Tasluja, Iraq // Photo by Zhyar Ibrahim on Unsplash

Live: Tuesday edition of the daily blog covering political news from Kurdistan Region and Iraq 

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In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Majeed Gly and David Harris express concern over the Biden administration's approach to Iraq's Kurdish population.

They write, "The Biden administration appears poised to abandon one of Washington’s most reliable and trustworthy partners in the Arab world: Iraq’s Kurdish population." They commend the Kurds for shouldering "much of the burden in defeating Islamic State" and highlight the liberal values of the KRG, noting it offers "one of the most liberal, open societies in the region."

However, while they present a compelling argument, it's noteworthy that the authors make this sweeping prediction about the Biden administration's imminent policy switch without elaborating on specifics. It's true that the Biden Administration has been pushing harder for reforms and Kurdish unity in Iraq, and has grown visibly frustrated at the lack of progress. There have been reports that funding for Peshmerga forces is to be cut but, even if true, the mooted 25% reduction is reportedly down to Kurdish leadership's refusal to make significant headway in the Peshmerga unification process. 

Furthermore, they underscore the potential consequences of such a shift, asserting, "Iran would be the main beneficiary of a growing distance between Washington and Iraq’s Kurds." They go on to detail the economic and military pressures currently faced by the KRG, emphasizing that "Baghdad has already sought to cut off energy exports from the KRG" and how "Tehran has augmented this economic coercion with military strikes."

The piece concludes with a warning, stating that "jeopardizing the security and independence of Iraq’s Kurds" would be a grave mistake by Washington.


Masoud Haidar cites constitution in rejecting direct salary payments

Deputy Iraqi Minister of Finance, Masoud Haider (KDP), commented on recent discussions about the distribution of civil servant salaries in the Kurdistan Region. He noted, "According to the constitution, the Iraqi government cannot directly send any funds or other expenditures to the Kurdistan Region." Haider, as quoted by Rudaw, added that "all transactions between Erbil and Baghdad must be through the federal institutions of both parties."

Haider's remarks come in the context of a recent push by certain Kurdish MPs in Baghdad. These MPs, excluding members of the KDP, have been urging the Iraqi federal government to handle the direct distribution of the Kurdistan Region’s civil servant salaries, rather than transferring funds to the KRG. This plea follows a period of payment delays and growing unrest in the region, particularly evident through strikes in the Sulaimani and Kirkuk provinces. The core of the debate is to separate civil servant salaries from larger political disputes between the two entities. Both the KDP and its rivals in Kurdish politics agree on this point. Clearly they each back very different solutions to the problem. 


Potential resumption of Kurdistan oil exports partially contributes to oil price drop

Oil prices have declined as the U.S. dollar reached an 11-month peak, and the possibility of resuming oil exports from the Kurdistan Region via the Turkish port of Ceyhan may boost supply. The dip in prices has also been attributed to the decreased demand for oil and high-interest rates.

On Tuesday, December delivery Brent futures were trading at just under $89.50. Reuters quoted analysts suggesting that some traders cashed in after crude prices surged nearly 30% to 11-month highs in the third quarter.

Kurdistan Region outlook

Turkey indicated its readiness to renew oil exports from Iraq's Kurdistan Region via the Iraq-Turkey Ceyhan pipeline within the coming days. During the ADIPEC conference in Abu Dhabi, Turkish Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar stated, "We anticipate restarting the Iraq-Turkey pipeline operation this week. Once back in action, it will add nearly half a million barrels to the global oil market."

The cessation of exports was the result of a March 25 decision by the International Court of Arbitration in Paris. After a disagreement with Turkey, the court ordered Iraq to pay $1.4 billion in damages. Since that verdict, representatives from Turkey, Iraq, and the Kurdistan Region have been discussing restarting the oil flow, which is vital for the Kurdistan Region's flagging economy.
Oil prices fell about 2% on Monday to a three-week low as a higher-priced Brent contract expired, the U.S. dollar strengthened and traders took profits, concerned about rising crude supplies and pressure on demand from high interest rates.

Qaraqosh wedding deaths rise to 119

Nineveh health officials report that 119 people were killed in the devastating fire last week. 

The General Health Directorate of the province noted that 41 bodies could not be identified and DNA testing is planned for their identification. 

The directorate also stated that 20 of those injured in the fire have been transferred abroad for treatment.


Recent events in Iraq’s Kirkuk province reveal the deep-seated structural tensions in Iraq's coalition government and could precipitate further unrest in the region. The ongoing dispute, rooted in ethnic tension and territorial claims, poses potential hazards, including interventions by Turkey and Iran, according to an analysis by Hamzeh Hadad, a Visiting Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

The situation became more fraught following a recent decision by Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to permit the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to regain control of political offices and a military base in Kirkuk. This move incited protests among Arab and Turkmen residents, and counter-protests by Kurdish inhabitants.

“These events underscore the risks of Kirkuk’s unresolved status, which could be exacerbated by upcoming provincial elections in December and spread tensions to neighbouring Turkey and Iran... further heightening regional instability,” Hadad observed.

Hadad is critical of plans to hand over the KDP HQ back to the party which has been absent from the city since 2017. Though the KDP would respond that these buildings are rightfully their property and were confiscated illegal. 

He further outlined that while Iraqi leadership managed to avoid large-scale conflicts in Kirkuk since taking it back from the KRG in 2017, the current escalations caught observers off-guard. Hadad stated, “Sudani’s relatively effective handling of the country’s challenges... made his decision to permit the KDP to return to Kirkuk, and thus rock the boat, unexpected.”

Critiquing the Prime Minister’s recent actions, Hadad asserted, “This recent Kirkuk debacle was a clear mistake for a seasoned politician like Sudani... Observers assumed that Sudani’s tenure would be challenged... But they did not expect him to be challenged by the reignition of ethnic divisions in Kirkuk which Sudani appears to have unwittingly brought upon himself.”

Highlighting the potential ramifications, the analyst explained, “While Kirkuk remains contested, risks of destabilisation will continue to hang over Iraq and the Sudani government... Both beliefs are misplaced because whether Kirkuk remains a standalone governorate, becomes a region on its own, or joins the pre-existing region of Iraqi Kurdistan, it is part of a consolidated federal Iraqi state.”

Moreover, Hadad warns that the unresolved status of Kirkuk has the potential to exacerbate tensions, especially with the upcoming provincial elections. He stated that political parties might exploit recent events, further fueling polarization and ethnic rifts.

“Lastly, as tensions between Baghdad and the KRG intensify, it leaves Iraqi Kurdistan vulnerable to meddling by Turkey and Iran, who worry that the Kirkuk’s sentiment for independence would spread to their own Kurdish population,” Hadad detailed.

In conclusion, Hadad urged European foreign ministries to leverage their democracy-promoting projects to encourage Iraqi politicians to commit to democratic federalism, thereby fostering social harmony and facilitating the defeat of ISIS.

“Though Kirkuk is one province, it represents a regional fault line that can create instability throughout the Middle East... European missions should help create the conditions for a solution by reiterating their support for Iraqi federalism and democracy,” he suggested.


Iraq arrests 24 individuals on suspicion of Baath affiliation

Iraq's National Security Service said Tuesday it has arrested 24 individuals across four provinces, including Baghdad, on suspicions of affiliations with the banned Baath Party.

The agency, in a statement relayed by the Shafaq News website, said it acted on reliable intelligence about pro-Baath Party activities.

In Kirkuk, 13 were arrested with public assistance. The sweep extended to Anbar, Karbala, and Nineveh. "Units intensified their efforts, apprehending 11 more suspects. Some were seen in videos praising the former regime, while others handed out banned materials," the statement said.

The arrests followed "Dissolved Baath Party Prohibition Law No. 32 of 2016" protocols. All detainees have been transferred to the judiciary.

The Iraqi Parliament in July 2016 officially outlawed the Baath Party and any activities viewed as racist, terrorist, or extremist

شفق نيوز/ أفاد جهاز الأمن الوطني العراقي، يوم الثلاثاء، بالقاء القبض على 24 شخصاً بتهمة الإنتماء والترويج لحزب البعث المحظور في أربع محافظات بينها العاصمة بغداد.وذكر الجهاز في بيان اليوم، بأنه "بعد ور
شفق نيوز

Masrour Barzani breaks radio silence on PUK conference

Finally, we've received a comment from KRG PM Masrour Barzani – who also serves as the KDP’s deputy leader –    regarding the PUK’s congress. There had been radio silence from the party top brass barring Nechirvan Barzani, who was there in his capacity as Kurdistan Region President.

Of note: his statement is concise and highlights two significant issues. First, it addresses the pressing need for "unity" or at least basic dialogue between the two rival parties. Second, it calls on the PUK (a coalition partner in the government) to support the KRG.

Message from the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government:

Dear President and Leadership of the PUK,

On the occasion of your successful congress and the appointment of the PUK's new leadership, I extend my congratulations to you and to all members and supporters of your steadfast party. 

I hope this marks the beginning of a new chapter dedicated to serving the people and the country. I urge you to redouble your efforts towards unity and solidarity, furthering achievements, and safeguarding our nation. I hope for your continued commitment to the greater interests of the Kurdistan Region's land and people and for your support in implementing the government's plans and programs.

Prime Minister Sudani and Igor Levitin, an aide to Russia's President Putin, recently emphasized their intent to boost bilateral ties and cooperation. The conversation also touched on Sudani’s upcoming trip to Moscow.

According to a statement from Sudani's office, he highlighted Iraq's Development Road Project in tandem with the Al-Faw Port Project, framing it as a strategic economic move. Sudani outlined this as part of Iraq's efforts to diversify its economy away from oil, stressing the project's regional significance.

Levitin, on the other hand, expressed Russia's interest in enhancing diplomatic and economic bonds with Iraq.

While Baghdad's pro-Tehran government has maintained strong ties with U.S. adversaries like Iran, Russia, and China, it continues to value its deep relationship with Washington.


Iraqi PM cuts back on security spending for public officials

Prime Minister Sudani has mandated a cutback in the security entourages accompanying the Iraq's officials and security heads, as per a decree highlighted by Al-Sumaria News. 

Dated September, the decree enforces a trim in the number of security personnel and proscribes the transit of unmarked military vehicles laden with armed staff and arms.

Moreover, PM Sudani condemned "armed demonstrations," branding them as "uncivilized behavior" in conflict with the public's desires and the prevailing peace in Iraqi urban areas. These directives exempt only military operations.

It's commonplace for Iraqi politicians to traverse with extensive security contingents. A number of sanctioned militias answer to their allied party leaders. Often these are ghost employees that don't actually do any of the work but draw a salary from the public purse.

A source from the Shia-leaning Al-Maaloma news outlet noted this move mirrors a prior call by Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi. Halbousi had previously sought the protection of 1,000 federal police for his convoy and family, notwithstanding his already sizeable security team.


Highlights from their statement on the visit to Tehran

Speaking on the agreement's strides, Iraq's National Security Advisor Qasim Al-Araji noted, "We've made significant progress, particularly in areas once dominated by Iranian opposition. The federal forces' presence is a testament to our commitment." He further conveyed Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Sudani's regards to the Iranian team, emphasizing the importance of robust coordination.

On the issue of regional stability, Araji remarked, "We're dedicated to upholding regional security and call for timely communication on emerging issues." Citing the recent Arbaeen pilgrimage, he added, "The collaboration witnessed during Arbaeen signals our deepening bond."

Dr. Ahmadian, Secretary-General of the Iranian National Security Council, responded by expressing gratitude for Iraq's Arbaeen hospitality. "The joint security agreement signifies our mutual interests and the progress showcases our collective will," he said.

Both parties highlighted the need for continued dialogue, border security, and 'unwavering adherence' to the accord's stipulations.


Iranian and Iraqi border security teams meet in Erbil

An Iranian security delegation arrived in the Kurdistan Region to assess the implementation of a security agreement aimed at disarming Kurdish opposition groups. 

Pro-KDP outlet Kurdistan 24 reported that the delegation, composed of border guards, reached the Haji Omran crossing in Erbil province and met with Iraqi border guards. 

Initially planned to occur at the border, the meeting location shifted to Erbil at Iran's request. Commanders from both nations are set to discuss obstacles to the security agreement's implementation. 

This follows Iraq's National Security Advisor Qasim Al-Araji's recent visit to Tehran alongside KRG Interior Minister Reber Ahmed (KDP). 

In a Monday statement from Araji's media office, he confirmed a joint committee meeting between Iraq and Iran in Tehran, focusing on the security pact's progress. Araji outlined Iraq's efforts to clear areas previously held by Iranian opposition forces. Per the agreement, these forces were disarmed, and Iraqi federal troops now occupy the region, though set back from the border. 

The statement praised the KRG's commitment to the agreement. Iran's National Security Council Secretary-General, Ahmadian, stressed the pact's mutual benefits for both countries. In recent weeks, Iraq established 12 border checkpoints with Iran, adhering to a security agreement inked in March.

Haji Masifi is PUK's first Support Council secretary

Bafel Talabani, the PUK leader, has begun filling vacant positions in crucial party organs, starting with the most straightforward role: the secretary of the Support Council. 

Haji Masifi has now taken up the position as the secretary of the council. Masifi is a former member of the PUK Leadership Council and a close ally of Talabani. So no surprises there.


Kurdish MPs in Baghdad demand direct salary payments, bypassing Kurdistan Regional Government 

The Kurdish blocs in the Iraqi parliament – excluding the KDP – have petitioned for the Iraqi federal government to handle the direct distribution of the Kurdistan Region’s civil servant salaries instead of transferring funds to the KRG. This call follows delays in payment, with civil servants going unpaid for nearly three months until a deal between Baghdad and Erbil was established in mid-September. 
This delay led to widespread unrest, prompting strikes by workers in various sectors, especially in the Sulaimani and Kirkuk provinces. 

Dara Sekaniani, a Kurdistan Islamic Union MP, tells Rudaw that a Kurdish group of MPs had recently met with the Iraqi parliament's finance committee, delivering a document endorsed by 36,000 civil servants from the Kurdistan Region.

The plea, which has the backing of almost 50 Kurdish MPs, seeks to have the "salaries separated from political disputes."

Iraq's budget bill for 2023-2025, which features a historic $152 billion in expenditures, designates 12.6% for the Kurdistan Region. The loan from Erbil to Baghdad will be repaid from this allocation, and any remaining debt will be addressed in the 2024 budget. 

The KDP will fight hard against any moves to reduce the KRG's fiscal autonomy even further than it already has been. 

Morning briefing 


  • Bafel Talabani is beginning to pick officials to fill vacant positions within the PUK after the party's congress gave him unprecedented powers over the restructured party.
  • Leaders of Kurdish parties in Iraq's federal parliament – KDP excluded – have signed a joint document demanding bill to have Kurdistan Region public sector salaries be paid directly from Baghdad, bypassing the KRG.
  • Iranian and Iraqi border patrol delegations are meeting in Erbil to discuss implementation of the joint security agreement actioned last month.
  • The hardline Kurdistan Islamic Movement has splintered into two separate parties following a chaotic congress over the weekend.