Live: Iraqi government makes U-turn on Telegram ban after just a week

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The High Committee for Implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution met in Baghdad today

Badr Organization head Hadi Al-Amiri, who also leads the committee, met with Deputy Speaker of Parliament Shakhawan Abdullah in his office this afternoon.

Three key issues were discussed, according to a statement by Amiri to K24:

  1. Implementing the 2012 decision to cancel orders related to the disputed territories issued by the previous regime's Revolutionary Leadership Council and Northern Affairs Committee. Amiri emphasized that those affected should be properly compensated and properties should be returned to their original owners.
  2. Paying reparations stipulated in Article 140 of the constitution. The numbers are large, said Amiri, claiming the committee has already approved 439,000 cases. However, the necessary funds haven't been allocated. At the current rate of 200 billion IQD a year, increased from 100 billion IQD "after interventions" according to Amiri, the committee will need 22 years to pay out the money to those affected under Article 140.
  3. Distributing reimbursements evenly, and according to pre-established timetables.

The High Committee for Implementation of Article 140, largely dormant for a decade and reformed as part of the deal leading to the formation of the Sudani government, has been more active in recent months. However, little has been observed in practice.

In the same meeting, a decision to create a high-level committee to prevent "army interference with Kurdish farmers" in disputed territories was also discussed, according to Shakhawan Abdullah. After speaking with the prime minister, all present agreed to work to prevent army involvement. In recent weeks, Kurdish farmers in Kirkuk have complained of armed forces interfering with their daily work, ranging from confiscating farming equipment to preventing them from working on the land, leading to several significant protests.
Reports of Gole resort in Penjwen being struck just minutes ago.
Details and casualties unclear as of now, but preliminary reports suggest it was a drone strike.

This attacks comes just two days after a purported Turkish airstrike killed 3 civilians in the area.

According to early reports, there have been no casualties.
ڤیدیۆی بۆردوومانکردنی سەیرانگەی گۆڵێ زانیارییە سەرەتاییەکان دەڵێن، بە درۆن بووە

Update to earlier story about Minister of Finance and Economy Awat Janab Noori taking up the mantle of acting minister of labour and social affairs

 “The Minister of Labour and Social Affairs [Kwestan Mohamad Abdulla Maarouf] has taken a leave of absence for 20 days, which is normal, and [she'll undergo] some health checks, so she will not be in the ministry. Instead of her, the Minister of Finance and Economy became the acting Minister of Labour and Social Affairs today, so the news about the resignation of Kwestan Mohamad is untrue," the spokesperson for the Ministry told Rudaw today.

Last year, Kamal Atroshi stepped down as the KRG minister of natural resources, ostensibly due to health reasons and medical checkups abroad, though Iraqi Oil Report reported it was partly due to significant tensions between the minister and PM Masrour Barzani's team, which had de facto control over the oil portfolio.


Mini reshuffle in the KRG

Minister of Finance and Economy Awat Janab Noori has announced as the acting Minister of Labour and Social Affairs taking over the position from Kwestan Mohammad Abdulla Maarouf.
The surprise announcement came through a statement by the Ministry on their official Facebook page that included photos of Noori assuming the position of acting minister.

The reasons for the change are unclear. Esta News reports that it is only temporary and that Noori will take over the ministry for two weeks while Maarouf is on a trip abroad.

Both Noori and Maarouf are members of Gorran, so party leaders likely greenlit the change.

No official statements have been made yet by either the party or senior coalition partners the KDP.


Allawi responds to accusations by the federal Commision of Integrity

After the Head of the Federal Commission of Integrity (CoI) claimed that Interpol red notices have been "arranged" for four officials from the previous Cabinet headed by Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, ex-Finance Minister Ali Allawi, one of the accused, responded to the allegations for the first time yesterday.

In a statement to the UAE-based The National News, Allawi claimed, “I was accused without knowing any of the details of the accusations,” stating that thus far, the charges haven't been presented to him, and neither he nor his lawyers are aware of any red notices issued by Interpol. Allawi further claims this is an effort by the Sudani government to deflect corruption and mismanagement issues onto the previous government. “I am prepared to open whatever bank accounts they want from me and from my family … to be accused of these things is shocking,” Allawi stated.

The charges against Allawi aren't new. The CoI initially ordered the arrest and investigation of Allawi in March. This led Allawi to release a comprehensive account of the events from his perspective. In the document, Allawi claimed to have no knowledge of the heist as his requests for the accounts to be investigated went unanswered. The latest press conference by the CoI was likely prompted by the excellent exposé on the heist released recently by the Economist's 1843 magazine.

Though the press conference by the CoI was openly vindictive and theatrical in nature, and very few, if any, Iraqi analysts would disagree with the assessment that Sudani is carrying out a witch hunt against the previous administration, this doesn't necessarily talk for the innocence of the accused parties. At the end of the day, more than $2 billion were stolen from government coffers while Ali Allawi was Finance Minister and Kadhimi was Prime Minister. Though one can make a very good argument for their lack of culpability based on the lack of de facto authority by the Federal government and party and militia influence over various key ministries and institutions, people will surely ask, "Where does the buck stop?"

PM meets US ambassador

Prime Minister Sudani met with US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski earlier today. The meeting at the PM's office focused on bilateral US-Iraqi relations and explored ways to "enhance joint cooperation in the economic and development fields according to the Strategic Framework Agreement," according to an official readout.

Ambassador Romanowski's visit follows a recent meeting in Washington between Iraqi Defense Minister Thabet Al-Abbasi and his American counterpart, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III. During that meeting, both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement, discussing military and economic cooperation in light of the improving security situation in Iraq, which is shifting priorities for both nations.

The Strategic Framework Agreement, inked in Baghdad in November 2008, lays out comprehensive defense cooperation between the United States and Iraq. It expresses both countries' intention to forge a long-term relationship, supporting political progress, reinforcing national reconciliation within a unified and federal Iraq, and building a diversified and advanced economy that encourages Iraq's integration into the international community. This document has largely shaped US foreign policy towards Iraq since 2009.


Iraq lifts suspension of Telegram app

The Iraqi government on Sunday ended a week-long suspension of the Telegram messaging app over "national security" concerns after the move drew criticism from pro-Iran factions.

On Sunday morning the app was again accessible without the need for a virtual private network (VPN).

Iraq's ministry of communications had on Saturday evening announced "the lifting of the freeze on Telegram from tomorrow, Sunday".

Telegram is very popular in Iraq, and is particularly used as a propaganda platform for groups associated with armed factions and pro-Iran political parties. 

A coalition of Iran-linked Shiite Muslim parties dominates Iraq's parliament, and backs Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani.

When it suspended the app, the government said Telegram "did not respond" to repeated requests to address the issue of "data leakage from state institutions and individuals, which poses a threat to national security and social peace."

In its new statement, the ministry said managers of the app had responded to "demands of authorities by detecting the people who divulged the data of citizens and by expressing their full availability to communicate with relevant authorities."

Responding to criticisms on one Iraqi Telegram channel that the suspension was a restriction of free speech, the ministry said it "is not opposed to freedom of expression".

However, it invited managers of apps "to respect the law, the security and the data of users".

After decades of conflict, Iraq has achieved relative stability but rights groups regularly criticise authorities over the level of free expression.

The country ranks 167 out of 180 on the Reporters Without Borders 2023 Press Freedom Index.

Telegram has previously been blocked in some other countries.     


IOCs urge inclusion of production sharing contracts in new Iraqi oil and gas bill

Wladimir van Wilgenburg reports that the Association of the Petroleum Industry of Kurdistan (Apikur) is urging the governments of Baghdad and Erbil to honor existing contracts in the drafting of a new oil and gas bill.

The Apikur's demands emphasize the inclusion of production sharing contracts, cost recovery, and profit protection. Talks to draft the bill come amid ongoing disputes between Baghdad and Erbil over oil exports and revenue sharing. The situation has led to concerns over the contractual rights of international oil companies and the halting of oil exports, as detailed in the statement to S&P Global Commodity Insights.

In the nascent stages of Kurdistan's aborted independent energy policy, the Kurdistan Region offered IOCs production sharing contracts (that can be far more lucrative) over the service contracts offered by Baghdad. These were designed to attract oil giants into the Kurdistan Region over the protestations of Baghdad. Now they're proving quite the sticking point in negotiations between the KRG and Baghdad over a unified federal oil and gas law. 


Fazil Mirani, head of the KDP Political Office Executive Committee, lays out his vision for Iraq's future in an Arabic article on the KDP's official website

Fazil Mirani
Fazil Mirani   credit:

In the article, Fazil Mirani makes his case for Iraq needing 'political guarantees.' "I want an Iraqi political council to be established. [A council] whose duty is to bring solutions without reductively interpreting clear constitutional passages ... and that's by preventing government positions from turning into arenas to settle scores and achieve political gains under the guise of administrative work," he adds.

"Until recently, and especially during the referendum in Kurdistan, government agencies were pushed [to carry out] partisan and political [policies] for electoral benefits. They put pressure on us, in particular, and on others in Iraq in a dishonest way while being portrayed as [routine] government work and not the implementation of a hidden political agenda," he continued, referring to the myriad of recent Federal judicial and government decisions that have restricted KDP or the KRG's authority.

"The Kurds, the Kurdistanis, and those like them did not struggle for Iraq only to have our demands end up being [reduced to] salaries. We weren't born yesterday, and we are not among those who accidentally reached a legislative or executive position ... We are the children of the real revolutions of Iraq, not the children of coups. [Our struggle] is older than many who are in positions of power today," Mirani added, striking a constant in KDP messaging, which always emphasizes the party's historic struggle against previous Iraqi regimes.

"We need to think seriously about a middle ground between gaps [that need to be filled] in the constitution and [liberal and unjustified] interpretations of the constitution that don't meet the rights and aspirations of our people. We need a written political contract that distances political disputes ... from the rights of Kurdistani citizens," Mirani concludes.

This piece by Mirani perfectly illustrates the KDP's messaging locally. It hits all the common notes, from arguing that the constitution and the federal administration are being weaponized against the rights of Kurdistan citizens, to arguing for a new political contract that gives political parties guarantees.


Hicks Jr. seen off as his time in Kurdistan comes to an end

Hicks Jr. meets President Barzani
Hicks Jr. meets President Barzani   credit: President's press office
Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani bid farewell to outgoing US General Consul Irvin Hicks Jr. on Sunday afternoon. According to a readout of the meeting released by the president's office, Barzani "expressed the Kurdistan Region's gratitude to the consul general for his services and duties in the Kurdistan Region to promote U.S. relations with the Kurdistan Region. [Barzani] wished him success in his new assignment." On his part, Hicks Jr. "thanked President Nechirvan Barzani and the authorities of the Kurdistan Region for their cooperation and support during his tenure."

As CG, Hicks Jr. likely oversaw the most turbulent era of Kurdistan-US relations in the past two decades. Stalled Peshmerga reforms and disagreements over Kurdistan's human rights records led to high-ranking KDP members close to KR Prime Minister Masrour Barzani attacking Hicks Jr. in the media on a number of occasions, sometimes vitriolically. On several occasions, rumors that he would be replaced made their way to local Kurdish media as disagreements seemed insurmountable.

As the fundamentals leading to worsening KR-US relations remain in place, it is quite unlikely that his replacement will lead to a marked change in KRG policy, neither on the human rights front nor Peshmerga reforms. Though, as of now, it is uncertain what that will mean for the US's commitments to the region.

Iraqi PM hits up MBZ over the phone

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani held a phone conversation with the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, this morning. 

According to a readout of the phone call from Sudani's media office, "bilateral relations between the two countries and ways to consolidate them, as well as a number of regional and international issues of common concern," were discussed during the conversation. 

In the last few years, the Iraqi government has made a marked effort to reach out to Gulf states to balance its relations with Iran and seek investment and financing. These efforts have seen little success so far, as many centers of power in the country don't view closer ties with the Gulf as serving their interests.

K24 has footage of what they say is a suspected Turkish strike in Duhok's Dereluk subdistrict. 
We've not yet been able to independently verify the footage.

Morning briefing 

Good morning, folks. Here are the hottest news stories to start the day:

  • Lasting just a week, the Federal Ministry of Communication has rescinded the order to ban Telegram in the country. Starting today, the popular social media app is accessible in the country. The MoC claims the reason for the change in policy is that the company that owns Telegram has responded to their demands. The company hasn't made a public statement yet.
  • IHEC has extended voter registration for the upcoming Parliamentary elections in Iraqi Kurdistan by an additional month, Kurdistan 24 reports, citing an IHEC spokesperson. Originally scheduled to take place last year, the road to the election has been turbulent, primarily due to disagreements between the KDP and the PUK.
  • Turkey has intensified attacks in the last few weeks. This has caused considerable controversy locally, as multiple attacks have led to civilian (and only civilian) deaths. While there is no indication that civilians are being targeted deliberately, there's an apparent lack of care in avoiding civilian casualties.