Levi Meir

Live: KRG calls on Baghdad to pay up as standoff over budget implementation continues

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Kirkuk on edge as security forces anticipate fresh protests

Security forces took up positions in downtown Kirkuk Thursday, bracing for anticipated demonstrations near Kirkuk Citadel. Local reports indicate that authorities expect renewed protests in response to last week's events.

On Saturday, Kurdish protesters expressed dissent over the closure of the Kirkuk-Erbil road. Arab and Turkmen groups, including backers of the government-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces, initiated the blockade. The move was aimed at countering an Iraqi government order to return the Joint Operations Command headquarters, formerly a Kurdistan Democratic Party office, to the party's control.

The demonstrations last week resulted in four deaths and several injuries.

Earlier today, an Iraqi Ministry of Defense source confirmed that two high-ranking commanders have arrived in Kirkuk to oversee security. Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Yarallah and Ground Forces Commander Lt. Gen. Qasim Al-Muhammadi are in the city to supervise security efforts following recent developments in the contested area between Erbil and Baghdad.

Just in: The KDP’s Political Bureau calls for the formation of a joint Erbil-Baghdad committee to investigate the obstacles preventing the return of its offices in Kirkuk.

Here is what the KDP calls for:

  • Identify the reasons that are obstructing the implementation of the Prime Minister's decision to hand over the office to the KDP.
  • Identify and prosecute individuals who are complicating matters and obstructing the implementation of the Prime Minister's decision. This includes some MPs as well as those responsible for administering Kirkuk.
  • Identify those who gave the orders for the shooting that resulted in the death of citizens peacefully demanding the road be opened, and bring them to justice.
  • Identify those who shot, killed, and injured unarmed citizens, and bring them to justice.
  • Based on these investigations, make decisions to compensate the families of the deceased and injured, as well as citizens who have suffered material damage.
Nashville is lit up in the colours of the Kurdistan flag as it completes procedures for twinning with Erbil.
There was a ceremony last night with Erbil Governor Omed Khoshnaw and Nashville Mayor John Cooper:
Nashville is home to one of the largest Kurdish diaspora communities on earth.

Journalist Dilan Sirwan on the plight of Kurdistan's LGBTQ+ community


Two social media personalities arrested, charged for 'public order' offenses

Social media figures Ahmad Hawta Asad, known as Las Hawta, and Renas Fazel, known as Roy Makeup, were arrested on charges of posting "inappropriate" videos and "disrupting the order of society," according to authorities. The arrests were carried out by Khanaqah police station in Erbil under orders from the KRG prosecutor general.

Justice Ministry spokesman Nariman Fazel confirmed to Rudaw on Thursday that the KRG prosecutor general ordered the arrests. Fazel said that legal action has been taken, but no further information will be available until the court reaches a decision.

Both Las and Roy are active on social networks, frequently posting photos and videos in attire typically associated with women's fashion.

Consultant lawyer Aso Hashim told Rudaw, "We have launched a campaign together with lawyer Shwan Sabir to complain about all those who have disrupted the culture of society."

Hashim said the campaign against "model girls and those who disrupt the order of society" will continue, and legal complaints will be filed.

The arrests were made based on a complaint by the prosecutor general, Hashim said.

The case highlights the vagueness of laws against "public decency" in the Kurdistan region, which are often catch-all statutes that can be applied in a broad array of situations.

There has been an uptick in action against trans and LGBTQ+ communities more general recently, both in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. 

Read more on the topic of how religion and 'culture' plays an increasing role in policy here.

And about the ongoing assaults on Kurdistan's LGBTQ+ community here.


Multiple arrests made in connection with border narcotics seizure

Multiple individuals were arrested Thursday on drug trafficking charges after security services seized 2.2 kilograms of narcotics at the Haji Omeran International border crossing between Iraq and Iran.

The security services in Erbil province said the suspects had prior records of drug trafficking.

Iraq has long been a route for illicit drugs, but local use has been increasing in recent years, authorities say.

Among the drugs seized are crystal meth and hash.


It’s Always Sunny in Habbaniyah: Iraq's untapped solar potential

Iraq's solar potential far exceeds the global average, clocking in at an average irradiation of 5.6 kWh per square meter per day and over 3,000 hours of sunshine annually. In comparison, Germany, a solar energy leader, receives only 2.5 to 3.1 kWh per square meter per day.

Maha Yassin of the Institute of Regional and International Studies at the American University of Iraq in Sulaymaniyah says it's high time Iraq invests more in renewables.

The country's electricity demand is slated to double by 2030. However, Iraq currently struggles to meet even its present electricity needs. As of 2023, the nation generated only about 24,000 megawatts, falling short of the estimated 34,000-megawatts of domestic demand. Iraq makes up for the deficit by importing natural gas from Iran and receiving electricity from neighboring countries.

Renewable energy can help bridge the gap and cut carbon emissions, Yassin says. Over 80% of Iraq's electricity comes from fossil fuels, contributing significantly to carbon emissions and environmental pollution.

Even as the world's second-largest source of gas flaring after Russia, Iraq grapples with energy shortfalls. Privately-run diesel generators compound the problem, which leads to an uptick in health issues like asthma, hypertension, and cancer, especially in southern regions.

Local and international organizations have made some investment in renewables, mostly in humanitarian contexts. Yassin argues that more needs to be done, including financing, infrastructure investments, and partnerships with international experts.

Iraq aims to achieve a lofty goal of generating 12,000 MW of renewable energy by 2030. Yassin says achieving this target requires "radical reforms and political vision," especially given the current stability in Iraq's security environment.

While international investments are vital for empowering and financing micro-projects, Yassin stresses the importance of building local demand. She suggests the government should lead by example, monitoring its carbon footprint and promoting renewable energy use within its institutions.


KRG says (once more) that Baghdad is not covering cost of its oil production

As of March 25, no oil from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) has been exported via the Ceyhan pipeline in Turkey. However, since June 25, Erbil has reported that over 85,000 barrels of oil are being produced in the region daily for local consumption.

Kamal Mohammed, the acting KRG minister of natural resources, stated earlier this week that Baghdad is willing to pay only $6 per barrel for oil produced in the region. This rate is at international oil companies, which stipulate higher costs than those signed with the federal government.

This results in the KRG having to foot the bill for the balance of those costs beyond the $6 allocated by Baghdad. 


Sulaymaniyah health officials warn delay salaries disrupts Cholera response

Sabah Hawrami, the head of the Sulaymaniyah Health Directorate, has warned that ongoing delays in salary payments are putting "a lot of pressure" on health workers and doctors. This is causing them to consider boycotting their duties as health officials strive to contain the spread of cholera.

Hawrami is urging the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) to prioritize disbursing the Health Ministry’s salaries over those of other ministries to avoid disruptions in healthcare services. He further suggested beginning the payment of salaries to individual hospitals before announcing a full salary schedule for the ministry.

Acknowledging the financial strains faced by the KRG, Hawrami stated that health officials have not exerted additional pressure on Erbil. However, he added, "If the KRG could allocate special emergency funding for this issue, we could perform our duties more effectively."


Lack of clean drinking water blamed for spike in Cholera in KRI

KRG’s Health Minister Saman Barzinji has announced that 117 confirmed cases of cholera have been recorded in Sulaymaniyah province, although the actual number could be significantly higher.

Barzinji met with Sulaymaniyah health officials and a WHO representative in the city to discuss the unfolding situation. Here's what was announced during the press conference:

  • The rise in cholera cases is largely attributed to the lack of clean water; approximately 20 percent of Sulaymaniyah province residents lack access to clean mains water.
  • Many residents rely on purchasing water from unregulated tankers; the sources of this water are not controlled by authorities. This issue is exacerbated by the proliferation of new residential complexes where the government has been unable to establish a proper water supply system.
  • The ministry is coordinating with other relevant ministries to find a solution to the issue.
  • According to annual trends, the incidence of diarrhea and cholera typically rises during the summer months. However, the actual number of cases may be much higher, as some individuals are asymptomatic, and others with mild symptoms do not seek medical attention.
  • No fatalities have been reported so far, but people experiencing severe symptoms are encouraged to visit hospitals.

Morning briefing

The KRG is under mounting pressure both within and from outside its territory. Discontent at home is mounting as public sector employees still await July salaries as we approach mid-September.

Last night, the KRG released a monster statement following its regular cabinet meeting. The meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Masrour Barzani with Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani also present, touched upon various issues, ranging from recent violent incidents in Kirkuk to the more systemic issue of budget allocations and delayed salaries.

The KRG cabinet expressed condolences for the lives lost in Kirkuk and condemned the use of violence against peaceful protestors. It called upon the federal government to initiate criminal proceedings against those who resorted to violence, resulting in civilian casualties.

The bulk of the meeting, however, was devoted to fiscal matters, particularly the execution of the 2023 federal budget law. The KRG stated it had met its budgetary obligations as of June 25, 2023. Despite this, there has been a two-month delay in the disbursement of regional public sector employee salaries due to what the KRG claims is Baghdad's failure to fulfill its budgetary commitments. The Kurdistan Region's public sector payroll is notoriously bloated and forms an overwhelming proportion of the total number of salaries in the region.

Baghdad, meanwhile, says the KRG has yet to fulfil its own obligations as per the budget passed earlier this year. The KRG is required to hand over 50% of border revenues and 100% of other inland revenues. These sums are then subtracted from the amount Baghdad is meant to send. The dispute, ostensibly, is KRG figures not adding up according to federal auditors. They're accusing the KRG of cooking its books, basically. Kurdish authorities deny this. 

The meeting concluded with an urgent call to the federal cabinet to disburse allocated funds, especially those meant for salaries, in accordance with the previously agreed-upon 2023 budget. It urges the 'major' factions involved in the federal government formation to facilitate budget payments to the Kurdistan Region. For what it's worth, reports indicate it's the pro-Iranian parties and leaders who are blocking payments to the Kurdistan Region. This part of the KRG statement could be alluding to this. 

We'll be bringing updates and that and all other stories from Iraq throughout the day. Stay tuned.