from the region. Prior to this disruption, over 400,000 barrels of oil were being exported daily from the KRI. Following the halt, production has plummeted to approximately 50,000 barrels per day, most of which is being consumed locally.

Here is the statement from ShaMaran:

ShaMaran requested a bond waiver to release cash from the Debt Service Retention Account (“DSRA”) and received the affirmative vote from 100% of those voting, representing approximately 74% of its bondholders.  The waiver allows the Company to use restricted cash in the DSRA to pay the bond interest and amortization obligations due on July 30, 2023.  This will preserve the Company’s unrestricted cash during the current export pipeline and payment uncertainty in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Garrett Soden, President and CEO of ShaMaran, commented: “We appreciate the overwhelming support of our bondholders for the DSRA waiver request.  The bond waiver gives us financial and operational flexibility in order to optimize the value of our assets at Atrush and Sarsang for the benefit of all stakeholders.”
The DSRA waiver relates to ShaMaran’s 12% senior unsecured USD 300,000,000 bond 2021/2025.

ShaMaran Petroleum Corp. is a Canadian independent oil development and exploration company with a 27.6% direct interest in the Atrush Block | Adel Chaouch, CEO
ShaMaran Petroleum Corp.

Iraqi Parliament Speaker discusses KRI parliamentary elections with UNAMI chief

Here is the 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 Parliamentary elections, and the works of the Electoral Commission.
PUK leader Bafel Talabani has told David Burger, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy, that his party is "committed to reforms within the Peshmerga Ministry, including all memorandums of understanding that have been signed between the Peshmerga and the US." 

This statement comes as the US intensifies pressure for Peshmerga reforms ahead of a critical review in September. Tensions between the KDP and the PUK, at a multi-year low, not only slow the progress of these key reforms within some of the Kurdistan Region's security forces, but also paralyze other institutions in the Region.
Vian Sabri, head of the KDP faction in the Iraqi parliament, alleges that legal disputes over some articles of the Iraqi Budget Law are among the factors obstructing the budget law's execution.

Sabri maintains the KRG "has fulfilled all its obligations and responsibilities toward the Iraqi government as outlined in the budget law, and there is no excuse for the federal government not to send the Kurdistan Region's financial entitlements." This is a familiar argument.

Both Baghdad and Erbil have submitted legal challenges specific articles in the budget law.

June oil revenues top $7b

The Federal Ministry of Oil in Iraq said the nation's total oil exports and revenues for June surpassed $7 billion. According to the Iraqi Oil Marketing Company (SOMO), crude oil exports exceeded 100 million barrels, yielding about $7.18 billion in revenue.

The figures also indicated that of the total crude oil exported in June, roughly 98.73 million barrels originated from oil fields in central and southern Iraq, while an additional 299,445 barrels were transferred from warehouses to Jordan. The average price per barrel was $71.755.

These oil volumes were exported by 33 international companies from various countries. The exports were shipped from multiple ports, including Basra, Khor Al-Zubayr, mono-buoys on the Gulf, the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean, and the modern Kirkuk warehouse through tank trucks.
Earlier this week, we posted about the decision of the Iraqi Fencing team to withdraw from the 2023 World Fencing Championship to avoid playing Israel on Monday. Here is what Jonathan Lord, Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security Program, has to say about the move:

Sanctioned Iraqi banks in plea for lifting of restrictions

Representatives from the 14 Iraqi banks recently sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department are urging the central bank and Iraqi authorities to work toward lifting these penalties. Insisting they've followed the Central Bank of Iraq's regulations, under whose oversight they operate, the banks maintain their innocence. They claim to be independent entities operating within international laws and regulations.

The banks assert they have no political affiliations that might have affected the contentious transactions. "Sanctions should be lifted to enable us to fulfill our duties and make a positive contribution to society," says a spokesperson for the banks. "We operate within the national and international legal framework and vehemently deny the accusations."

The charges center on Iran, which is under U.S. sanctions, allegedly being able to access billions of dollars in assets through Iraq.

EU denounces Quran burning

The European Union denounced the recent incidents of Quran desecration in Sweden and Denmark on Wednesday. 

"The EU underscores its strong, resolute rejection of any incitement to religious hatred and intolerance," said Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief, in a statement. Borrell emphasized the importance of respect for diversity and different religious communities.

"Desecration of the Quran, or any other holy book, is offensive, disrespectful and clearly provocative. Expressions of racism, xenophobia, and related intolerance have no place in the European Union," added Borrell. "We continue to champion freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, both overseas and domestically; however, not all legal actions are ethical."

Borrell, urging mutual understanding and respect, also said: "These actions committed by lone provocateurs solely benefit those seeking to divide us and our societies."

#Dollar is trending on Twitter* in Iraq

One commentator predicts the crisis will topple the government.

Another says:

PM Sudani has two options. The first is to demand the dissolution of parliament and the holding of snap elections in accordance with Article 64 of the Constitution. Thus, he will enter the elections from a position of strength and avoid further political and economic failures that are certain and beyond his control.

The second option is to stay for whatever duration he desires, but he will end as the others have finished.

*Soon to be 'X' once the haphazard rebranding is complete. 
Hiwa Ahmed, a member of the KDP's Political Bureau, has indicated that while the exact timeline remains unclear, efforts are underway to improve the party's relationship with the PUK. However, he also used the word "try" – a significant choice given the failure of previous reconciliation attempts between the two parties.

PUK leader Bafel Talabani has pointed the finger at KRG PM Masrour Barzani as the reason for the ongoing discord. Therefore, the statement from the KDP's political bureau member raises questions: Are they attempting to persuade Masrour Barzani to smooth over relations? If so, will they be successful in their endeavor? We shall see.

US called for return of Shoresh Ismail to helm Peshmerga ministry – Kurdistan 24

Hot on the heels of the CJTF statement earlier today, the Masrour Barzani-linked Kurdistan 24 reports that the US is to be encouraging the return of Shoresh Ismail to his role as KRG Minister of Peshmerga Affairs.
It's crucial to note, however, that the meeting referenced in the K24 report took place last month. Earlier this week, Voice of America Kurdish also reported the same story.
سەرچاوەیەکی باڵا لە وەزارەتی پێشمەرگەی حکومەتی هەرێمی کوردستان دەڵێت، جێگری یاریدەدەری وەزیری بەرگری ئەمەریکا هۆشداریداوەتە بەرپرسانی هەرێم لە بەرامبەر ئاستەنگەکانی بەردەم چاکسازی و یەکخستنەوەی هێزەکانی پێشمەرگەو داوای هێنانەوەی شۆڕش ئیسماعیل ی وەزیری پێشمەرگەی کردووە بۆ ڕاییکردنی...

Just in: KRG delegation en route to Baghdad for budget talks

KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani has had a phone conversation with his Iraqi counterpart, Mohammad Shia Al-Sudani, according to the regional government's spokesperson, Peshwa Hawramani.

In a short statement Hawramani shared that, following Barzani's call with Sudani, a delegation from the Kurdistan Region is set to visit Baghdad.

Here's some promotional material for Erbil's new Buffalo Wings & Rings franchise that the US consulate is showing support for 

On the house. 

Foreign ministry praises UN GA resolution

Iraq's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has praised a recent UN General Assembly resolution promoting peace and tolerance among cultures and religions, according to a statement released Tuesday. This comes amid a growing controversy over the desecration of copies of the Quran.

The resolution, titled “Promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech,” was adopted Sunday. It calls on UN member states to work with relevant parties to foster interreligious and intercultural dialogue, respect for differences, and to resist hate speech that can incite discrimination, hostility, and violence.

Debate over the resolution has centered on the legality of protests involving desecration of religious symbols and sacred books under international law. While certain EU countries acknowledge that such acts can be profoundly offensive and disrespectful, they maintain that they do not constitute a violation of international law. These countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Norway, uphold the right to freedom of opinion and expression, arguing that freedom of religion does not forbid criticism of religions or beliefs. Despite supporting the resolution overall, these nations dissociate from the reference to violation of international law in the resolution's preambular paragraph 13.

Full statement foreign ministry:

The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomes the decision of the United Nations General Assembly to encourage dialogue and tolerance between religions and cultures in the face of hate speech, unanimously voted on during the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly held on Tuesday, 7/25/2023.

The ministry emphasizes the need to combat all forms of discrimination, xenophobia, and hate speech. It calls on all relevant actors, including states, to enhance their efforts to address this phenomenon in line with international human rights law. Insulting and showing contempt for any manifestations of beliefs and religions can lead to polarization in societies, causing extreme tensions. These tensions can later result in expressing contempt, provoking anger and strife among people, and transforming differences in concepts into hatred, and potentially, violence.

Dinar drama is back

The Iraqi dinar is facing significant devaluation against the US dollar, sparking widespread protests in Baghdad. With $100 now selling for over 155,000 Iraqi dinars, the economic pressure on Iraqis is increasing, given that most are paid in dinars but spend in dollars.

This situation arises following a US ban preventing 14 Iraqi banks from executing dollar transactions. According to the Wall Street Journal, this ban, enforced by the US Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, aims to halt the flow of dollar to Iran.

The Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) has been under significant pressure since last year to stop the smuggling of foreign currency to nations under US sanctions, such as Iran. Despite Baghdad lowering the official exchange rate of the dinar against the dollar from 1470 to 1300 dinars per dollar, the demand for the US dollar remains high. The ban on several Iraqi banks from obtaining dollars last year has led to a decrease in overall supply.

The devaluation of the dinar presents a formidable challenge for the Iraqi Premier, who is grappling with both this economic problem and ongoing protests. Observers perceive the US actions as an attempt to exert pressure on the Iran-backed Iraqi government to curtail Tehran's influence in Baghdad.
The direct reference to political divides between the KDP and PUK won't be music to the ears of leaders in each party's politburo.
The statement the CJTF vindicates some earlier reporting that the Coalition is unhappy with the state of unification efforts between KDP and PUK Peshmerga forces. This rather pointed statement betrays some pent up frustration on behalf of Kurdistan's partners in the West. 

Statement from Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve on recent Peshmerga Coordination Group meeting

The Coalition attended the quarterly meeting of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs (MoPA) Force Development progress as outlined in the 2022 Memorandum of Understanding. The Coalition acknowledged some specific progress achieved by MoPA officials, to include improved command and control and financial transparency. Still, the underlying goal of unifying Peshmerga forces under MoPA has been slowed by the ongoing political divide between the KDP and PUK. The Coalition expressed its expectation that the IKR [Iraqi Kurdistan Region] demonstrate political will to implement reforms ahead of the annual review in September, specifically the appointment of an interim MoPA Minister. CJTF-OIR will continue to Advise, Assist, and Enable MoPA reform to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. 

The Kurdistan Region's Peshmerga forces are set to be deployed in disputed territories – including Kirkuk – in a bid to fill in security gaps. As reported by KirkukNow, the forces will serve as part of two joint brigades with the Iraqi army. Their duties pertain to the Federal Budget Law, implementation instructions for which are due to be issued by the federal finance ministry.

Although all matters related to the formation of these brigades have been completed, there is no set date for the brigades to assume their duties. These brigades, each composed of 2000 personnel with plans to increase to 2500, will address security threats, especially those posed by ISIS sleeper cells in disputed rural areas. The Iraqi government will finance the salaries of the brigade members and their arms will be supplied in collaboration with the international coalition. 

However, officials anticipate that the existing security gaps may not be fully addressed by just these two brigades. They hint at the possibility of forming a third brigade if required.
It is scheduled that the Iraqi Kurdistan Peshmerga (Kurdish fighter) forces will be deployed to fill in the security gaps at the outskirts of Kirkuk and other disputed territories, as part of two joint brigades with the Iraqi army. The two joint brigades’ tasks are related to the implementation of
According to Iraq Oil Report, there are initial signs of cooperation between Erbil and Baghdad as they begin implementing an aspect of the 2023 budget law.

Over the past month, the KRG has transferred 50,000 to 90,000 barrels of crude oil daily to the federal Oil Ministry. This signals the KRG's intention to comply with the 2023 budget law requirements, which stipulate the KRG must hand over 400,000 barrels of crude oil daily to Baghdad in order to qualify for a share of the federal budget. The Iraq-Turkey Pipeline has been closed for months, preventing the KRG from exporting its oil via Turkey's Ceyhan Port. 

What's less clear is whether the extenuating circumstances regarding the shortfall in expected oil handed over to Baghdad will give Iraq an excuse to not hand over the Kurdistan Region's share (or full share) of the budget for July.

Morning briefing

Hello! Welcome to the Wednesday edition of the live blog. Here's some bits to start the day:

  • There are signs that Erbil and Baghdad are ironing out the kinks en route to implementing the recently-passed budget law and ensuring the Kurdistan Region receives its share in budget payments.
  • Peshmerga fighters are set to be deployed in Kirkuk again as part of joint brigades with federal Iraqi forces.
  • Iraqi intelligence forces have detained four suspected IS terrorists in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Anbar, and Nineveh.