Screengrab from Amberin Zaman's story in Al-Monitor

Live: Bombshell scoop on KRG PM’s letter to Biden Administration has Kurdistan on edge

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PUK leader discusses ‘unity’ with U.S. Ambassador in Baghdad

credit: PUK Media
Bafel Talabani and Alina Romanowski Discuss Erbil-Baghdad Tensions and Upcoming KRI Parliamentary Elections Amid Ongoing KDP-PUK Rivalry

Full statement from Talabani’s office, translated from Kurdish:

Bafel Jalal Talabani, President of the PUK, met with Alina Romanowski, US Ambassador to Iraq, at Mam's house in Baghdad. The meeting focused on the latest political, economic, and security developments between Erbil and Baghdad, underscoring the need for constitutional and political solutions that satisfy all parties and ensure regional stability.

President Talabani reaffirmed the PUK's commitment to resolving issues between Erbil and Baghdad. He stated, "The welfare and entitlements of the people should not be tied to political disputes. Our citizens' well-being should not be compromised due to political conflicts, and we will take steps to rectify this undesirable situation."

He added, "Maintaining regional peace is a collective responsibility. Stability will only be achieved by proactively addressing challenges and aiming for a brighter future."

The general situation in the Kurdistan Region and the upcoming elections were also topics of discussion during the meeting.

President Bafel Talabani stated, "All national issues must be resolved through consensus among all parties, and we reject any attempts to circumvent this collective will. Preserving the entity of the Region and our collective strength hinges on our unity and solidarity; for this reason, we continue our efforts."

Austrian foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg completes "Full Barzani" in one day

credit: screen grab.
And with this meeting, the Austrian top diplomat completes the “Full Barzani” in one day, by meeting with KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani, and KDP leader Massoud Barzani.
No statement has been released by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry regarding the minister's recent visit to Tehran yet. Just saying.
credit: İran Dışişleri Bakanlığı


Talabani requested extension of disarmament deadline – Hawlati

According to a report by Hawlati, PUK leader Bafel Talabani's recent visit to Tehran to with Iranian officials was with the intent of extending the disarmament deadline for Kurdish opposition groups in the Kurdistan Region. This contradicts previous claims by the Iranians who stated that the issue of disarming the opposition parties wasn't even discussed during Talabani's visit.

Soran Salihi, a representative from the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, was firm in his stance, asserting their readiness for any challenge and emphasizing their continued resistance against any external pressures.

Notably, while the KDP is involved in these discussions, they seem inclined to set specific conditions before adhering to any agreements. The KDP's conditions touch on varied issues, from salaries to oil, indicating the multifaceted dynamics of the situation.

Iraq asks Sweden to extradite Quran burner

Baghdad has formally requested Sweden to extradite Iraqi refugee Salwan Momika, who sparked international controversy by burning the Quran, both Momika and his attorney David Hall confirmed to AFP on Tuesday.

Swedish authorities questioned Momika in relation to the extradition request. "Under Swedish law, for extradition to be possible, the act has to be a crime in both jurisdictions," Hall said. He noted that burning the Quran is not a criminal offense in Sweden, thereby rendering extradition unlikely.

The Swedish government has criticized the desecration but maintains its stance on freedom of speech. "I'm sure the Iraqi government understands this," Hall said.

Momika stated that Iraq seeks his extradition to face trial under Islamic laws. He also plans to file a complaint against Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein for "committing a political crime against me."

Momika's actions have led to significant unrest. Angry protesters twice stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad in July, even setting fires on the second occasion. Consequently, Sweden's intelligence agency raised its terror alert level in mid-August.

The Swedish government is considering legal avenues to prevent the burning of holy texts under certain conditions, although legislative change remains uncertain.

Hall expects the extradition case to reach the Swedish Supreme Court, with a decision likely "taking several weeks to a few months."



More from Iran's Mehr News Agency on the Iraqi Foreign Minister's visit

Abdollahian stated that the "security cooperation between Iraq and Iran is fundamentally rooted in the constitution." He added that Baghdad remains committed to this framework and aims to achieve its end goal.

The objective, according to Abdollahian, is to disarm the terrorist groups situated along the Iran-Iraq border. These groups will subsequently be relocated to various refugee camps under the supervision of the United Nations and the High Commissioner for Refugees.

Abdollahian concluded by saying the roadmap for carrying out this security agreement will be finalized within two days.


Amnesty International reports a heightened crackdown by Iranian authorities on human rights over the past year, with a specific focus on targeting women and girls. This surge in repression coincides with the one-year anniversary of the "Woman, Life, Freedom" protests, ignited by the death of Jina Amini while in custody.

The Iranian government's repressive actions have included hundreds of unlawful killings, the arbitrary execution of at least seven protesters, tens of thousands of random arrests, and the widespread torture of detainees. In addition, the enforcement of veiling laws has been intensified; thousands of students have been required to sign pledges committing not to engage in anniversary protests. Amnesty International charges Iran with multiple violations of international law, aimed at consolidating its power.

"To disarm is out of the question for us," declares Siamand Moini, co-chair of the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK). The group, which is closely affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), is facing an approaching deadline set by the Iraqi central government to disarm Kurdish groups in the Kurdistan Region. 
Iran has put heavy pressure Iraq and the KRG to disarm PJAK, along with other Kurdish opposition groups such as PDK-I, Komala, and PAK. A deadline of September 19 was set following a March agreement between Iraq and Iran. Iran has issued a stern warning, stating that if Iraq fails to enforce the deadline, Iran will take over the responsibility for ensuring security.
As Iran intensifies security efforts ahead of the first anniversary of Jina [Mahsa] Amini's death on Sept. 16, new reports indicate a wave of arrests targeting Kurdish activists and citizens.

According to the Kurdistan Human Rights Network, BBC Farsi reports that at least seven individuals were detained in Saqqez and Bukan. Among them is Shirko Hijazi, a civil activist and leader of the Saghzniz city soccer team. Hijazi was reportedly arrested and taken to an unknown location.

In a related development, Mehsa Amini's parents announced on Instagram their plans to hold traditional and religious ceremonies at their son's gravesite to mark the anniversary.

BBC's Jiyar Gol also reported that Iranian security forces are attempting to limit attendance at the anniversary ceremony in Saqqez by closing city entrances starting Friday. Similar measures were taken during Jina Amini's 40th-day memorial ceremony but failed to prevent a large crowd from reaching the cemetery.
همزمان با تشدید مقررات امنیتی حکومت ایران برای جلوگیری از برگزاری اولین سال کشته شدن مهسا (ژینا) امینی، گزارش‌ها از موج تازه بازداشت شهروندان و فعالان کرد حکایت می‌کند. شبکه حقوق بشر کردستان در شبکه اجتماعی ایکس نوشت که روزهای اخیر در سقز و بوکان، نیروهای امنیتی دست‌کم ۷ فعال و شهروند کرد را به نام‌های «هیرو قدیمی، احمد معزز، امید توتی، قادر فتح‌اللهی، طاهر سلطانی، حسن و حسین چاکوچ، بازداشت کرده‌اند.
BBC News فارسی

Main opposition party presses voters to register ahead of next year's Kurdistan parliamentary elections

Caption reads:
Caption reads: "What do people say about the process of receiving biometric ID and casting votes in elections"   credit: NRT TV
The New Generation Movement (NGM) and its affiliated news outlet, NRT TV, are airing extensive coverage of the upcoming Kurdistan Parliamentary elections. The coverage presses home the necessity of obtaining biometric voter ID cards in order to be able to vote. The awareness campaign comes at a time when the Kurdistan Region is dealing with many crises, including financial difficulties affecting civil servants and tensions between the KDP and PUK.

In the 2021 Iraqi parliamentary elections, the NGM secured nine seats in Baghdad, doubling its previous haul. The party seeks to maintain this momentum in the upcoming elections in Erbil. Acknowledging that a significant portion of the electorate abstained from voting in 2018 (an election that saw the opposition fail to mobilize disenchanted voters; the KDP saw its seats jump up despite an overall loss of votes), the NGM is focusing its efforts on gaining the support of this group and getting those reluctant voters to register for the ID cards needed to cast votes. This demographic largely consists of former supporters of the Change Movement (Gorran) and those critical of the KDP and PUK. 

The amount of coverage devoted to getting voters to register may suggest there are jitters within opposition parties over low turnout, which will benefit the ruling parties. 

The NGM is especially intent on engaging younger voters, many of whom will be eligible to vote for the first time since the 2018 elections. This age group often expresses dissatisfaction with the current government, citing limited employment opportunities and an erosion of personal freedoms. With younger people being less likely to vote throughout many democracies worldwide, mobilizing this bloc may prove an uphill battle.

Disclosure: The Citadel receives funding from Nalia Radio and Television, the holding company of NRT. We are editorially independent of both entities. 

Just in from KRG’s spokesperson Peshawa Hawramani:

Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, and a delegation from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are scheduled to visit Baghdad tomorrow for a series of meetings. The KRG aims to finalize an agreement with the federal government to ensure that the people of the Kurdistan Region receive their financial entitlements, including salaries, on par with residents in other parts of Iraq.

The KRG emphasizes its commitment to upholding existing agreements with the federal government. This visit by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and government team is a testament to the KRG's intention to resolve outstanding issues through the proper implementation of these agreements, especially the budget law.


Hussein-Abdollahian meeting: Iraq updates Iran on Kurdish groups' disarmament

In a joint press conference in Tehran, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and his Iranian counterpart Amir-Abdollahian discussed the progress of a security agreement between the two countries. The agreement calls for the disarmament and relocation of separatist groups in the Kurdistan Region by September 19.

Amir-Abdollahian emphasized Iran's dedication to national security and expressed approval of Iraq's efforts to disarm these groups. He indicated that additional actions would be undertaken in the days ahead, consistent with the security agreement. He stressed the urgency by stating, "Even giving one hour to these groups compromises the security of Iraq, Iran, and the Iraqi Kurdistan region."

He further added, "We received positive news from Dr. Fuad Hussein regarding the implementation of the security pact. We hope to see these developments materialize on the ground in the coming hours and days."

Deputy PM Qubad Talabani is joining the PM for his trip to Baghdad

This is interesting. Talabani's party frequently accuses Masrour Barzani of hoarding power in the coalition government. Unlike under Nechirvan Barzani's tenure as PM, Qubad Talabani rarely accompanies Masrour Barzani on trips. 
With the KRG under monumental external pressure and disunity being a common point of exasperation among Kurdistan's allies, this could be a sign of a welcome thaw in relations. Or sheer desperation. Or both. 

And here is what PM Barzani said on the first day of school – between the bell ringing

For whom the bell tolls?
For whom the bell tolls?   credit: PM's press office
"We're all aware that there may be significant pressure on the Kurdistan Region to halt or impede our progress. A key factor for our country's advancement is a better-educated next generation. Therefore, it's essential that we don't succumb to pressure from any party aimed at disrupting the education sector. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to our teachers, who have faced financial hardships. Rest assured that the Kurdistan Regional Government will do its utmost to navigate through this crisis and improve conditions."

"Our plan is to visit Baghdad to address our issues peacefully. Our restraint should not be mistaken for weakness; rather, it reflects our commitment to resolving issues without escalation. We aim to secure all financial and constitutional rights for the people of the Kurdistan Region. We will engage with political parties to understand why the goodwill shown by the Kurdish people is not reciprocated. When the Kurdish people welcomed all Iraqis with open arms, it's reasonable to expect that all Iraqis would reciprocate by defending the rights and merits of the Kurdish people. We are concerned about the apparent policy aimed at economically constraining the Kurdistan Region. We hold the view that Kurdistan's success is intrinsically tied to the success of Iraq as a whole; economic recovery in Kurdistan would similarly benefit the entire nation of Iraq."

"There have been challenges in implementing the agreements we've made with the [Iraqi] Prime Minister during our previous visits. These agreements were intended to bring greater stability to Iraq and foster the development of our country. However, they have yet to be fully enacted."

"We remain committed to finding solutions. During our upcoming visits to Baghdad, we will exhaust all peaceful means to resolve outstanding issues. This includes securing the rights of important groups like teachers, so they can focus on educating our youth and students without the burden of worrying about their salaries and livelihoods."

Masrour Barzani clearly didn't get the memo

Boycotts, schmoycotts. Here he is ringing the ceremonial bell to signal the start of class.

I congratulate teachers and students on the start of the new school year

PM Masrour Barzani

Perhaps a bit tone deaf. Or maybe that's just tinnitus from the bell ringing.

Sulaymaniyah health workers to suspend work over unpaid salaries

Health workers in Sulaymaniyah province have announced a work suspension in all health facilities, effective from 12:00 pm on Wednesday. This decision comes amidst unresolved disputes between the KRG and Baghdad over the failure to pay salaries for the month of July.

Hawjin Othman, the president of the Sulaymaniyah branch of health workers, said in a press conference that the suspension will affect all health centers and hospitals in the province. However, emergency rooms and other "sensitive areas" will continue to operate during this period.

Othman urged the KRG and the Iraqi government to settle the salary dispute by next week. This move exacerbates existing financial tensions that have long strained relations between Erbil and Baghdad, particularly as both parties struggle to meet their budgetary commitments.

Some teachers have also announced a boycott on the first day of the new school term, which was today.

Just in: Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian welcomes Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein in Tehran

From Mehr: During a joint press conference with his Austrian counterpart in Baghdad on Tuesday, Fuad Hussein emphasized that the Iraqi constitution prohibits any party from using its territory to attack neighboring countries. 

Referring to the recent security agreement between Tehran and Baghdad, in which Iranian Kurdish opposition groups based in the Kurdistan Region are to be disarmed by Sept.19, Hussein stated that Baghdad has taken necessary steps to relocate the opposition groups [Mehr calls them 'separatist terrorist groups] away from the Iraq-Iran border.

Journalist Winthrop Rodgers on the PUK spin we covered earlier


Kurdistan Region president says 'important steps' taken to ease Iran's security concerns

Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani stated that "important steps" have been taken to address Iran's security concerns over Kurdish opposition groups based in the Kurdistan Region. Barzani added that he sees no remaining justification for Tehran to take military action against these groups.

"A security agreement between Baghdad and Tehran has been signed, and the Kurdistan Region, as part of Iraq, is committed to this agreement," Barzani said earlier today. "We do not wish for the Kurdistan Region to pose a threat to any neighboring country, including Iran and Turkey. Significant steps have been coordinated and executed in cooperation with Baghdad to uphold this commitment."

Barzani expressed hope that these actions would prevent any future security or military issues. "Personally, I see no justification for military intervention," he said.

The statement comes as Tehran is reportedly deploying forces along its border with the Kurdistan Region. The move precedes a September 19 deadline for Iranian Kurdish opposition groups to relocate to designated camps and disarm.


More on the reopening of Austria's embassy in baghdad after 30-year absence

Austria reopened its embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday after a 30-year hiatus, a move hailed as a sign of Iraq's returning stability.

"We are back and we mean business," said Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg at the opening ceremony, which took place at the downtown Babylon Rotana Hotel.

Schallenberg, during a joint press conference with his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein, described Iraq as a "key country" in the region. "It plays an extremely important role in the stability and security of the entire region," he said.

The foreign minister was accompanied by 10 businesspeople from sectors including energy, health, telecom, transport, and infrastructure, all poised to invest in Iraq. These sectors have been particularly challenged in a country scarred by years of conflict, where infrastructure such as roads and the power grid are in disrepair.

"The strongest signal of trust is that 10 well-known Austrian companies are part of my delegation, ready to invest here, ready to build a business here," said Schallenberg.

Austrian exports to Iraq last year increased by 25%, reaching 94.5 million euros ($101 million), according to the Austrian Economic Chambers.

Schallenberg also discussed migration, noting that agreements have been signed for the readmission of Iraqis residing illegally in Austria.

Austria closed its embassy in Iraq in 1991 amid the Gulf War. Since then, the Austrian embassy in neighboring Jordan had been handling matters related to Iraq. However, Vienna emphasized that diplomatic relations with Iraq "were never cut off."

Although Iraq has regained a measure of stability after more than four decades of conflict, it continues to grapple with political turmoil and corruption. Many Iraqis are also concerned about the outsized influence of neighboring Iran, whose presence can be seen in armed factions and pro-Tehran political parties that support the current Iraqi government and dominate its parliament.


18 officers sentenced for Sweden embassy riots

An Iraqi court on Tuesday sentenced 18 police officers to up to three years in jail for failing to prevent protesters from storming and setting fire to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, according to security officials.

Protesters supporting influential Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr torched the embassy on July 20, following an incident in which an Iraqi refugee based in Stockholm desecrated the Quran.

The internal security forces court in Baghdad found the officers guilty of neglecting their duties, which allowed the embassy attack, according to a verdict copy seen by AFP.

Of the convicted officers, eight received three-year sentences, seven were sentenced to two years and three months, and three were given 18-month sentences, said an interior ministry official who attended the hearing and authenticated the text.

Some officers were permanently barred from the force, the verdict stated.

The officers, including members of the diplomatic protection forces, have the option to appeal the ruling.



Austria's foreign minister is in town

On track to complete a Full Barzani by lunchtime. He's here as Austria reopens its embassy in Baghdad for the first time in decades.

The PUK is clearly having fun

It's leading its coverage of the story with how the PM has 'received no response' from the Biden Administration. The instinct to stick it to their long-time KDP (same the other way round, too) rivals even when the Kurdistan Region's allies are showing frustration at the inability to reconcile in the face of existential threats is part of the reason why Kurdistan is in such a mess in the first place.

PM Barzani puts visit to Baghdad on his itinerary

With the region he governs fraying at the seams, the prime minister is heading back to Baghdad for a rare visit. A hail mary or diplomatic masterstroke? We shall see. But the timing and jitteriness in messaging over recent weeks betrays a growing sense of unease in Erbil. 

Full statement by the KRG's Aso Haji

"The article published by Al-Monitor claiming that Prime Minister Masrour Barzani sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden with this content is far from the truth. A letter with this content has never been sent to any president or party. This is another fabrication against the Kurdistan constitutional structure and its prime minister. The Kurdish media that are exaggerating the issue and publishing it under various titles are part of the same efforts and agenda launched against the Kurdish people. The truth will be revealed soon, just as the treacherous discourse and surrender of mercenaries have been exposed. Those who foster hostility will be shamed, and the Kurdish people and their government will endure and grow ever stronger."

Bombshell Al-Monitor scoop on KRG PM's letter to Biden administration has Kurdistan on edge

Good morning. What a story to wake up to.

Key points

  • KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani sends a crisis letter to President Joe Biden amid escalating tensions with Baghdad.
  • The letter warns of the Kurdistan Region's possible collapse and calls for U.S. intervention.
  • The revelation of the letter has put the Kurdistan Region on high alert, raising questions about the U.S.' role in the ongoing crisis.

The story

reported leak of a letter from KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani to U.S. President Joe Biden has set the political stage in Kurdistan on edge. Reported by Al-Monitor, the letter, dated Sept. 3 and delivered to the White House this past Sunday, warns of a dire crisis between the KRG and the central government in Baghdad, going so far as to raise concerns over the possible collapse of the Kurdistan Region.

Dire warnings

According to Al-Monitor, Barzani's letter states, "I write to you now at another critical juncture in our history, one that I fear we may have difficulty overcoming. …[W]e are bleeding economically and hemorrhaging politically. For the first time in my tenure as prime minister, I hold grave concerns that this dishonorable campaign against us may cause the collapse of … the very model of a Federal Iraq that the United States sponsored in 2003 and purported to stand by since.”

US leverage over Baghdad

Barzani urges the Biden administration to utilize its leverage with Baghdad to diffuse the escalating situation. The crisis primarily revolves around budgetary allocations, oil sales, and territorial disputes, issues that have brought both sides to the brink of conflict.

Iranian involvement

The letter comes at a time when Iranian influence over Baghdad is reportedly growing, further complicating the regional dynamics. Last week, Kurds and Arabs clashed in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk over a court decision preventing Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq from reclaiming its headquarters, with allegations of Iran-backed Shiite militia groups being involved.

Fading US interest?

The KRG has long expressed frustration over what they perceive to be diminishing U.S. attention to their situation. “We are asking where the hell is the United States,” a Kurdish official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. The State Department declined to comment on the letter.

Implications for the region

The revelation of Barzani's letter has placed the future of Kurdistan and its relationship with both Baghdad and Washington in the spotlight. It calls into question the role the U.S. is willing to play in mitigating the crisis and preserving the model of federal Iraq it once championed.

Concerns over renewed civil conflict

Experts warn that the status quo is unsustainable and could lead to renewed civil conflict in Iraq. “A weaker Iraq means a stronger Iran, which goes against U.S. interests,” said Ken Pollack, a former CIA intelligence analyst and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The Biden administration has yet to respond to Barzani's letter publicly, heightening concerns among Kurds and fueling speculation about the direction U.S. foreign policy may take as it continues its gradual retreat from the Middle East. The priority for the Biden Administration is to not rock the boat in the region as it focuses on Ukraine and East Asia.

KRG issues denial hours after story breaks

Within hours of the Al-Monitor story breaking, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) issued a denial, adding another layer of complexity to the unfolding situation. Aso Haji, deputy head of the KRG's Media and Information Office, refuted the claims made in the article, stating that a letter with the reported content had "never been sent to any president or party."

The specificity of the denial—emphasizing "a letter with this content"—left room for speculation that a letter may indeed have been sent, albeit with different content than reported.