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31. August 2023 16:41
French President’s office issues statement on phone call with Iraqi PM
French President Emmanuel Macron and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani discussed plans for the upcoming third Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership, scheduled for Nov. 30, according to a statement released Wednesday.
The statement said the leaders hope the conference will spur new initiatives aimed at strengthening Iraq's sovereignty and boosting regional collaboration, especially in the energy sector. The talks are part of an ongoing Franco-Iraqi strategic partnership intended to solidify commitments between the two countries.
France has increased its involvement in the Middle East, including Iraq, as the policies of the last two US administrations have left a void for other powers to engage with the region.
The discussions took place three days after a French soldier was killed during operations in Iraq.
Full Translated Statement
On Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023, President Macron spoke by phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Sudani.
President Macron reaffirmed France's dedication to combating Daesh and expressed steadfast commitment as part of the International Coalition, which includes the Iraqi government, the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government and the Syrian Democratic Forces. He also emphasized France's support for Iraqi communities, especially those areas recently liberated from Daesh.
Prime Minister Al-Sudani thanked President Macron and paid tribute to three French soldiers who died in Iraq in recent operations.
The leaders discussed preparations for the third edition of the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership, set to occur Nov. 30 in Baghdad. They expressed optimism that the event could help establish new projects to enhance Iraq's sovereignty and regional cooperation, particularly in energy, environment, water management and transport.
They also reviewed the Franco-Iraqi strategic partnership agreement signed in January 2023 during the Iraqi Prime Minister's official visit to France, and discussed future prospects for the partnership.
President Macron reaffirmed France's support for Iraq's sovereignty, security and pluralism, and for its federally structured government as outlined in the Iraqi constitution.
Lastly, President Macron expressed a desire for stronger cooperation between Kurdish authorities and the Baghdad government for the benefit of all Iraqis.
31. August 2023 16:36
Iraq jails Iranian, four Iraqis for life for killing US citizen
An Iraqi court sentenced an Iranian and four Iraqis to life in prison Thursday for the murder of US civilian Stephen Troell in Baghdad last November, according to judicial sources.
The Karkh district court in Baghdad delivered the life sentences to the five individuals, which included one Iranian national and four Iraqis, said a judicial source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The individuals confessed to the shooting of Troell and claimed their intent had been to kidnap him for ransom, not to murder him, the source added.
Another judicial source, also speaking anonymously, confirmed the verdict.
Troell was killed while driving in Baghdad's Karrada shopping district on Nov. 7, an Interior Ministry source said at the time.
Iraqi officials and security sources have yet to provide a reason to AFP for the murder in a city where attacks on foreigners have been uncommon in recent years.
Troell, who had been living in Baghdad with his wife and children for at least two years, was an English teacher. US media reports and his social media profiles indicated he was a devout Christian.
Although Iraq has seen improvements in its security situation since declaring victory over the Islamic State group in 2017, political violence persists. There was a significant uptick in kidnappings and killings after widespread protests against the government in October 2019. While no group has claimed responsibility for these crimes, suspicion often falls on pro-Iran factions. Activists claim no one has been held accountable.
In July 2020, the murder of prominent academic Hisham al-Hashemi, a leading expert on Sunni Muslim extremism, shocked the nation. Al-Hashemi was gunned down outside his Baghdad home by motorcyclists. His death drew condemnation from Iraq, Western nations, and the United Nations. He had previously expressed support for the 2019 protests against what many view as Iraq's ineffectual and corrupt leadership, perceived by some as too aligned with Iran.
The Small Arms Survey, a non-governmental organization, estimated in 2017 that there were approximately 7.6 million small arms in Iraq, a nation with a population of 39 million at that time.
31. August 2023 15:44
The KDP spin this year? Just look at all the swanky highrises
Across social media today, KDP-leaning accounts have been singing from the same hymn sheet. No longer are they seeking to brush August 31 under the proverbial carpet. That's long gone.
So, instead of treating the event like a historical aberration or a point of shame (as has been the case in much of the intervening period), it's fully embracing the date. It's reclaiming it.
Here's a video of Erbil's recent development with the caption: "The fruits of 31st August"
Here's a 'before and after' by a KDP Youth facebook page
"...Erbil residents were freed from having to chain their cars to prevent them from being stolen [...] from not letting their children play in the street lest they be kidnapped."
Inset picture features a dilapidated building while the larger image is of one of Erbil's many swanky high rise developments that have filled the city in recent years since the 2003 liberation of Iraq (well, they label it 'After August 31' as if the Erbil Marriott opened just as the last PUK soldier was driven beyond the city limits).
Analyst Yerevan Saeed on handing over oil in return for budget payments as advocated by many of the KDP’s political opponents
Doesn’t seem to have worked out as they’d hoped if the feeling was Baghdad would be more attuned to public sentiment in the Kurdistan Region than the KDP-led KRG.
Of course, the line from Baghdad is that KRG non-compliance in declaring inland revenues is what’s causing the delay. Under the terms of the contentious federal budget bill passed earlier this year, the KRG is to hand over 100% of its locally raised taxes and 50% of border revenues in order to receive its share of the budget.
KRG delegation continues meetings in Baghdad as July salaries remain unpaid
The KRG delegation that left for Baghdad on Wednesday is continuing its meetings, with no breakthrough yet reported. KRG Finance Minister Awat Janab and Iraq's Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein are part of the delegation trying to resolve issues surrounding the delay in sending Erbil its share of the Iraqi federal budget.
PUK's Esta website reports that the KRG delegation is demanding the region's share for both July and August, while the central government insists on settling non-oil revenues and debts before sending any funds to Erbil.
The delegation is also scheduled to meet with Iraqi Finance Minister Taif Sami today.
KRG mandates companies to hire locally for 75% of workforce
The Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) new mandate requiring companies to employ at least 75% local workers takes effect tomorrow, Sept. 1, according to the president of the Sulaimani branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Union (KWU).
A high-level committee, formed to oversee the implementation of this decision, has been confirmed by a spokesperson for the Ministry Labour of Social Affairs.
"The deadline for companies to increase the percentage of Kurdish workers to 75% is tomorrow," said Arian Ahmed, spokesman for the KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, in an interview with Rudaw on Thursday. Ahmed specified that the rule primarily targets new companies and those seeking license renewals, stating that licenses won't be granted unless companies meet the local employment quota.
The new policy aims (ostensibly) to bolster employment opportunities for workers in the Kurdistan Region through various means. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has established a committee, led by an advisor to the minister, to monitor compliance and assess the directive's implementation across companies.
However, the policy's effectiveness remains in question, as foreign workers largely contribute to sectors struggling to hire local employees, such as hospitality, cleaning and domestic services. These foreign workers are often brought in by companies under exploitative terms, with their documents confiscated by the agencies who facilitated their travel. The agencies take a significant proportion of their salaries (which are already lower than what the local workforce would be willing to accept).
It's unclear whether these agencies would be exempt from the mandates.
31. August 2023 13:58
Two arrested in massive illegal drugs seizure
Iraqi security forces said they seized 15 tons of illegal drugs, contraband pharmaceuticals and precursor chemicals in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood, arresting two suspects Thursday.
The seizure included components for making crystal meth and captagon, two drugs whose use has surged in Iraq in recent years, said Col. Bilal Sobhi, spokesman for the Interior Ministry's specialized unit.
"Two suspects were arrested and are facing justice," Sobhi said.
The drug unit confiscated "15 tons of narcotics, chemical components for drug manufacturing, and unregistered medicines," he added.
Iraqi authorities regularly seize captagon pills, primarily from neighboring Syria, which is the top supplier to the illicit market in Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf countries.
Previously mainly a drug transit country, war-scarred Iraq has seen a recent spike in narcotics use, primarily in captagon and crystal meth.
In early August, Iraqi justice officials announced the arrest of a trafficker with 35 kilograms of opium and more than 500,000 captagon tablets.
Last night (see start of blog), Erbil security forces also announced a bumper seizure of drugs.
31. August 2023 13:44
Daban Ahmad Rashid, head of the PUK Martyrs Bureau, told party media that 236 PUK Peshmergas were killed during the events of August 31 in Erbil and its surrounding areas.
'In addition to the martyrs, more than 700 Peshmergas were wounded. Furthermore, a large number of houses were looted during the events, and families and children of the affected residents were deported,' said Rashid.
The PUK Martyrs Bureau is an organizational body within the PUK responsible for handling matters related to party members who have died in service, often referred to as "martyrs." The PUK, like the KDP, controls its own armed forces and security services. It was these fighting forces controlled by each party that fought the Iraqi Kurdish civil war in the late 1990s.
Fresh attack on Khor Mor gas field coincides with PUK leader's reported visit to Ankara
Local reports are suggesting a thaw in relations between the PUK and Ankara, just as the Khor Mor gas field in the Chamchamal district, controlled by the PUK, is hit by another attack.
The KRG Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) confirmed that no injuries or damage were reported after the gas field was targeted with several missiles around 9:30 AM on Wednesday. Acting Minister Kemal Mohammed is working closely with local security forces and Dana Gas, the field's operating company, to ensure continued gas and electricity production.
Initial reports suggest that two Katyusha rockets were fired at the gas field from the nearby area of Tuz Khurmatu. One rocket reportedly exploded before launch, according to the Kurdistan 24 website.
The Pearl Consortium and one of its members, the UAE's Crescent Petroleum, operate in Khor Mor and Chemchemal, two of Iraq's largest gas fields. Khor Mor is vital to the Kurdistan Region, as it supplies between 50% and 70% of the area's electricity. Any disruption to this supply chain would have a significant impact on the region's energy capacity.
This attack marks the second time Khor Mor has been targeted in 2023, with multiple attacks reported throughout 2022. The KRG has been contemplating increasing gas production to supply Turkey and Europe, especially as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reduced access to cheaper Russian gas. These plans have raised concerns among suspected Iran-backed Shiite militias.
PUK leader's Ankara visit sparks suspicion
Unconfirmed reports suggest that PUK leader Bafel Talabani was in Ankara at the time of the attack, adding fuel to speculations of warming relations between the PUK and Turkey. Turkey had previously restricted its airspace to flights from Sulaymaniyah Airport in a PUK-controlled province, citing alleged PKK activities.
These reports indicate that the PUK's visit to Ankara aimed to provide reassurances, while also pointing out that its rival, the KDP, has been supplying Turkey with inaccurate intelligence.
Relations between the KDP and PUK are currently at a multi-year low, intensifying suspicions that the PUK's warming ties with Ankara may have indirectly contributed to the Khor Mor attack by suspected pro-Iran militias.
And here's the KDP politburo's pithy response to that mammoth PUK tome
"To the resilient citizens of Kurdistan
The PUK Political Bureau recently issued an extensive but empty statement on the occasion of August 31. The statement is full of fabrications.
The events of August 31, 1996, were a turning point in the history of our people's struggle that moved the Kurdistan Region toward national reconstruction and stability.
We choose not to respond to this statement, which is filled with accusations and diverges from the truth. Its content speaks to their level, and as the saying goes, "The best response to a fool is silence."
They used the Arabic expression جواب الأحمق السكوت for that last line,fyi.
31. August 2023 12:49
PUK statement in full (it's a doozy)
Twenty-seven years ago, the Republican Guard forces of the Ba'ath dictatorship occupied Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, following an invitation from the leadership of the KDP. This occupation resulted in significant destruction and loss of life, causing lasting damage to national and patriotic sentiments that continue to resonate in our collective memory.
It had only been five years since the Kurdish people had revolted against the oppression of the Ba'ath regime and the regime had seized a portion of the country's territory, but the KDP brought the Anfal and chemical attack army back to Kurdistan and Erbil under the guise of disrupting the balance of forces in the civil war. As a consequence, hundreds of Peshmergas, PUK fighters, and Iraqi opposition forces were martyred or wounded, and hundreds more were captured and disappeared. Since its inception, the weapons of this chauvinist army have degraded the elected parliament of the Kurdistan people and tarnished our experience.
However, This [sic] treachery, like many other dishonesties in the party's history, is a stain on the memory of the nation and will not be erased by hundreds of media speeches, false books, and misleading narratives of events. The PUK and other political parties in Kurdistan, driven by their optimism for the future of our people and the legitimacy of the Kurdish issue, recognize that the political process in our nation cannot be rooted in one place and prone to disruption. Consequently, they opted for a more favorable outcome centered on tranquility and the restoration of amicable relations. They overcame the hardships caused by dishonesty and treachery, while actively endeavoring to safeguard the remnants of our nation's illustrious history. In doing so, they ushered in a fresh era dedicated to fostering peace and revitalizing the ongoing pursuit of democratic struggle. The fall of the regime's army and the August 31 tragedy throughout the process of liberation, along with the various accomplishments made by our people in terms of constitutional acknowledgment of the Kurdistan Region and the implementation of a federal system, can be attributed to the PUK's patience and patriotic commitment towards safeguarding the future of Kurdish identity and the sovereignty of Kurdistan.
Regrettably, the force responsible for the betrayal of August 31 persists on the same terrible policy and repeatedly serves the same narrow interests of the KDP, rather than learning from past mistakes. It encourages violence and dishonesty, and has obviously misunderstood the conscious restraint and patience of future servants of Kurdistan, therefore, it continues to put historical memory to the test by accusing patriotic groups, particularly the PUK, of baseless defamation and investing a great deal of resources, influence, and media fraud in this deception. Instead of attempting to mend the wounds caused by the history of betrayal with the proper Kurdish and national policy and remove this dark chapter from its and Kurdistan's history, it is always seeking to legitimate this betrayal and is unconcerned with the political process and the future of our people.
In this painful remembrance, we constantly desire to entirely remove the scars of this national disaster and other disasters instead of harboring hatred and seeking revenge. We insist that the desire for authoritarianism be abandoned and that the possibility of rectifying the system of government, establishing democracy, and establishing real justice in Kurdistan be given. Without ignoring the tragic past of August 1996 or other failings, we are actively prepared to battle and make sacrifices for this right national policy.
On this day and in honor of all the martyrs and victims of our people, salutations to all the brave and proud martyrs of our people, in particular the proud martyrs of the resistance against the occupation of the Kurdistan capital on the day of August 31, 1996.
The PUK has been intensifying its media focus on August 31, a date it refers to as "the Treason of August 31." On this day in 1996, their rivals, the KDP, recaptured Erbil, but not without the military aid of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's then-dictator.
The events of August 31, 1996
Two years into a civil war between the PUK and the KDP, Masoud Barzani, the leader of the KDP, solicited the help of Saddam Hussein to oust the PUK. With considerable military support, including tanks and helicopters from the Iraqi government, the KDP succeeded in reclaiming Erbil and seizing the PUK stronghold of Sulaymaniyah. This led to the declaration of a KDP-led government in Erbil.
By October, with Iran's backing, the PUK managed to recapture Sulaymaniyah. This marked the onset of dual governance in the Kurdistan Region, an arrangement that continues to have repercussions today.
The date as a marker in Kurdistan's collective memory
For many in the Kurdistan Region, August 31 is considered a dark day, even against the backdrop of a devastating civil war. The day is particularly stinging because it saw a Kurdish faction seek assistance from what many considered to be the Kurds' principal enemy. To add insult to injury, there are reports that Saddam's regime was able to capture (and execute) some of the Iraqi opposition figures who had sought refuge in Erbil as part of the deal.
The KDP’s justification
Initially, the KDP avoided discussing the events of that fateful day, which was easier during a time it had firm control over the public sphere in Duhok and Erbil. However, as scrutiny mounted, the party had no choice but to justify its actions. According to the KDP, they were backed into a corner, facing imminent defeat to the PUK, who had the support of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Faced with this grim prospect, the KDP contends that reaching out to Saddam was a last-resort move for survival.
The PUK's take
On the eve of the 31st of August anniversary, the PUK's Political Bureau released a statement replete with strong condemnations, calling the events a "historic betrayal." Perhaps the most potent line from the statement asserts, "This treachery, like many other dishonesties in the party's history, is a stain on the memory of the nation and will not be erased by hundreds of media speeches, false books, and misleading narratives of events." With these words, the PUK accuses the KDP of not only betraying the Kurdish people but also trying to manipulate history through calculated media strategies and disinformation.
The statement illustrates the depth of the PUK's grievance, suggesting that the damage caused by the KDP’s alliance with Saddam Hussein isn't just a one-off event, but part of a broader pattern of "violence and dishonesty." It implies that the KDP's actions have left a lasting impact that's still keenly felt today—so much so that no amount of media manipulation can negate it.
The PUK concludes its statement with a forward-looking approach. It calls for 'abandoning authoritarian tendencies' and expresses a willingness to establish real justice and democracy in Kurdistan. In doing so, the PUK seems to be extending an olive branch, even as it fiercely critiques the KDP's past and present actions.
The KDP counter-narrative
Bas News, a media outlet known for its close ties to the KDP, offers a starkly different perspective on the events of August 31. In a report featuring an interview with former Kurdistan Parliament MP Said Herki, the outlet refers to the day as a "day of liberation" for the Kurdistan Region. According to Herki, the KDP, under the leadership of Masoud Barzani, acted as the guardians of Erbil, protecting the city "from theft, corruption, and external conspiracies."
Herki doesn't merely defend the KDP's actions; he actually praises them, equating the events to a "second uprising." In his view, this was a pivotal moment where the KDP rose against enemies and their proxies to safeguard the Kurdish entity. He emphasizes that the KDP's actions on that day thwarted attempts to subject the Kurds to further oppression, and even prevented the region, which was built on thousands of sacrifices, from being handed over to a neighboring country.
What is striking about the BasNews report is its unapologetic tone. Herki's narrative suggests that the KDP's actions were not just justified but were heroic. The headline for the piece reads: "It was 31st of August that made Erbil a capital admired across the globe."
31. August 2023 11:31
Iraq 'considering' nuclear power
Faced with chronic electricity shortages and an ongoing reliance on gas imports from Iran, Iraq is exploring the viability of nuclear energy as an alternative power source. The country's energy infrastructure has been a frequent target of attacks, adding further instability to an already fragile power system. While the nuclear option could diversify the energy mix, questions arise concerning the security of such facilities, especially given the history of targeted attacks on the nation's infrastructure.
Iraqi Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani led a meeting of the Ministerial Council for National Security on Wednesday evening. The gathering focused on the nation's security landscape and confronting its most pressing challenges.
Involved in the discussion were the ministers of higher education and scientific research, as well as electricity, along with the technical committee for nuclear power projects. According to a readout from the PM's office, they deliberated on the feasibility of investing in nuclear energy to augment the country's electricity production. The aim is to build a limited nuclear reactor for "peaceful purposes," which would produce clean electricity and reduce dependence on gas and oil. This could significantly improve the long-term stability of Iraq's electric power supply.
However, venturing into nuclear power raises a host of questions beyond the obvious security considerations. The nation would need significant expertise to even get such a project off the ground, bringing into question whether international partners, like the United States, would assist in this endeavor. Given Iraq's security situation, it's unclear whether countries would be willing to cooperate on nuclear initiatives due to concerns over the safety and security of such facilities.
Iraq grapples with frequent attacks on its energy infrastructure, and a nuclear power plant would surely be a prime target for such attacks. Although safety mechanisms for nuclear power plants have evolved significantly over the decades, anxiety over Russian actions in Ukraine has cast a shadow over nuclear security worldwide. Early in Russia's invasion of Ukraine last February, a nuclear power plant was the site of a dramatic firefight, streamed to the world via the facility's security cameras.
Implied threats toward the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, currently under Russian control but sought for recapture by Ukraine, add another layer of concern. Nuclear observers have struggled to gain access to the site for inspections in recent months. Incidentally, Russia's state-owned Rosatom is a key player in building nuclear power plants for international clients.
31. August 2023 11:10
Security forces in Erbil province have confiscated more than 100 kilograms of narcotics, including Captagon pills, a popular stimulant, an official announced Thursday.
Arkan Bibani, an officer at the Directorate of Combatting Narcotics, said at a press conference that the seizure also included five slot machines, 101 kg of Captagon pills, 5.5 kg of crystal meth and 600 grams of heroin. Bibani refuted claims that political parties are involved, saying the drugs are trafficked from "neighboring countries."
The forces also seized five slot machines along with the narcotics, including 101kg of Captagon pills, 5.5kg crystal methamphetamine, and 600 grams of heroin.
31. August 2023 11:08
10 cases of cholera recorded – Sulaymaniyah director of health
"Sulaimani citizens should use drinking water with caution," said Dr. Sabah Hawrami, director of health in Sulaymaniyah, at a press conference this morning.
He emphasized the importance of vigilance and adherence to guidelines, noting, "This is a sensitive stage." Hawrami also warned against drinking dirty water or water from unknown sources. However, he assured residents that "household water is from a known source" and safe to drink.
The Sulaimani health department reported that 10 people have contracted cholera, but added that no cases involving diarrhea and vomiting have resulted in deaths.
Hawrami confirmed, "There are enough medicines to treat cholera."
Hello! it's the final live blog of the week as we approach the weekend in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. Let's get straight to it.
The Sulaymaniyah health directorate has issued a health warning amid a sharp uptick in cases of suspected cholera infection.
Baghdad is 'considering' nuclear power for electricity generation to combat chronic shortages. This comes hours after questions on energy security arised again with an attack on the Khor Mor gas field last night.