Iraqi Federal Court
Iraqi Federal Court

Live: Supreme Court in session as budget bill drama relitigated

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During his meeting with KRI President Nechirvan Barzani, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk expresses concerns about the status of human rights and freedoms in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. Barzani, often viewed as a more moderate KDP figure than his rival, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, hosted the UN official on his first visit to the Kurdistan Region.

According to a statement from Barzani's office, "While outlining the agenda and intent of his visit, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights made remarks on certain aspects of human rights, freedom, and labor issues faced by civil society organizations in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region."

The meeting primarily concentrated on human rights, the working conditions and activities of civil society organizations, and press freedom. The pair also explored the opportunities and obstacles confronting journalism in the region.

President Barzani reaffirmed the Kurdistan Region's dedication to the protection and advancement of democracy, human rights, freedoms, freedom of expression, equality, and justice, as per the statement. He called on UN agencies to assist relevant parties in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region as partners, underlining the need for support and aid during these regions' transitional phase.
Here's a summary from Kurdistan 24 TV on today's meeting between the delegation from the KDP and the leaders of the ruling State Administration Coalition, with three primary topics under discussion:

1. The KDP is seeking clarity from the Iraqi leaders about why the cabinet's program and agreements have not been implemented as expected, and how these impediments can be addressed.
2. Questions are being raised about why, despite the KRG's insistence that it has acted entirely within the law, its budget share has not been released.
3. The draft Oil and Gas bill.

A second meeting, scheduled to take place later tonight, will see the KDP's delegation meeting with Parliament Speaker Muhammed Halbusi.

Tomorrow, the KDP's delegation is set to continue their talks, although the counterparts in these discussions have not been identified as of yet.


Kurdistan 24's Nawras Abdullah reports that the KDP delegation has begun their meeting with leaders of the ruling State Administration Coalition in Baghdad at the residence of Hadi Al-Amiri. Among the attendees are Iraqi Prime Minister Sudani and Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Mohsen Mandalawi.

Earlier, Vian Sabri, KDP's head of the parliamentary factions in Baghdad, told the party outlet that the primary topics of discussion would center on the current political landscape in Iraq and potential agreements within the coalition. The meeting will also be used to progress preparations for the forthcoming oil and gas law.

A major issue appears to be disputes over the implementation of the budget law, hindering the transfer of the Kurdistan Region's share of the budget, leading to delays in distributing public sector salaries. While the KRG insists it has acted entirely within the law, reports suggest disagreements over the amount of non-oil revenues Erbil should send to Baghdad.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's (PUK) head of the parliamentary faction told the party mouthpiece PUK Media that Erbil has sent less than is required from its non-oil local revenues. Harem Agha noted that Erbil had indicated its non-oil local revenues would be around 4.5 trillion dinars annually. However, now the KRG says the amount is much lower, causing problems with Baghdad.

Recap on the court proceedings today

The Federal Court of Iraq ruled in favor of KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani on Monday in a case related to the Iraqi budget law for 2023, 2024, and 2025.

Here's what the court found to be unconstitutional:
  • The phrase "With the permission of the Iraqi PM" in Article 11.1
  • "If the issue is not resolved, the Iraqi parliament should take the necessary decision" in Article 13.7.

Article 11.1's full text as passed by parliament with the offending passage struck through
The share of the Kurdistan Region is determined from the total actual expenditures shown in Table D (the governing expenditures) attached to this law, and it is paid by the Federal Ministry of Finance, with the approval of the Federal Prime Minister.

Same for Article 13.7

When there is any difference in viewpoints between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government regarding the rights, obligations, and mechanisms stipulated in the provisions of this law, a committee is formed by both parties to consider outstanding problems, raise recommendations, and resolve them within 30 days from the date of its formation. If the issue is not resolved, the Iraqi parliament should take the necessary decision.


Shiite leaders meeting to discuss the Telegram ban (among other things)

Leaders of the pro-Iran Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF) are meeting in Baghdad to discuss several issues, including the controversial ban on the messaging app Telegram in Iraq. The meeting, hosted by Hadi Al-Amiri, leader of the Fatah Alliance, will be attended by Prime Minister Sudani.

According to a source within the framework speaking to Shafaq News, the meeting will tackle the upcoming provincial council elections, the government's ban on Telegram, and objections raised by some parties within the Framework and armed factions against the governmental decision.

This meeting comes in the wake of former Iraqi prime minister and leader of the State of Law coalition, Nouri Al-Maliki, implicitly objecting to the government decision to ban Telegram in the country.

The SCF and their armed wings have made good use of the Telegram app, reaching thousands of their followers without much restriction.


Arraf's X/Twitter bio appears to confirm she's no longer at the paper

"Journalist. Formerly NYT, NPR, Christian Science Monitor, Jazeera English, CNN, Reuters in lots of places but I always find my way to Iraq."

The New York Times fires Baghdad bureau chief amid controversy

In a twist that has angered staffers at the Baghdad bureau, The New York Times has fired its second Baghdad bureau chief in five years. That's according to Semafor, anyway.

Jane Arraf, a veteran of the CNN Iraq bureau who joined The Times in 2020, was put on leave earlier this year. The decision, per Semafor's scoop, came amid an investigation into whether she 'misused' bureau funds, including paying non-U.S. journalists over the paper's $150 a day limit, an cap that has been a point of contention in Times' foreign bureaus in recent years. 

The Times' decision has raised questions, as Semafor says Arraf has privately disputed the allegations of improper spending. Additionally, she had previously clashed with the paper's management over orders to cut costs by firing some non-US staff working in the bureau. In any case, firing a celebrated editor who first came to Iraq way back in 1998 over paying her local non-American staff too much money, may seem a bit tactless. And it does chime with the experience of many locals who work with foreign journalists and media organizations in Iraq as fixers and local reporters. 

The saga highlights broader issues within the paper's Baghdad outpost, as well as the shifting priorities of major US news organizations. Arraf's departure comes as Iraq marks the 20th anniversary of the US invasion, and the US media attention has shifted to other global hotspots like Ukraine and Saudi Arabia.

Almost every major US outlet has scaled back its presence or left Iraq altogether, with a growing focus on areas of national interest such as the war in Ukraine and increasing diplomatic attention to China.

Arraf's unceremonious exit also points to the tumultuous recent history of the Times' Baghdad bureau. Her predecessor, Margaret Coker, left under controversial circumstances, and the bureau itself has not had a consistent chief for most of the year.

Semafor says a spokesperson for the Times declined to comment on the matter.


Erbil police issue statement on Zirara death

Erbil police released a statement on the recent death of Peshmerga Ministry Lt. Fuad Shahid Zirara, who died in Erbil on Sunday. According to preliminary investigations, Zirara, while under the influence of alcohol, 'inadvertently shot himself' after his car crashed at high speeds and subsequently bled to death, police said.

Initial reports indicated he was killed in a shootout.

Police statement

"Erbil Police, in coordination with the Erbil Security Directorate, conducted a preliminary investigation and thorough follow-up using Kurdistan surveillance cameras," the statement said. "Our findings show that the Peshmerga Ministry officer was at a bar before the incident. He stopped once on the 120-meter street, then drove at high speed, hit the sidewalk, and collided with a truck. While under the influence of alcohol, the officer accidentally shot himself in the left leg with his Kalashnikov weapon. Criminal and forensic evidence confirms the bullet was directed from inside to outside, and an empty AK-47 casing was found in the car. The officer bled to death in his vehicle subsequently."


The Kurdistan Region's minister of labour and social affairs, Kwestan Mohammed Abdulla, questioned the second sentencing of journalist Sherwan Sherwani by an Erbil court last month. The sentencing has led to condemnation both locally and internationally, including a strong rejection by Abdulla's political party, Gorran, as well as the PUK.

In a letter to the Judiciary Council of the Kurdistan Region, the minister said her ministry had no complaints against Sherwani and was unaware of the court hearing resulting in Sherwani's new four-year prison sentence. She also suggested the sentencing was based on an unrelated item and asked for a re-evaluation during the appeal process.

The Erbil criminal court accused Sherwani of fabricating documents, a claim that resulted in an additional four-year sentence.


The court also approved and dismissed some of the cases filed by the Iraqi PM on the budget law

Approved complaints
The court ruled unconstitutional the following phrases and articles:

  • The phrase “exclusively” in Article 2.1.8.j.6
  • The phrase “upon his request” in the last part of Article 16.2
  • Article 20.6
  • Article 28.4.a
  • Article 57.1.j
  • Article 70.2
  • Article 72 in its entirety

Rejected complaints
The court dismissed the plaintiff’s case regarding the constitutionality of the following articles of the same law:

  • Article 28.4.b
  • Article 62.4
  • Article 63.3
  • Article 65.2
  • Article 71 in its entirety 
  • Article 75 in its entirety 

Supreme Court strikes down passages in two articles of the federal budget

Here’s the translated statement by the court. Context and ramifications to follow:

Today, the Federal Supreme Court addressed Case No. (168/federal/2023), brought forward by the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government against the Speaker of Parliament. The case pertains to an appeal against articles of Law No. (13) of 2023, specifically the Federal General Budget of the Republic of Iraq for the fiscal years 2023, 2024, and 2025.

The court issued a final and binding decision for all authorities, ruling that the phrase “and with the approval of the Federal Prime Minister” in Article (11/first) and the phrase “If the issue is not resolved, the Iraqi parliament should take the necessary decision” in Article (13/Seventh) of the law are unconstitutional.

It further dismissed the case concerning the constitutionality of articles (2/first/5/b), (11/second), (12/second/a, b, c, d, e), and (13/eighth/b) of the law.

One injured in Duhok roadside bombing 

One person was injured in a roadside bomb explosion in Duhok province. An attack on a government vehicle by an explosive device in the Dohuk province resulted in injuries to the driver.

Shafaq News reports that one of the vehicles belonging to the Road Opening Teams in Wadi Rashaka, Amedi district, north of Duhok, was targeted by a TNT-made explosive device while the team was carrying out road opening and maintenance operations.

The site cited a security source as saying the explosion wounded the vehicle's driver, who was immediately transported to the hospital for necessary treatment.

It added that the area in question has become a battleground between Ankara and the fighters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Turkey regularly targets PKK fighters in the Kurdistan Region, and the KRG, which has close ties to Ankara, blames the PKK for inciting the attacks.

Earlier, Duhok Gov. Ali Tatar blamed the PKK for hindering reconstruction efforts in the province.

On Sunday, one person died and another was injured in a Turkish airstrike on a car carrying two passengers near Duhok.


The foreign ministry continues to use Telegram despite ban

The Iraqi prime minister's press office stopped sending press releases through Telegram since Saturday, while the foreign ministry still uses the service, with its latest post earlier today.

Screengrab from the Iraqi foreign ministry's official Telegram channel
Screengrab from the Iraqi foreign ministry's official Telegram channel  

On the Telegram ban, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says this on Twitter:

"Iraq is a democratic country that believes in freedom of information and expression. This is a fundamental right, but it's not without limits. Therefore, the decision to block certain social networking sites for security reasons must draw a distinction between platforms that support the state and government and those that incite hatred, violence, or violate others' privacy."

Telegram ban draws criticism throughout Iraq's media sphere

Since the inauguration of Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Sudani last year, Iraq has faced a concerning trend of diminishing spaces for free speech. Baghdad's controversial decision to block the widely used messaging app Telegram is the latest in this trend. The government justified the move on the grounds of national security and alleged data mismanagement by the app.

Many have flocked to social media platforms criticizing the ban, including pro-Iran Shiite militias and news platforms that primarily use Telegram, such as Sabereen News. Sabreen criticized the government's decision, attributing data leaks to the cabinet's own cybersecurity failures.

The ban affects a significant number of Iraqis, with Interior Ministry estimates indicating that 16 million citizens use Telegram.

The Ministry of Communications has defended the ban, arguing that it was necessitated by Telegram's failure to close down platforms leaking both official state and personal citizens' data.

Earlier this year in March, global organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch highlighted the increasingly restrictive environment for free speech in Iraq.

Citing Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iraq has ratified, they underscored the country's obligation to uphold the fundamental right to freedom of expression. The organizations criticized the Iraqi authorities for their troubling record of suppressing freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. The recent move to ban Telegram, thus, intensifies existing concerns about the state of free speech in Iraq under the current administration.


Rudaw TV (linked to the KDP Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani) had presenters on its breakfast program asking their Baghdad parliamentary reporter, Halkawt Aziz, if there's a chance the KDP might withdraw from the governing coalition altogether.

Though Aziz downplays this possibility "at this time," saying there's still an open door for discussion, he does stress that the KDP delegation is there to convey dissatisfaction with the way the government is implementing political agreements. These agreements were struck between the parties when forging the coalition.

A delegation from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) arrived in Baghdad this morning to meet with the coordination framework on the government formation agenda, and later with Mohammed Halbousi, leader of the Sunni coalition and speaker of parliament. 

Concerns have been raised over delays in implementing the government formation, including the non-passage of the oil and gas law and issues concerning salary payments in the Kurdistan Region.

According to Rudaw, the attendees in the delegation are:
  • Fazil Mirani
  • Hoshyar Zebari
  • Pshtiwan Sadiq
  • Nawzad Hadi
  • Fuad Hussein
  • Jafar Imniki
  • Umed Sabah

Morning briefing

Happy Monday! Let's get to it.

  • The Federal Supreme Court is in session today for nine complaints against specific articles in the recently-passed federal budget bill. 

  • A senior KDP delegation has landed in Baghdad for talks on key issues. 

  • Iraqi forces overnight claimed to have dismantled the 'largest' drug trafficking ring in the country, seizing 500kg of narcotics.