Iraqi parliament approves $88bn budget, Kurdish MPs boycott vote

Iraq’s parliament approved a long-delayed budget on Saturday, the first since declaring victory over Islamic State after three years of war, but Kurdish lawmakers boycotted the vote over their region’s diminished allocation. The budget of 104 trillion Iraqi dinars ($88 billion) is based on projected oil exports of 3.8 million barrels per day (bpd) at a price of $46, a copy of the final bill showed. It envisions government revenues of 91.64 trillion dinars ($77.6 billion) with a deficit of 12.5 trillion dinars ($10.58 billion).

Parliament was meant to pass the budget before the start of the 2018 financial year in January but all three main blocs, Shi’ite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds, had serious issues with the government’s proposal. “We boycotted the vote and there are proposals for Kurdistan to withdraw from the entire political process in Iraq over the unfair treatment we have received,” said Kurdish MP Ashwaq Jaff. The budget cut the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) share from the 17 percent the region has traditionally received since the fall of Saddam Hussein. It did not specify a percentage to be allocated to the KRG, instead stipulating it would receive funds proportional to its share of the population. In a previous draft the KRG portion was set at 12.67 percent, which is how much of Iraq’s population Baghdad says the provinces in Kurdistan make up. The KRG disputes that estimation.

The government said on Tuesday it had reached an agreement with the Kurds to resume Kirkuk oil exports through Turkey’s Ceyhan port but gave no precise timeline. The projected 3.8 million bpd exports in the budget includes a 250,000 bpd contribution from the Kurdistan region, lawmakers said on Saturday. It was not immediately clear what effect the Kurdish boycott of the vote would have on that.

Competing interests

Shi’ite lawmakers wanted more spending allocated to the southern oil-producing, predominantly Shi’ite, provinces as well as greater salaries and benefits for the Iran-backed Shi’ite militias known as Popular Mobilisation Forces, who helped Iraq’s security forces defeat Islamic State. Sunni lawmakers wanted more allocated toward reconstructing areas retaken from the militants, which were predominantly Sunni. The areas include Iraq’s second city Mosul. On Thursday the“three presidencies” of Iraq, its Shi’ite prime minister, Sunni parliament speaker, and Kurdish president, had met to discuss how to push the budget through.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated Iraqis over the passing of the budget on Saturday and said it was the result of cooperation between the executive and legislative branches. Speaker Salim al-Jabouri said the budget addressed Kurdish concerns and that the federal government would pay the salaries of Kurdish civil servants and Peshmerga fighters, as well as welfare entitlements. Baghdad had stopped paying salaries or making budget transfers to the Kurdish regional capital Erbil in 2014 when the Kurds started independently selling oil. Oil exports, Iraq’s main source of revenue, have risen above 3.4 million barrels per day this year but a global slump in prices for crude, compounded by the costs of rebuilding an infrastructure damaged by the war against Islamic State, have battered the country’s finances.

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Double suicide bombing kills at least 26 in Baghdad

A double suicide bombing killed 26 people in Baghdad on Monday, officials said, the second such attack in the Iraqi capital in three days. Dr Abdel Ghani al-Saadi, health chief for east Baghdad, reported “26 dead and 90 wounded”. “Two suicide bombers blew themselves up in Tayyaran Square in central Baghdad,” said General Saad Maan, spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, which includes the army and the police. Tayyaran Square is a bustling centre of commerce and a place where day labourers gather in the early morning waiting for jobs. It has been the site of deadly attacks in the past. An AFP photographer at the site of the bombing said many ambulances had gathered and security forces had been deployed in large numbers.


There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Sources: AFP/Syria & Iraq News

Masoud Barzani will hand over presidential powers on November 1

Kurdistan Region’s veteran leader Masoud Barzani will not extend his presidential term beyond November 1, a Kurdish government official said on Saturday.

His decision came just weeks after a referendum on Kurdish independence backfired and triggered a crisis for Iraq’s Kurds who had been enjoying a period of unprecedented autonomy. A plan to divide up the president’s powers was outlined in a letter Barzani sent to the Kurdish parliament on Saturday, the official told Reuters. The plan asks parliament to distribute the president’s powers among the government, parliament and judiciary. Barzani’s current term was set to expire in four days, the same date that presidential and parliamentary elections were due to be held. However, those elections were delayed indefinitely last week, amidst an escalating regional crisis.

Critics say the Sept. 25 independence referendum, orchestrated and championed by the 71-year-old Barzani, has left a bleak outlook for Iraq’s Kurds. Less than four weeks after Kurds in the region voted overwhelmingly to break away from Iraq, the central government launched a military offensive to wrest back the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds regard as both their spiritual homeland, and a key source of revenue for their would-be independent state. It was one of several retaliatory measures taken by Baghdad, which vehemently opposed the referendum. In a matter of days the Iraqi government has transformed the balance of power in the north of the country, exerting tremendous pressure on Barzani to step aside and wrecking decades-old dreams of Kurdish independence. Iraqi forces have continued to advance on all Kurdish-held territory outside the autonomous region’s borders.

Iraq’s prime minister demanded on Thursday that Kurds declare their independence referendum void, rejecting the Kurdish autonomous region’s offer to suspend its independence push to resolve a crisis through talks. Earlier this year, Barzani said he did not intend to stand in the November elections. However, prior to the referendum, few expected he would stick to his promise. Barzani has held the office of the presidency since 2005. The region last held a presidential election in 2009, in which Barzani won. His term of office expired in 2013 and was extended twice. The president is expected to address his people before his term formally expires, marking the end of a storied career.

Barzani was born in 1946, soon after his legendary father, Mulla Mustafa, founded a party to fight for the rights of Iraq’s Kurds. After decades spent fighting with the Peshmerga, Barzani became a central figure in the drive to create an autonomous Kurdish state in northern Iraq, after Saddam Hussein was toppled in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Barzani’s letter will be discussed by parliament on Sunday, though the government official said it was unclear whether ministers would need to vote the plan into action during the session.

Sources: Syria & Iraq News/Reuters

Kurdistan Regional Government offers to freeze referendum results: statement

The Kurdistan Regional Government in a statement early on Wednesday offered to freeze the results of an earlier referendum on independence as part of an offer to defuse the crisis with the Iraqi central government in Baghdad.

The statement also calls for an immediate ceasefire and a halt to all military operations in Kurdistan Region. The KRG calls for an open dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad based on the country’s constitution.

As Iraq and Kurdistan are faced with grave and dangerous circumistances, we are all obliged to act responsibily in order to prevent further violence and clashes between Iraqi and Peshmerga forces.
Attacks and confrontations between Iraqi and Peshmerga forces that started on October 16, 2017, especially today’s clashes, have caused damage to both sides and could lead to a continuous bloodshed, inflicting pain and social unrest among different components of Iraqi society.
Certainly, continued fighting does not lead any side to victory, but it will drive the country towards disarray and chaos, affecting all aspects of life.
Therefore, in order to fulfill our responsibilities and obligations towards the people of Kurdistan and Iraq, we propose the following to the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi and world public opinion:

1. Immediate ceasefire and halt all military operations in the Kurdistan Region.
2. Freeze the results of referendum conducted in the Iraqi Kurdistan.
3. Start an open dialogue between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraqi Federal Government on the basis of the Constitution.

Kurdistan Regional Government
October 24, 2017

Lavrov: Russia respects Iraq’s territorial integrity and sovereignty

Russia respects the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Iraq, all problems in the country should be resolved through dialogue with the participation of all ethnic, confessional and political groups, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari in Moscow.

“I would like to reaffirm our commitment to the respect of the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Iraq, the commitment to ensure that all problems that arise are resolved through an inclusive national dialogue with participation and consideration of the interests of all ethnic, religious and political groups,” Lavrov said.

Sources: Syria & Iraq News/RIA

 

Ankara is considering sanctions against Erbil over the referendum: Erdoğan

Erdoğan also said Turkey was considering counter-measures, including imposing sanctions, against Kurdish northern Iraq over a planned referendum. Iraqi Kurdish authorities have defied growing international pressure to call off the referendum on independence. Iraq’s neighbors fear it will fuel unrest among their own Kurdish populations and Western allies said it could detract from the fight against Daesh. Turkey has brought forward a cabinet meeting and national security council session to Friday over the referendum, Erdoğan said. He said that parliament would also convene for an extraordinary meeting on Saturday. “Without any further delay we are going to discuss what kind of sanctions should be imposed and when the sanctions will be imposed,” he said without elaborating on what they might be. Turkish troops are also carrying out military exercises near the border and Erdoğan said on Saturday the resolution on troop deployment abroad will be submitted to parliament for a vote.

‘Turkish troops will be deployed inside Idlib’

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said on Thursday Turkey will deploy troops in Syria’s northern Idlib region as part of a so-called de-escalation agreement brokered by Russia last month. The “de-escalation” zones, agreed by Turkey, Russia and Iran, would be further discussed in talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his trip to Ankara next week, Erdoğan said in an interview with Reuters while he was in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly. “Under the agreement, Russians are maintaining security outside Idlib and Turkey will maintain the security inside Idlib region,” Erdoğan said. “The task is not easy … With Putin we will discuss additional steps needed to be taken in order to eradicate terrorists once and for all to restore peace.”

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during an interview with Reuters in New York [21/9/2017]

Strategic partners

Meeting Erdoğan on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday praised his leadership and said he “has become a friend of mine.” Relations between Turkey and the United States were strained over Turkish security officials involved in street fighting with protesters during a visit to Washington in May.

Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Daesh in Syria and Iraq but Ankara’s ties with Washington are strained over support provided by the United States to the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG. Viewed by Turkey as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the YPG has been among the most effective partners on the ground in the U.S.-led fight against the Daesh. Erdoğan warned Washington that arming the YPG could end up hurting Washington and its allies. “Weapons are being deployed to YPG … We are strategic allies with the United States …, we should avoid helping YPG,” he said.

Sources: Reuters/Syria & Iraq News