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Live: Thursday’s political updates from Iraq as they come in

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Amnesty International criticizes Iraqi media ban on LGBTQ+ terminology

Amnesty International has strongly condemned the directive by the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC) which instructs media outlets to replace the term “homosexuality” with “sexual deviance”. Aya Majzoub, the Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, described this mandate as a blatant attack on freedom of expression, allegedly defended under the pretense of maintaining "public morals".

Majzoub emphasized the risks of such decisions, cautioning that they can escalate discrimination and even incite violent incidents targeting the LGBTI community. Additionally, by maligning the term “gender”, the CMC demonstrates an alarming indifference towards the rising gender-based violence in the country. Recent reports indicate an uptick in crimes against women and girls, occurring in an environment of widespread impunity.

Earlier this year, the Sulaymaniyah council issued a similar directive prohibiting any activities under the name of "gender." More recently, following reactions to the burning of copies of the Quran in Sweden and Denmark, rainbow flags have been burned as Iraqi lawmakers called for legislation to ban homosexuality.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community in Iraq have increasingly voiced concern over these developments, fearing that such rhetoric further limits their safety and freedoms.
Responding to the directive issued by the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC) that media outlets must replace the term “homosexuality” with “sexual deviance” in their published and broadcast language, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Aya Majzoub said: “The directive from Iraq’s official media regulator is the latest in […]
Amnesty International

Iraq court overturns death sentence in academic's murder

An Iraqi court has overturned the death sentence handed down in the 2020 killing of prominent academic Hisham Al-Hashemi, sending the case back to investigators.

Ahmed Hamdawi Oueid, 36, was sentenced to death by a Baghdad criminal court in May after being found guilty of killing Hashemi, an internationally recognized expert in Sunni Muslim extremism.

Hashemi, who was also a security adviser to the Iraqi government, was shot dead on July 6, 2020, by men on motorcycles outside his home.

"All the decisions rendered by the central court are annulled, and the case is returned to the competent court responsible for investigating," the court of cassation said. The ruling was issued on July 31 and published on the court's website this week.

The court explained that the committee responsible for investigating the killing had "no legal power" to do so. The now-disbanded "Committee 29," which had been set up by former Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi to 'fight corruption' among other issues, handled the investigation.

In 2021, Kadhemi announced arrests and state television aired the confessions of Oueid, a policeman. Hashemi's murder sparked outrage across Iraq and was denounced by Western countries and the United Nations.

Hashemi had supported popular protests that had erupted in Iraq a year before his death against the ruling establishment, seen by many as inept, corrupt and too close to Iran. More than 600 people were killed and thousands wounded in the protests that began in October 2019, followed by a crackdown on demonstrations.

The protests' aftermath saw a wave of killings, attempted murders and abductions targeting activists across Iraq.



Iraqi foreign minister denies tensions with US

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein says there is no "tension" in the relationship between Iraq and the US, emphasizing ongoing collaboration in the security and military sectors.

On recent issues between the US and Iraq

During a recent interview on Al Hadath TV, Hussein expressed a mutual interest between Baghdad and Washington in bolstering joint training and expertise sharing.

His comments followed discussions between Iraqi Defence Minister Thabet Mohammed Al-Abbasi and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, where the US Department of Defence highlighted cooperation in intelligence, military, and security, aimed at combating remnants of the Islamic State group (IS).

Addressing the U.S. dollar crisis in Iraq, Hussein noted collaborative efforts between the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) and the US Federal Reserve. This cooperation emerged after the CBI prohibited 14 private banks from executing dollar transactions due to discrepancies in the previous year's dollar transfers. Many have interpreted the US measures as pressure from Washington on the pro-Iran government in Baghdad.

The sharp depreciation of the Iraqi dinar against the dollar resulted from U.S. sanctions on Iraqi private banks, which allegedly facilitated dollar transfers to Iran.

Concerning the ongoing water crisis

  • Hussein proposed negotiations with Iran and Turkey to ensure Iraq's water allocation.
  • He emphasized the necessity for a collaborative approach to tackle the impacts of climate change.
  • 70% of Iraq's water is sourced from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, originating in Turkey.
  • Iraq has criticized both Iran and Turkey for compromising its water security through upstream dam constructions.

Discussions with Turkey

The Iraqi PM is anticipated to visit Ankara soon, although a specific date was not disclosed. Turkey’s President Erdogan is planning to visit Baghdad, which would be his first as the country's president. Water, KRI oil exports, and the presence of PKK fighters in Iraq are some of the topics to be discussed.

The agenda for talks includes the water crisis and Turkey's military presence in northern Iraq, Hussein revealed.

In the context of the attack on the Swedish embassy in Baghdad in July, Hussein stated that Iraq condemns assaults on diplomatic missions within its borders. Enhanced security measures have been put in place to safeguard foreign missions.
Iraq’s increasing temperatures and prolonged drought serve as a “wake-up call” for the world, said United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk in Baghdad on Wednesday. 

Turk’s comments to AFP came during a visit to Iraq, a country the UN identifies as one of the five most affected globally by some impacts of climate change. 

Read the full report here
Six Turkish soldiers killed in Kurdistan Region clashes – Ministry

At least six Turkish soldiers were killed during clashes with PKK fighters in the Kurdistan Region, the Turkish defence ministry said on Thursday.

The soldiers were killed by fire from "the separatist terror organisation", it added, referring to the PKK group, which is listed as a terror group by Turkey and Western nations.

"Operations continue in the region," the ministry said.

Pro-PKK Roj News says 31 Turkish “”occupiers” have been killed in dozens of military operations in the Kurdistan Region.

On Wednesday, separate Turkish drone strikes killed two PKK members in KRI, officials in the Kurdistan region said, following a similar incident Sunday.

Both Ankara and the PKK inflate the numbers of casualties inflicted on the other side, making verification difficult. 
ناوەندی هەواڵەکانناوەندی ڕاگەیاندنی هەپەگە ڕایگەیاند، لە ٢٤ کاتژمێری ڕابردوودا ٤٤ چالاکی لەدژی سوپای داگیرکەری تورک ئەنجام داوەو ٣١ داگیرکەر سزا دراون.نوێدەکرێتەوە
کوردی - RojNews.News

Assassination attempts on PUK federal MP in Tuz Khurmatu thwarted

The head of the PUK's Hamrin office and an Iraqi MP is said to have narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Tuz Khurmatu.

According to Mohammed Mahmoud, the deputy head of PUK's Hamrin office, Mala Karim Shukur was targeted by two young men, one of whom was armed, official PUK Media reported.

"They attempted to shoot him, but were intercepted by his guards, leading to a scuffle," Mahmoud stated. The altercation ended with one of the attackers being shot, and both fled the scene.

Mahmoud confirmed that Shukur is unharmed and in good health.

The report added that security forces in the region have since initiated a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding the attack, actively seeking the suspects involved.

Khurmatu is in the disputed territory of Saladin province.
Similar to other international oil companies operating in the Kurdistan Region, Vancouver-based ShaMaran Petroleum also faces uncertainty and says it has cut costs to weather deteriorating conditions.

  • The company has released its second quarter results which was heavily impacted by the closure of the Iraq-Turkey pipeline since March 25. The closure has deeply affected the company's operations and financials.
  • ShaMaran hopes that the ongoing political discussions between Ankara, Baghdad, and Erbil would lead to resolving this.

Key Corporate Insights

  • The pipeline closure had a significant effect, with active engagement for its reopening.
  • Although Atrush production was halted due to storage and transport issues, Sarsang continued at a reduced rate, with sales to local refineries.
  • In light of the pipeline closure, ShaMaran saw a cash-neutral quarter due to local sales and proactive cost-reduction.
  • The recent Iraq federal budget for 2023-2025 suggests monthly budget transfers from Iraq to the KRG and normalization of relations.

Financial overview

  • Q2 2023 revenue saw a decline to $6.5 million from $44.8 million in Q2 2022.
  • Net results were in the negative at -$27.2 million, compared to a positive $21.2 million in Q2 2022.
  • Cash flow from operations also plummeted to -$734,000, a significant drop from $40.7 million in the previous year's Q2.
  • Q2 2023 oil sales were at an average net back price of $41.47/bbl, generating revenues of $6.5 million.
  • ShaMaran has liaised with the KRG about the overdue receivables for oil sales amounting to $96.7 million.
  • As of June 30, 2023, the company possessed a cash balance of $92.5 million and gross debt of $315.6 million.

Operational sevelopments

  • Post-ITP [Iraq-Turkey Pipeline] shutdown, Sarsang produced at an average rate of 18 Mbopd during Q2 2023.
  • Two wells were completed during Q2, expected to operate post-resumption of pipeline exports.
  • Drilling activity for 2023 has been reduced or deferred.
  • Due to the challenges, the company has suspended its guidance for 2023.

Subsequent events

  • On July 26, 2023, bondholder approval was received to utilize restricted cash for bond interest and amortization due on July 30, 2023. 
  • As of July 31, 2023, the company's cash stood at $56.9 million, with gross debt at $293.1 million.
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.

New KRG Spokesperson holds what appears to be first regular press conference

Good news for government accountability and transparency.

New government spokesperson Peshawa Hawramani has held what appears to be the first of regular press briefings. The backdrop design (which looks too good to be temporary) reads "The Spokesperson's Conference".

The arrest warrant for Wahab Halabjay shows he has Dominica citizenship

Dominica citizenship by investment (which in turn affords visa-free travel to many destinations worldwide, including the UK) can cost anywhere between $190,000 to $250,000, depending on whether you make a non-refundable donation or purchase property in the country.
Second passport in the Caribbean offers a lot of visa-free travel opportunities to its holders. How to get Caribbean passport and citizenship?
Imperial & Legal

Press freedom under threat in Iraqi Kurdistan, says journalist Winthrop Rodgers

In-depth analysis by Winthrop Rodgers, a former NRT English editor, in The New Arab has echoed increasingly dire signals about the dwindling of press freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The recent sentencing of Kurdish journalist Sherwan Sherwani to an additional four years in prison has provoked outrage and international condemnation, highlighting the increasing pressures on journalists in the region.

Sherwani was initially arrested in October 2020 following protests against the KRG economic policies. In February 2021, he was convicted along with others for "destabilising the security and stability" of the Kurdistan Region, a verdict that human rights groups decried as politically motivated.

Three activists involved were released in March this year, while Sherwani and another journalist remain in prison due to additional charges.

As noted by Rodgers, the KRG has intensified its crackdown on activists and journalists, with 431 documented violations against 301 journalists and outlets last year alone. This trend marks a considerable increase from previous years.

The 2021 case against Sherwani and his co-defendants shocked many outside observers into confronting the fact that freedom of expression is declining across the Kurdistan Region.


He points to increasing restrictions, such as a new set of regulations released in May by the KRG's Ministry of Youth and Culture, giving the government greater power to determine what content can be broadcasted or posted online.

"Activists are concerned that these restrictions could conceivably be used to obstruct a wide range of journalistic work," Rodgers notes, highlighting the fear that vague language in the regulations could lead to potential abuse.

 'A very wrong direction'

The analysis piece also delves into Sherwani's most recent trial, laying bare how the Kurdistan Region's judiciary is being used to silence dissent.

“'If anybody speaks out from now on, the legal system and judges can be used against them…It will break the trust between people, civil society, and the judiciary in Iraqi Kurdistan,'” Kamaran Osman, who works for human rights NGO Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT), told The New Arab.

The verdict, which many view as unjust, is seen as a further sign that press freedom in the region is eroding.

Rodgers comments, “'Kurdistan is going in a very, very wrong direction of not respecting human rights and freedom of expression.'”

International responses

Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists, expressed his dismay at the Kurdish authorities, saying, "Iraqi Kurdish authorities are showing their determination to tell the world how vicious they can be against journalists."

What's next?

Rodgers sheds light on a pressing issue that goes beyond the individual case of Sherwani. The escalating abuses, increasing restrictions, and a disturbing direction towards silencing dissent are alarming signs for press freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan.

With international attention now focused on these developments, it remains to be seen how the KRG will respond to growing concerns over its commitment to democratic values and human rights.

As Sherwani's friend and fellow journalist Omed Barushki said: "Today it is against Sherwan Sherwani and me, tomorrow it will be against you and your family."
In-depth: With politically motivated charges and show trials, the Kurdistan Regional Government has intensified its crackdown on activists and journalists to silence dissent, as new restrictions come into play.
The New Arab

KDP-PUK relations on the rocks again


Once again, the relationship between the KDP and the PUK is deteriorating fast.

It comes as the KDP intensifies efforts to pursue a senior PUK security official with a new arrest warrant.

What happened?

On Wednesday, the Kurdistan Region's General Prosecutor issued an international arrest warrant for Wahab Halabjay, PUK's head of the Counter Terrorism Group (GTC), over the suspected assassination of an intelligence officer in Erbil. An Erbil court has already sentenced Halabjay to death in absentia.

The PUK, which controls security affairs in the Sulaymaniyah region, not only refuses to hand him over but also awarded Halabjay with medals just a day after the sentence was issued. 

These tensions exist despite seemingly friendly imaging that emerged from a recent meeting in Baghdad between PUK leader Bafel Talabani and a KDP delegation headed by veteran Fazil Mirani. If one were to base their understanding solely on reports of this meeting, they might not grasp the severity of the situation. That's because the delegates do not hold the real power in the KDP camp; KRG PM Masrour Barzani does.

Talabani himself has recently portrayed Barzani as the main destabilizer in the situation.

How bad is it, really?

To begin with, neither KDP's official media outlets such as nor Kurdistan 24 (which is close to PM Barzani) reported the meeting in Baghdad; they simply ignored it.

In contrast, the hardliner Bas News (also aligned with PM Barzani) published a report accusing Bafel Talabani of a rampage of killings and assassinations of those close to the ousted PUK co-leader Lahur Talabany. The report enumerates dozens of individuals – including Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) members – who have been killed in the Sulaymaniyah region since the fallout between the two co-leaders in 2021.

The core issue seems to be Masrour Barzani's refusal to work with Bafel Talabani as the legitimate leader of the PUK. Barzani, effectively the KDP's second-in-command, has consistently avoided meeting with Talabani due to concerns over his political maneuvering since taking charge of the PUK.

Another point of contention, as perceived by the KDP, is that Talabani does not fully represent either the PUK or the entire Sulaymaniyah Region. The KDP may argue that the PUK, once an equal rival, has not only lost much of its influence (evidenced by its parliamentary seats being whittled down over the years) but has further weakened since the removal of the popular Lahur Talabany.

What we're watching

The region is approaching significant milestones, including parliamentary elections scheduled for February. Additionally, the upcoming Iraq provincial elections in Kirkuk may further reveal just how much support the PUK still commands in those areas.

Afternoon briefing

Welcome to the final live blog of the week as the weekend looms in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. Let's get cracking.

  • US officials tell KRG Deputy PM Qubad Talabani (PUK) to carry out Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs reforms and work towards Peshmerga unification "as soon as possible," according to his own party's media outlets.
  • PUK shadow media goes on the prowl, with a direct attack video aimed at the KDP's late founder, Mustafa Barzani.
  • This comes as PUK leader Bafel Talabani professes will to solve "fabricated problems" between his party and the KDP.