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Amid looming financial difficulties and teacher protests, Alan Hama Saeed, KRG education minister, implored teachers today to abandon the idea of boycotting classes.

The minister's comments came during a press conference, where he emphasized the importance of 'unity' among teachers in the Kurdistan Region. The unity, to the minister, should be in the face of Baghdad not directed at Erbil.

"While teachers have every right to demand their financial entitlements, boycotting schools is not the path to resolution," Saeed said. "I urge educators to come together and help us in asserting the rights of the Kurdistan Region."

The KRG's precarious financial position has seen it lose access to Turkey for its oil sales for months now. Baghdad has so far refused to send the full Kurdistan Region portion of the federal budget to the KRG. Kurdistan Region public sector workers haven't been paid in months. Saeed used the platform to call on the federal government to honor its commitments.

"We need the federal government to step up and fulfill its obligations to the KRG, especially regarding the budget," he stated. "The education of our youth and the well-being of our educators are at stake."

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Education announced that schools would open their doors for the new academic year on September 13, 2023. In his address, the minister reinforced this date and asked for compliance from both teachers and students. If the strikes gain traction, the school bells may ring to empty courtyards.


Folks in Tehran are busy today

In addition to hosting Bafel, officials are in talks with federal Iraqi leaders. President Ebrahim Raisi just called Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani to say hello, among other things. 

Sudani's media office posted on X:

The Prime Minister Mohammed Shia [Al-Sudani] received a phone call from the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ebrahim Raisi.

The call touched on the importance of bilateral relations, the contribution they represent to the stability of the region, the cultural and religious ties between the two countries, and Iraq’s ability to bring people closer together and enhance understanding between the countries of the region.

Sounds awfully congenial and wholesome.
US CG meets with press freedom activists 
CG Mark Stroh met with media freedom advocates to discuss challenges to journalists in the IKR. U.S. strongly supports media freedom; journalists need to be able to work free of intimidation, retaliation, harassment or arbitrary detention.

Before his career in the diplomatic service, Stroh was a journalist working for several daily and weekly publications including the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he was a daily beat reporter from 2000 to 2002. Hopefully that means an even bigger emphasis on press freedom in his tenure as top US diplomat in the Kurdistan Region.

Public sector workers on strike

Sulaymaniyah public sector works in multiple fields, including doctors, educators, and tax revenue office employees, have announced a strike due to the KRG failure to distribute salaries for July, August, and September. A similar strike has also been declared in Halabja.

According t NRT, the workers at the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Education are among the those participating in the work stoppage. Health workers have also joined the boycott.

Striking employees insist they will continue to boycott work until the overdue salaries are finally paid. The strike is disrupting essential services in Sulaimani and could exacerbate existing issues, particularly in healthcare and education, if it persists.

Similar strikes in previous years have failed to gain significant traction among wider swaths of the population. Though the near three-month stoppage this time is, for many, a bridge too far. It remains to be seen if people across the Kurdistan Region will join the picket lines en masse this time. 

Last week, a KDP-sponsored protest in Duhok drew thousands of people in condemning the lack of budget transfers by Baghdad to the Kurdistan Region. the KRG says it has fulfilled its side of the bargain struck in hashing out a federal budget earlier this year. Baghdad says the KRG isn't being forthcoming and honest about internal revenues. Though there are reports that it's pro-Iranian proxies in the federal government holding up Kurdistan's share. 


'Once a tree is pulled out, it does not grow again'

Tobacco fields in the Kurdistan Region are becoming relics of the past, with their decline captured in an Al-Monitor article by journalist Winthrop Rodgers. 

"Once a tree is pulled out, it does not grow again," said Nuri Ahmed, a 63-year-old shopkeeper who echoes the sentiments of farmers in the region.

Star Ahmad Sleman, a 40-year-old farmer, described his struggle to secure good prices for his tobacco harvest. He's one of the few remaining local farmers persisting in a trade that was once a regional economic cornerstone. With dwindling support from the KRG and fierce competition from cheaper imports, Sleman and his peers represent the last of a fading legacy.'

Once a tree is pulled out, it does not grow again

Nuri Ahmed

The story isn't just the tale of tobacco—it’s a lens through which to view the Kurdistan Region's broader economic challenges. Attempts by the KRG to diversify away from oil have had limited success beyond snazzy PR campaigns, and the struggles of local farmers symbolize the systemic obstacles in the path of reviving a once vibrant agricultural sector.
Aftereffects of genocide, competition from cheap imports and lack of government support combine to limit the market for local agricultural products.
Al-Monitor: Independent, trusted coverage of the Middle East

Bafel Talabani meets with the Iranian speaker of parliament

According to PUK mouthpiece Esta News Bafel Talabani has met with Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, also known as the Islamic Consultative Assembly or the Majlis, in Tehran earlier today.

While the meeting marks a low-key start to Talabani's trip, it remains to be seen whether he will meet with higher-ranking Iranian officials such as the president, ministers, or senior IRGC officials.


Kurdistan Regional Government seeks UN help for combating desertification

The KRG has requested United Nations assistance in halting the desertification of three key regions: Garmian, southern Duhok, and western Erbil. 

Abdulrahman Sadiq, head of the KRG Environment Board, made the announcement as preparations ramp up for the upcoming Conference on Climate Change (COP28).

"As you all know, the Kurdistan Region has cooperated with our counterparts in the Iraqi [federal] ministries to combat climate change," Sadiq said. "Every year, the Iraqi environment ministry and the department of environmental protection in the Kurdistan Region with other representatives of Iraqi and Kurdistan ministries will be attending COP28."

Sadiq's statements come amid the KRG's 'notable advances' in environmental protection, which include the utilization of flared gas from oil production for electricity at five Kurdistan Region production facilities— measures that stand in contrast to other parts of Iraq. The BBC's award-winning documentary on Basra's gas flaring problem is a great case study.


Morning briefing

Bafel Talabani's in Tehran. In a move that will surely give the KDP jitter, PUK leader Talabani is meeting with Iranian leaders just as he prepares to lead a party conference later this month. 

Proxies of Iran in Iraq's federal cabinet have been turning the screw on the Kurdistan Region and the KDP recently. There were reports last week that these parties were vetoing budget payments to the Kurdistan Region.

The PUK, which has fostered excellent ties with pro-Iran militia leaders and parties appeared to be a bystander in public with regards to Baghdad's intransigence. Instead, it blame on its senior coalition partner in the Kurdistan Region, the KDP. 

Talabani's media office will surely be making hay of his visit, especially if he cn nab any concessions or conciliatory statements by Iran over what it calls the KDP's policy failures. 

We'll bring you all that as it happens, alongside any other news from Iraq and Kurdistan throughout the day. Stay tuned!