Live: US Consulate General welcomes PUK-KDP agreement

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Two former Iraqi officials extradited from Oman, charged with corruption 

credit: FCI
The Federal Commission of Integrity (FCI) in Iraq has said it has successfully retrieved two former government officials implicated in financial corruption cases who had escaped to Oman.

FCI said in a statement today that in a joint operation with Omani authorities and Interpol agencies, both local and international, the officials were apprehended based on arrest warrants and extradition notices.

The detainees include the ex-director general of urban planning in the Ministry of Construction, Housing, Municipalities and Public Works, and the former director general of the Anbar Agriculture Department. A team from the FCI, supported by a security unit from Interpol, took custody of the officials in Oman's capital, Muscat. The pair were then transported to Baghdad International Airport, where they are to be handed over to the relevant courts.

The FCI emphasized that these former officials had been convicted in absentia by the Central Anti-Corruption Court and Anbar Criminal Court, according to the provisions of Articles 316 and 340 of the Penal Code. Appreciation was extended towards Omani authorities for their cooperative efforts, as the FCI reaffirms its commitment to combat corruption and ensure no country serves as a safe haven for fugitives.

In February, the Commission announced a preliminary agreement between the Chairman of the Commission, Judge Haider Hanoun, and Sheikh Ghosn bin Hilal Al-Alawi, Head of the Financial and Administrative Control Authority in the Sultanate of Oman. This memorandum of understanding is said to help combating corruption and exchange information and investigations regarding defendants wanted by courts, as well as recovering funds involved in corruption that have been smuggled abroad.

Corruption is rampant in Iraq and consecutives governments have promised to curb its spread. None has been successful.

Saudi-based Islamic body decries response to Quran burnings
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on Monday voiced "disappointment" with the response by Sweden and Denmark to a spate of Quran burnings that have sparked outrage across the Middle East.

Secretary-general Hissein Brahim Taha called on both countries to prevent Quran desecration and "expressed his disappointment that no measures were taken in this regard so far", the 57-member, Jeddah-based body said in a statement after the opening session of an extraordinary meeting on the issue. "It is unfortunate that the concerned authorities claiming freedom of expression continue to provide licences to repeat these acts contrary to international law, and this leads to a lack of respect for religions," Taha said in remarks during the meeting.

Around the time Taha was speaking, two men set the Quran alight in the latest such protest in Stockholm. One of the men, Sweden-based Iraqi refugee Salwan Momika, also burned pages of the Quran outside Stockholm's main mosque in late June and, earlier this month, stomped on the Quran outside the Iraqi embassy.

Ahead of Monday's OIC meeting, both Sweden and Denmark reached out to try to calm tensions.

On Thursday, Taha received a phone call from Sweden's foreign minister, Tobias Billstrom, who said Stockholm rejects acts that insult the Koran and wants to maintain good relations with OIC members, the organisation said in a statement.

On Sunday, Taha received a call from Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who also "condemned" insults to the Koran and said his government was "studying this issue with great interest", the OIC said.

The incidents have stoked unrest in Iraq, where hundreds of demonstrators stormed the Swedish embassy earlier this month and set fires within the compound. The Danish Refugee Council has said its office in the southern Iraqi city of Basra came under "armed attack" in response to the Danske Patrioter video.
In a meeting held in Baghdad, Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid and Prime Minister Sudani expressed their strong condemnation of repeated desecration of the Quran. 

[The President and PM have] renewed their condemnation of the repeated attack on the sanctity of the Holy Quran and Islamic sanctities by a deviant individual, and stressed the need for countries to take a more firm stance that would end these criminal practices.

Iraqi Presidency press office

The Guardian reports that the UN Human Rights Council received a formal complaint related to Turkish airstrikes in 2021, which allegedly targeted a civilian hospital in Sinjar, Iraq, resulting in eight fatalities and over 20 injuries. Survivors and witnesses prepared the complaint over a two-year period, making it the first case regarding Turkish airstrikes against the Yazidi people. The airstrikes occurred on Aug. 17, 2021, and caused severe damage to the Sikeniye medical clinic in Sinjar.

According to the report, the complainants argue that the airstrikes violated their right to life, protected by Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They also assert that Turkey's failure to investigate civilian deaths resulting from the airstrikes and provide remedies for victims infringes on their rights to a prompt, independent and effective investigation under the same covenant.

Turkey often conducts airstrikes in the border regions of the Kurdistan Region, allegedly targeting the PKK fighters. In recent years, these military operations have expanded deeper into Iraqi territories, as groups affiliated with the PKK have backed local armed groups in certain areas.
This threat to punish leakers of government documents comes on the same day the KRG announced a new transparency platform.

Peshmerga ministry issue statement on leaked documents

The Ministry of Peshmerga has confirmed the authenticity of the leaked documents but clarifies that the two houses, purchased for approximately $890,000, belong to the ministry and not the deputy minister. The ministry also warned media outlets that leaking government documents is against the law and those responsible will face punishment. 

Here is the complete statement: 
A number of official letters from the Ministry have been posted on various pages, discussing the purchase of houses and cars for the Deputy Ministry of Peshmerga. Here's our stance on this matter:

  1. The two houses mentioned in the letter are government properties and were not purchased for any individual. They will be utilized like all other residences currently in use by the Minister and Secretary General of the Ministry of Peshmerga.
  2. The Deputy Minister of Peshmerga operates within the laws and guidelines. All the ministerial decrees he has signed are official and lawful.
  3. This year, several vehicles were bought for the Ministry of Peshmerga, including one vehicle allocated to the Deputy Minister of Peshmerga.
  4. The leak and subsequent media publication of official Ministry documents is a violation of the law and guidelines, and offenders will be held accountable under the law.

Stockholm Quran burning protest sparks outrage

In a move likely to heighten tensions, two men publicly burned a copy of the Quran outside the Swedish parliament building on Monday. The act echoed previous protests that have strained relations between Sweden and countries in the Middle East.

Salwan Momika and Salwan Najem, the individuals involved, kicked and stomped on the Quran before setting its pages alight and forcibly closing it. They had engaged in a similar act of protest outside Stockholm's main mosque in late June, triggering widespread outrage and condemnation throughout the Middle East. On July 20, the pair also staged a similar demonstration outside Iraq's embassy in Stockholm where they disrespected the religious text, though did not burn it.

According to local media, Swedish police had issued a permit for the protest, organized by campaigners aiming to see the Quran banned in the country. "I will burn it many times, until you ban it," organizer Salwan Najem reportedly told Expressen newspaper.

Peshmerga ministry in hot water amid allegations of misappropriation

The Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs is under scrutiny following the leak of documents that allegedly show an allocation of 1.2 billion dinars (roughly $890,000) for the purchase of two homes for its Deputy Minister, Abdulkhaliq Mustafa (KDP).

The document appears to be signed by Peshmerga Minister Shorsh Ismail (PUK) and dated July 5. If authentic, it could spark further public outrage, especially as the KRG is currently struggling to meet its public sector salary obligations for June and has faced significant reductions in its reserves after the cessation of oil exports in March.

The alleged document, shared widely on social media and across media outlets, was first released by former Gorran party MP, Ali Hama Salih, known for his outspoken stances on political and social issues. Salih also shared a document from February apparently indicating a request to purchase a bulletproof SUV for Deputy Minister Abdulkhaliq Mustafa.

Shar Press, a private news outlet, cited an unnamed source within the Peshmerga ministry who asserted that the signature on the letter does not match that of Shorsh Ismail, but rather appears to be that of the deputy of the Peshmerga Ministry himself.

This source further claimed that over the past eight months, Ismail has not authorized any such expenditures, implying that the deputy himself may have used his authority for personal gain.

For almost six months, Ismail has reportedly boycotted ministerial work due to alleged interferences from political parties (including his own) within the ministry's affairs. In September, he warned of his potential resignation if ruling parties continued to meddle in the ministry's activities. In December, Awene reported that he had taken a leave of absence to travel abroad. As of now, the authenticity of the documents and the allegations remain unconfirmed.

Baghdad seeks to boost domestic production in Kurdistan Region

Baghdad aims to boost the Kurdistan Region's oil production for domestic use to 125,000 barrels of oil per day, as reported by Rudaw. Currently, the production stands at approximately half that quantity.

The oil will be allocated to the KDP-linked Kar refinery in Erbil and PUK-linked Qaiwan refinery in Sulaymaniyah, with which Baghdad has contractual agreements to supply Iraq with petroleum products.

The report states that per the contracts signed with the two refineries, daily oil deliveries will be 60,000 to 70,000 barrels from the Saralo station in Dubz to the Kar refinery, and 38,000 barrels of oil per day will be transported by tankers from the K1 warehouse to the Qaiwan refinery.

International oil companies operating in the Kurdistan Region have called on Baghdad and Erbil to boost their efforts to resume over 400,000 bopd for export via the Ceyhan pipeline, which has been halted for more than four months.

In Saladin province, local officials have greenlit an enhanced security plan to safeguard crucial electric power towers against attacks. Azzam Kamel Tweisan, director of the Baiji district's al-Siniyah subdistrict, notes that the updated strategy involves the utilization of warplanes and drones to surveil and secure the area. 

This response is triggered by recent episodes where unidentified groups have targeted power transmission towers spanning the Al-Siniyah subdistrict and the Haditha district in Anbar, about 30 kilometers away.

Tweisan tells the Shafaq News website of worries over potential attacks leveraging the existing "security vacuum," escalated temperatures, and a persisting electricity crisis. The term "security vacuum" is routinely employed by Iraqi authorities to denote areas that fall between the control of the Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi security forces in disputed territories in Diyala, Kirkuk, and Saladin.

On Sunday, Saudi-backed Sharq al-Awsat quoted an official Iraqi source: "Widespread sabotage operations targeted vital installations in the electricity sector in an attempt to incite citizen anger against the current government and provoke street chaos."

As the nation enters the hottest month of the year and encounters record temperatures, disruptions to its aging electricity infrastructure can easily infuriate the public. With Baghdad already feeling the heat from Tehran, upon which it heavily depends for essential gas imports to fuel its power production, regular reductions in the gas supply due to delayed payments are an issue. Despite issuing waivers for Baghdad regarding its sanctions on Tehran, the United States is held responsible for the disruption to these payments.
شفق نيوز/ أفاد مسؤول محلي في صلاح الدين، يوم الإثنين، بإقرار خطة امنية لحماية أبراج الطاقة الكهربائية تتضمن الاستعانة بطائرات حربية ومسيرة. وقال مدير ناحية الصينية التابعة لقضاء بيجي شمال غربي صلاح ا
شفق نيوز

PM Sudani vows to resolve outstanding issues with Kuwait

PM Sudani in meeting with Kuwaiti FM
PM Sudani in meeting with Kuwaiti FM   credit: Prime Minister's Office
In a meeting, Prime Minister Sudani and Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Salem Al-Sabah expressed a "serious will" to resolve long-standing bilateral issues, particularly border disputes.

This follows a joint statement issued Sunday by both countries' foreign ministers, committing to a definitive agreement on demarcating their land and maritime borders. These boundaries were initially established by the United Nations in 1993, three years after Iraq invaded Kuwait under Saddam Hussein's rule. 

While Iraq has shown willingness to recognize the land border with Kuwait, the maritime boundary remains contentious. Baghdad maintains that it should have unhindered access to Gulf waters, critical for its economy and oil exports. Due to the ongoing dispute, Kuwaiti coastguards routinely detain Iraqi fishermen and seize their vessels for alleged illegal entry into Kuwaiti waters.

Iraq's Foreign Minister, Fuad Hussein, reiterated the commitment to resolving these issues after his meeting with Al-Sabah. The two countries will continue to engage through various technical committees, with Baghdad set to host a legal committee meeting on August 14.

Al-Sabah also met Mohammed Al-Halbusi, the speaker of Iraq's parliament, to discuss demarcating the maritime border, according to Kuwait's official KUNA news agency.

In 2021, Baghdad completed its final war reparations payment, totaling over $52 billion, to Kuwait. Hussein's forces had invaded oil-rich Kuwait in August 1990 before being expelled seven months later by a US-led international coalition.
Shaswar Abdulwahid, the leader of the New Generation Movement (NGM), met with Iraqi Premier Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani in Baghdad to discuss the Kurdistan Region parliamentary elections and public sector salaries, NRT Kurdish (which is very closely associated to him) reports.

The NGM, which has been pushing for the elections, hopes to continue the momentum gained from the 2021 Iraqi parliamentary elections where it nearly doubled its seats from five to nine. 

As of now, Sudani's media office has not released a statement about the meeting.

New Quran-burning protest slated for Stockholm

Swedish police have authorized a protest scheduled for Monday, where organizers aim to burn a copy of the Quran outside the parliament. The protest leaders have expressed their desire for the Muslim holy book to be outlawed in Sweden. "I will burn it many times, until you ban it," organizer Salwan Najem told Expressen newspaper.

Najem and Iraqi refugee Salwan Momika, who has twice protested in recent months by desecrating the Quran, have staged two previous demonstrations of this nature in Stockholm. Their demonstrations were held outside the city's main mosque and Iraq's embassy. According to the police permit, the protest is set for 1:00PM local time (2:00PM Iraq) on Monday.

Sweden's diplomatic relationship with several Middle Eastern nations have been strained due to past protests involving Quran desecrations. AFP has requested a copy of both the application and the permit from police, but has not yet received a response.

Swedish police have reiterated that their role is to approve permits for public gatherings, not for specific activities that occur during these events.

Amidst widespread outrage and condemnations for the Quran desecration, Sweden instructed 15 government bodies last week, including the armed forces, several law enforcement agencies, and the tax office, to bolster anti-terrorism efforts. Sweden and Denmark are considering legal options to halt protests involving the burning of holy texts, spurred by security concerns following backlash over incidents of Quran desecration in both countries.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq have requested a meeting of the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to address Quran desecrations in Sweden and Denmark. The meeting is anticipated to take place on Monday.
Rudaw reports that Iraq's parliamentary Integrity Committee is probing the unaccounted loss of $500,000 from the Rafidain Bank's branch at Baghdad airport.

This investigation follows a Finance Ministry report in April stating that bank employees and their relatives made unauthorized dollar withdrawals. The parliamentary committee is now set to examine these questionable transactions.

The incident occurred in the wake of the Iraqi dinar's devaluation and a subsequent increase in airport branch visitors. The committee plans to question central bank officials as part of the ongoing inquiry.

Kurdistan Ministry of Justice introduces digital forms for filing complaints and feedback

Screengrab of the online form
Screengrab of the online form   credit: KRG Ministry of Justice
The KRG's digitalization drive continues in earnest as the justice ministry announces that Kurdistan Region residents can now file complaints and offer feedback to ministry offices and directorates online. 

They're using Google Forms, and users are required to provide a number and email address before selecting the relevant office from a drop-down menu. They're then prompted to write about the nature of the complaint.


The US is being accused of naivete by some in the Kurdistan commentariat

Activist and journalist Kamal Chomani says Peshmerga reform is a nebulous concept that many on Capitol Hill have convinced themselves is actually achievable.

Here's the US response to yesterday's meeting between the KDP and PUK

U.S. Consulate General - Erbil welcomes PUK and KDP agreement on holding [parliamentary] elections & support for Peshmerga unification & reform. We look forward to seeing progress as the two sides come together and negotiate the remaining issues to benefit the people of Iraqi Kurdistan.


Repeat attacks target power lines in Iraq's Saladin province

For the second time in 48 hours, the Saladin Thermal - Haditha transmission line in Iraq has been targeted in an act of sabotage, according to a brief statement from Iraq's Ministry of Electricity.

The 400 kV transmission line, crucial to the power supply in the Saladin province, has been put out of commission due to the incident.

It's the second attack in 48 hours. This same line endured a similar incident, raising questions about a potential pattern in these attacks.

In a related development, the Security Media Cell says 16 explosive devices west of Al-Siniyah district in the Sukariyat area of Baiji have been discovered. The explosives were reportedly intended to target more energy towers, hinting at a larger plot aimed at the region's power grid.

Authorities are working to restore the impacted transmission line and increase security measures around the area. Investigations to identify the culprits behind these attacks are also in progress.
بغداد اليوم- بغداد أعلنت وزارة الكهرباء، مساء اليوم الأحد (30 تموز 2023)، عن عمل تخريبي أستهدف الخط الناقل (صلاح الدين الحرارية- حديثة جهد 400 ك.ف). وقالت الوزارة في بيان مقتضب تلقته "بغداد اليوم"، ان الاستهداف "أخرج الخط عن الخدمة في محافظة صلاح الدين". وهذا هو ثاني حادث يتعرض
وكالة بغداد اليوم الاخبارية

Morning briefing

Hello! Let's get straight to it:

  • The US Consulate General in Erbil has welcomed yesterday's meeting between the KDP and PUK. This is seen as a positive step towards progress on various issues, including Peshmerga reform and elections.
  • Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Barzani Massacre in Kurdistan.
  • There have been more attacks on the electricity infrastructure in Iraq's Saladin province, resulting in the power grid being taken down. However, additional plans to cause further damage have been thwarted.