Levi Clancy, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Live: Former president marks the ‘triumph of people’s will’ on referendum anniversary

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PUK Veteran Mala Bakhtiar has ruled out participating in the upcoming PUK conference after a 'fruitless' two-hour meeting with the PUK leader

In a lengthy video message on Facebook, he expressed disagreement over the powers of the High Political Council of PUK Interests, of which he (Bafel Talabani’s father-in-law) is a member. 

Mala Bakhtiar highlights the flaws in the organization of the current conference when compared to past ones. In previous assemblies, there was a rigorous lead-up to the conference itself. The preparatory period spanned over six months during which PUK cadres actively contributed articles to the PUK’s newspaper, formed committees, and held discussions to generate proposals for deliberation during the conference. Such groundwork is absent this time around.

Bakhtiar points out a 'clear violation' in how the conference is being conducted. The current format contradicts the party’s internal regulations, which were endorsed during the last conference [note: the PUK has recently made amendments to bylaws, presumably ones Bakhtiar cites here].

Bakhtiar stated that Talabani plans to expand the council to 21-31 members. He condemned the impending congress votes, labeling them "a coronation, not an election." He believes these votes will usher in a compliant body, mainly consisting of handpicked loyalists to the current leader. Bakhtiar observes that many devoted PUK cadres have been sidelined simply because they voiced criticism.

The council currently includes several members: Hero Ibrahim Ahmed (Bafel Talabani’s mother), Kosrat Rasul, Adnan Mufti, Diler Said Majid, Sheikh Jaafar Mustafa, Hakim Qadir Hamejan, Arsalan Bayiz, and Omer Fattah.

Bakhtiar revealed that the High Political Council members had not seen the proposal, leaving ambiguity about the inclusion of new members.

In his excoriating statement, Bakhtiar said, “The blame for not participating in the conference lies with the current Political Bureau members and, specifically, comrade Bafel Talabani.”

He noted that if he and his council had even 25% input into the PUK's future direction, he would have remained involved. However, he's "certain the council will have no influence moving forward."

He added, “I believe that deep down, many PUK members, barring those indifferent to political integrity, are deeply concerned about the conference's outcome and its procedures.”

Regarding the strategy to permanently expel Lahur Sheikh Jangi and his allies from the party, Bakhtiar slammed the decision as a shortsighted power move. He predicts this will backfire on the PUK in forthcoming elections when he anticipates the ousted PUK members will establish new electoral lists to divert votes from the PUK.

Bakhtiar further stated that many of the roughly 600 conference attendees recognize they weren't democratically elected. Many of those abstaining are doing so out of an 'unwavering commitment to their political integrity.'

In a hint at a perceived ignorance on Bafel Talabani’s behalf towards the PUK’s many challenges, Bakhtiar sarcastically remarked that Talabani envisions the PUK in a favorable position, unified, and primed for a significant victory in the upcoming elections. He added that Talabani assumes foreign countries are pleased with his policies. Bakhtiar says the PUK leader expects to secure 30 seats—nearly double its current total. It's unclear if he was exaggerating for comedic effect but a prediction that the PUK will win 30 seats is naively optimistic at best. 

Concluding, Bakhtiar said he had hoped the PUK would maintain good international relations. But, “unfortunately, it was the opposite.” As he made this statement, an image of the aftermath of Turkey’s recent drone attack on Arabat airfield was inserted into his speech.


Turkey claims to have 'neutralized' 600 PKK fighters since 2022 as part of ongoing operation

Turkish security forces claim to have "neutralized" 605 Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighters in the Kurdistan Region since the beginning of 2022, as part of Operation Claw-Lock initiated in 2020. Turkey uses the term "neutralize" to mean killing or capturing PKK members.

The Turkish National Defense Ministry announced on Sunday that 670 caves and shelters utilized by "the terrorist organization" were also made inoperative, and a total of 1,343 weapons along with 706,650 rounds of ammunition were seized.

Furthermore, 2,284 mines and homemade explosives planted by PKK fighters in the Kurdistan Region have been destroyed.

Ankara initiated Operation Claw-Lock in April 2022 to target PKK strongholds in Iraq's northern regions of Metina, Zap, and Avasin-Basyan, near the Turkish border. This operation follows Operations Claw-Tiger and Claw-Eagle, which were launched in 2020.

The accuracy of these figures is challenging to independently verify, as Turkey has been known to inflate numbers to undermine morale.

NGM leader reiterates referendum warnings ahead of February elections

Shaswar Abdulwahid, leader of the New Generation Movement (NGM), reminded the public that his party was the only one to caution against the risks associated with the 2017 Kurdistan referendum. Abdulwahid gained prominence in 2017 when he led the divisive "No for Now" campaign during the referendum.

The core of Abdulwahid's campaign was to warn about the potential repercussions of the vote, while also leveraging his contrarian stance to build a voter base in subsequent elections.

He criticized not only the KDP, which spearheaded the referendum, but also other parties that supported the KDP's initiative.

Seizing the opportunity, Abdulwahid campaigned for the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for February, urging people to place their trust in him and his movement due to their awareness of the poll's significance.

KDP unveils 6,000-meter Kurdistan flag on referendum anniversary

The anniversary of the ill-fated referendum is being marked with gusto, as the KDP has unfurled a 6,000-meter-long Kurdistan flag in Erbil. 

For live coverage of the event, tune in to the pro-KDP media outlet, Kurdistan 24. Notably, the comments section features an abundance of critical responses.

Erbil governor awaits KRG verdict on provincial council dissolution ruling

Omed Khoshnaw, the governor of Erbil, characterizes the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court's decision to dissolve the Kurdistan Region's provincial councils as "primarily political, rather than legal." He stated that the council is waiting for directives from the KRG and other higher authorities in the Region for further action.

The most recent provincial council elections took place in 2014; the 2018 elections were postponed due to political discord between the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

The court's ruling has also sparked questions about financial compensation for the dissolved councils and the legitimacy of the governors of Erbil and Duhok.

Iraqi, Kurdish security forces capture senior IS suspect

The Iraqi anti-terrorism forces and Kurdistan Region security forces (Asayish) have captured “leading IS figure” Abu Bukhari in Kirkuk province on Monday.

The Iraqi Security Media Cell shared a video showing the arrest operations

PUK reflects on referendum

In an editorial, PUKMedia, the official publication of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, delved into the ramifications of the 2017 Kurdish referendum.

"The referendum wasn’t just a process—it was an embodiment of our people’s democratic right," the editorial stated, acknowledging the event as a pivotal moment for Kurdish aspirations for self-determination. However, it went on to observe, "Tragically, rather than consolidating unity... the referendum ended up deepening divisions within the nation."

While the PUK publicly backed the referendum alongside the KDP, holding joint rallies, the party had private reservations, especially against holding it in disputed territories.

After the referendum aftermath, many PUK leaders tried to wash their hands of the debacle, blaming the KDP as architects of the poll.

PUKMedia's editorial highlighted the global pressures that emerged post-referendum, noting, "Kurdish allies, especially those in the West, desired to act as constructive intermediaries," pressing both Kurdistan and Baghdad toward dialogue.

Despite acknowledging the setbacks, the article concluded with a call to action: "Our collective will and past achievements demand even greater sacrifices. A rejuvenation, both national and political, is imperative for Kurdistan."


KRG begins handing out long-delayed salaries

The KRG's finance ministry said Monday it began disbursing what it calls "July salaries," starting with the Health Ministry. The ministry's schedule lists Peshmerga pensions to be paid by 10 Oct.

The announcement follows the ministry's receipt of 250 billion dinars from a 700 billion dinar loan from Baghdad through Rafidain Bank on Sunday.

While this eases some immediate financial pressure as health workers and doctors strike, the full and timely receipt of Baghdad's loan payments remains uncertain.

Notably, the funds from Baghdad are for September salaries. The KRG labelling them as "July" suggests the KRG may be obfuscating the two-month salary gap, opting to be in arrears perpetually rather than admit that the two payments for July and August are unlikely to be paid back any time soon, if ever. 


Bloom in full bloom

The KRG PM was speaking at the launch event for Project Bloom, a website designed to facilitate loans for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the Kurdistan Region. The project was unveiled last month by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and was slated to begin accepting applications within four days.

The KRG chose today for the launch, corresponding with the anniversary of the botched independence referendum. This timing might be an attempt to juxtapose something positive against a widely accepted negative event in recent collective history. Or it could be a coincidence given how they're drawing attention to the anniversary.

During the ceremony, Barzani conveyed that this project is a part of his cabinet’s ongoing efforts to promote the private sector and diversify the economy. SMEs, he noted, contribute to over 50 percent of all trade and labor revenue in the Kurdistan Region. He acknowledged that one of the challenges has been a dearth of funding for SMEs to expand. He also highlighted that this initiative is the first of its kind in the KRI.

Bloom enables SMEs to secure a loan of up to 150 million Iraqi dinars (approximately $115,000) without collateral. The loans will be disbursed via Project Bloom's associate private bank, Cihan Bank. A 2% admin fee is imposed on the loans, but it's yet to be clarified if this fee is a one-time charge based on the full loan amount or a compounding fee spread across the loan's duration.

Such initiatives are profoundly needed in the KRG, especially when they pledge transparency and aim to circumvent the pervasive 'wasta' system [wasta alludes to a Middle Eastern cultural practice where personal connections and influence can dictate business and government decisions]. Observers are keen to monitor the funding allocation for this project and how the KRG intends to support this venture, given its ongoing challenges in compensating its civil servants.

Through Project Bloom Kurdistan Regional Government provides accessible loans of up to IQD 150 Million with no collateral requirements

Masrour Barzani's remarks this morning

PM Masrour Barzani at Bloom launch
PM Masrour Barzani at Bloom launch  
Speaking at the launch event for Bloom, the KRG's new small and medium sized business loans program, the PM started with these remarks on the referendum anniversary: 

"We have always sought to coexist peacefully. Every effort we've made is for our people to live with pride and freedom. We will maintain this tradition, respecting all peoples, with the belief that together, we can cultivate a brighter and better nation.

"During a recent visit to Baghdad, I was asked by a gentleman: 'Are you committed to Iraq?' My answer was that it depends on your actions. Allegiance to a nation cannot be secured through threats, animosity, or by imposing hardships. True commitment is born from equality, justice, and mutual respect. It's pivotal for harmonious coexistence. Our stance is clear: all Iraqis should be treated equally, with justice serving as the bedrock. Any progress in one region should be seen as a collective victory, and we must not pit ourselves against each other.

"Currently, there's a positive atmosphere [between the two governments]. Together with all who believe in peace, democracy, freedom, and progress, we aim to build a more prosperous and happier country."

'Triumph' is in the eye of the beholder, clearly


So good he had to say it thrice

Former President Masoud Barzani's message in English, Arabic, and Kurdish
Former President Masoud Barzani's message in English, Arabic, and Kurdish   credit: X (formerly Twitter)
The Kurdish and Arabic versions read:

Congratulations, the day of the triumph of the people's will.

Masoud Barzani


Morning briefing

Six years ago today, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held an independence referendum in the Kurdistan Region and disputed territories held by Kurdish forces after the war with the Islamic State (IS).

Despite months of backchannel negotiations and diplomatic pressure to postpone the poll, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led efforts to rush through the referendum. By the eve of the referendum, the Kurdistan Region had received assurances from the international community, led by the U.S., on significant concessions:

  • Proposed an accelerated negotiation framework with the central Government of Iraq lasting up to one year.
  • Address Kurdistan's immediate fiscal and security needs.
  • Support in resolving issues between Erbil and Baghdad.
  • Facilitate a U.N. Security Council endorsement and involve the U.N., U.K., and France.
  • Recognize a need for a referendum if negotiations fail.
  • Support Joint Security Mechanisms in areas like Sinjar post-IS.
  • Assist in resolving boundary issues of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region by facilitating Article 140 within a year.
  • Help resolve specific concerns within one year, including power/revenue sharing, and issues regarding Peshmerga, civil aviation, and diplomacy.

These diplomatic efforts were, evidently, rejected or ignored. The referendum went ahead.

The recriminations were swift. Baghdad closed the airspace over the Kurdistan Region, closing the Region's airports. Kurdistan was diplomatically isolated. Then, three weeks later, Iraqi forces alongside Iran-backed Shia militias stormed the disputed territories, including Kirkuk, as Kurdish Peshmerga forces withdrew.

Masoud Barzani stepped down as president soon after. Though it was spun not as a resignation but just a regular expiration of his term that was never planned to be extended anyway.

In the intervening years, all the areas in which the international community promised to strengthen the Kurdistan Region have been subject to backsliding. The Kurdistan Region is as weak as it's ever been. It's financially insolvent. Politically divided. Isolated in Baghdad. 

Until now, the KDP appeared to have brushed the whole referendum episode under the proverbial carpet. It has barely been a factor in the party's discourse even on anniversaries. So it's interesting that today brings such a renewed focus on the referendum. We'll bring you all the updates and reactions throughout the day on this and any other stories.