The U.S. government strongly supports holding the Iraqi national elections in May 2018, in line with the Iraqi constitution.

Postponing the elections would set a dangerous precedent, undermining the constitution and damaging Iraq’s long-term democratic development.

To that end, the United States is providing assistance that will help ensure that all Iraqi voices are heard and counted, including the approximately 2.6 million Iraqis who remain displaced from their homes in the liberated areas.

USAID is assisting in the training of local civil society groups in election monitoring and providing Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) with six elections advisors who will help IHEC strengthen its electoral systems, personnel, and processes in the following ways:

  • Enfranchise internally displaced Iraqis by focusing on voter registration and ensuring electronic voting systems are effective.
  • Improve provincial electoral administrative capacity to support voting in recently liberated areas.
  • Help the new IHEC Board of Commissioners finalize a sound operational plan for the May 2018 elections.

Support for Iraq’s democratic institutions is a key part of the United States’ ongoing commitment to a federal, democratic, prosperous, and unified Iraq.  By exercising their constitutional right to vote, Iraqis will signal their commitment to governance through peaceful processes rather than through violence.

(Source: US Embassy in Baghdad)

By Mahmut Bozarslan for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The partnership Turkey, Iran and Iraq formed against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) independence referendum in September has left Tehran pleased but left Ankara severely disappointed.

Ankara had two basic expectations about the partnership. First, Turkish officials believed that a new pipeline would be built to carry oil from Kirkuk, Iraq, to Turkey’s Ceyhan oil terminal, replacing a damaged line and bypassing the KRG. And second, as an alternative to the border crossing from Habur, Turkey, into Iraq — which provides lucrative income to the KRG — a new border crossing to Iraq would open at Ovacik in Turkey.

Ankara calculated that a crossing at Ovacik, at the junction of Iraqi-Syrian-Turkish borders, would:

  • Deprive the KRG of income from customs taxes.
  • Provide a shorter road connection between Tal Afar and Mosul, which features in Turkey’s “New Ottoman” dreams.
  • Strengthen relations with Turkmens and sever the connection between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) at the Yazidi town of Sinjar and the Kurdish Rojava region in northern Syria.
  • Be linked to the main highway to Mosul with a 120-kilometer (75-mile) road upgraded to international standards and a new bridge to be built over the Tigris River.

But the Ovacik project has been shelved and an alternative pipeline plan — involving Iran — has emerged, marginalizing the proposed new pipeline to move oil from Kirkuk to Ceyhan.

For three years, the KRG sold oil from the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline. But the central government in Baghdad took over the Kirkuk oil fields after the Kurds threatened in September to seek independence.

On Oct. 16, Baghdad implied that the Kirkuk oil would be sent out via Turkey as in the past. The pipeline had been used irregularly during the battle against the Islamic State (IS), and Baghdad cut off the flow completely after the September independence referendum. Turkey expected the flow to resume — but it hasn’t.

By Shelly Kittleson for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

Two months after government forces retook Iraq’s last major city from the Islamic State (IS), the country is preparing for parliamentary elections slated for May.

Anbar, its largest and westernmost region, is where IS took control of its first Iraqi city in January 2014. Fighters from the international terrorist group are reportedly still hiding in parts of its vast desert.

How the shift from fighting a terrorist group with roots in the area to competition at the political level plays out will affect the years to come.

Provincial Gov. Mohamed al-Halbusi, who took office in the fall, told Al-Monitor that voter turnout had been very low in the province for many years due to the fear of insurgents but that he expected this to change in the upcoming elections.

Local officials, security forces and a tribal leader echoed that sentiment to Al-Monitor over a number of days in the province in early January. “About 85%” of the province’s inhabitants are home, Halbusi said, and “I think about 60% of them will vote.”

However, with many of the displaced still not back in their homes, some have called for the elections to be postponed.

Recent reports of forced returns from internally displaced person (IDP) camps scattered around the Sunni-dominant Anbar region and elsewhere in the country have also raised concern.

In an interview in Ramadi, provincial police chief Gen. Hadi Rizej Kessar told Al-Monitor, “We decided to close all IDP camps and send families back to their homes because the security is now good. But if we have some families that remain in the camps, we can arrange for them to vote inside the camps.”

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has agreed to lift sanctions imposed on Iraq when the country invaded Kuwait 27 years ago.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said Dec. 9 the country had completed its obligations under the sanctions, which were imposed in 1990 when dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The UNSC levied the penalties after naming Iraq a threat to international security and ordered it to pay reparations to states and other parties that suffered as a result of the invasion.

Some 27 years later, Iraq is still suffering the effects of the invasion. Hisham al-Rukabi, the head of Vice President Nouri al-Maliki’s press office, told Al-Monitor that the Iraqi people welcomed the recent UN decision.

Saad al-Hadithi, the spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, said the move is “an important event in Iraq’s recent history and the closing of a painful [age] that lasted a long time, during which the Iraqi people suffered reduced sovereignty as well as political and economic sanctions that damaged the country’s institutions as well as individuals.”

Lifting the sanctions, he said, “will make Iraq more able to develop and achieve prosperity for its citizens, and restore the world’s trust so it can deal with Iraq as a fully sovereign nation.”

He predicted the decision will allow Iraq to play a greater political and economic role in the Middle East, experience an economic recovery and attract new investment.

The KRG Council of Ministers recently discussed a number of issues, including the unfortunate events that took place recently in some towns in the Kurdistan Region. The Council stressed that people do have the right to peaceful and civil demonstrations, but expressed concern about the acts of violence perpetrated by some individuals during the demonstrations.

The Council of Ministers voiced their condolences to the families of the people who lost their lives and wished the injured a speedy recovery. It once again called upon the citizens of the Kurdistan Region to demand their rights in a peaceful and civil way and prevent any disorder that could threaten public properties which have been built to serve all the citizens.

Prime Minister Barzani shed light on his recent official visit to Germany and the outcomes of his meetings with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Minister of Defence, the Foreign Minister as well as Foreign Relations and Defence Committees at the German Parliament.

He said that the need to resolve the problems between Erbil and Baghdad through dialogue on the basis of the Iraqi constitution, the political unity of the Kurdistan Region and the financial problems, were the main subjects discussed with German senior officials.

Prime Minister Barzani emphasized that both France and Germany desire a strong government in the Kurdistan Region, pointing out that both countries will continue helping the Kurdistan Peshmerga Forces.

He stressed they believe that the way the Iraqi Federal Government is treating the Kurdistan Region is unacceptable, and that they condition the continuation of their support to Iraq with the peaceful and constitutional resolution of its disputes with the Kurdistan Region.

The Council of Ministers also approved reforms in public sector employment, including reforms in public employees’ salaries, retirement, allowances and bounces.

(Source: KRG)

Commission of Integrity launches campaign to engage non-governmental organizations in the fight against corruption

Iraq’s Commission of Integrity (CoI) has launched a national campaign to promote a broader engagement of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society in the fight against corruption.

Under the leadership of the office of the Prime Minister of Iraq and through the Funding Facility for Economic Reform (FFER-Federal) project, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting Iraq’s efforts to implment the refrom agenda introduced by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi in late 2015.

During a ceremony in Baghdad, the Head of the CoI, Mr. Hassan Al-Yassery, said:

“Only by working together we can reinforce our efforts to end corruption. The six-month campaign that we are launching today will help us to mobilize civil society and improve coordination with NGOs to promote transparency, integrity and accountability for a better Iraq.”

The Director General of Relations with NGOs Office at the CoI, Mr. Mahmod Al-Jboree, added:

“Nearly 300 Iraqi NGOs are participating in this campaign, in addition to academic institutions. By engaging this large number of NGOs from different governorates, we are expecting to raise awareness of 3 to 4 million Iraqis.”

UNDP Adviser on Anti-Corruption, Mr. Anwar Ben Khelifa, said:

“This campaign is one important step in deepening the culture of integrity and leveraging the role of civil society as a key actor in flighting corruption. Through FFER-Federal, we will continue to support initiatives that help Iraq move towards good governance.”

UNDP’s FFER-Federal has already channeled high-caliber international expertise to support top priority reform initiatives. This includes assistance to corruption eradication activities, maximizing of non-oil revenue collection, and support to the Government to meet economic reform commitments and fiscal adjustment made under the loan agreements with international lending institutions.

(Source: UNDP)

By Kamal Chomani for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Trying to jump-start discussions with Iraq’s central government, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil recently announced it will respect the Iraqi Federal Court’s ecision that the KRG independence referendum was unconstitutional. But Baghdad has amplified its demands for opening a dialogue, which makes negotiations unlikely to happen anytime soon.

The Kurdish independence referendum, which voters overwhelmingly approved in September, greatly escalated problems between Baghdad and the KRG. However, both sides have called for negotiations to resolve the issues based on the Iraqi Constitution.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said Baghdad is continuing to work toward putting into effect some articles of the constitution that have never been implemented and would benefit the Kurds, while at the same time returning federal sovereignty to all areas of Iraq.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson touched on the subject this week during a speech at the Atlantic Council-Korea Foundation Forum in Washington DC, saying the United States will help officials implement the Iraqi Constitution completely.

“We have said we’ll stand with the Kurds to support them in the full implementation of the Iraqi Constitution … which, when it is fully implemented, will address a number of grievances that the Kurdish people have had for some time and we hope will lead to that unified Iraq,” Tillerson said at the Dec. 12 meeting.

An Iraqi parliamentary source told Al-Monitor, on condition of anonymity, Baghdad’s five recent conditions for opening negotiations.

By Fazel Hawramy for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

The Kurdistan region of Iraq is fast descending into chaos, with protests continuing for the third day in some parts of Sulaimaniyah province and security forces using live ammunition to disperse them. Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has threatened to intervene militarily.

Thousands of angry protesters including students, teachers and government employees across the province called for the resignation of the entire Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the main two ruling parties for not being able to run the semi-autonomous region effectively.

“Some of the protesters fought the security forces,” a local journalist from the town of Raniya told Al-Monitor Dec. 19 on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “Six people were killed, but the protesters are in charge of the city tonight.”

The KRG has been unable to pay the salaries of its civil servants for over two months following the ill-fated referendum for independence in September that brought on crippling punitive measures from Baghdad, Iran and Turkey.

In Sulaimaniyah city, for the second day, the police, the peshmerga and the security force known as Asayish internal police battled protesters with tear gas and water cannons in the main bazaar. Around a dozen people were wounded, and Al-Monitor observed a man being punched in the face by a member of the Asayish.

In a worrying development Dec. 19 that could have serious consequences for the region’s stability, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which controls Sulaimaniyah province, appeared to call on vigilantes to maintain order and “support the democratic and patriotic path of their party” against “troublemakers.” The party shared a warning with the press. “It is not acceptable for some … media outlets to provoke protesters to cause trouble in the name of freedom of press. … These channels and their backers … are responsible for the blood of those who become victims.”

By John Lee.

Germany has said that its continuing aid to Iraq depends on peaceful efforts to solve the conflict between Baghdad and Erbil.

Reuters quotes German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (pictured) as saying on Monday:

“Our support is for Iraq as a unified state … We want to continue that, but the precondition is that Iraq solves its internal conflicts peacefully and democratically, and that we find a way out of the tense situation we are in now.”

He was speaking to reporters following a meeting with KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani in Berlin.

Germany has given more than 1 billion euros in aid to Iraq since 2014.

(Source: Reuters)

By Saad Salloum for Al Monitor. Any opinions here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

After decades of suppression, Baha’is celebrate publicly in Baghdad

On Nov. 30, Baha’is celebrated the bicentennial of the birth of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, in a ceremony in Baghdad attended by representatives from the Iraqi parliament, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR), the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, civil society as well as media activists.

This is considered the most prominent ceremony where Baha’is officially announced themselves for the first time in 47 years, as the Baathist Revolutionary Command Council issued Decree No. 105 in 1970 to ban Baha’i activities. As a consequence, Baha’i administrative institutions in Iraq were dissolved and any activity where Baha’is declared their religious identity was punishable by imprisonment.

Kawakeb Hussein, who was arrested under the 1970 decree, spoke to Al-Monitor about the decree’s negative impact on the Baha’i identity. She said, “The law attempted to obliterate the Baha’i religious identity, strip us of our beliefs and dissolve our identity into that of the Muslim majority. However, the Baha’is’ celebration 47 years after the official ban proves that eradicating Baha’i belief from Iraq is almost impossible, as it was from Baghdad — which the Baha’i prophet named the City of God — that this worldwide religion was announced.”

A speaker at the ceremony from the Central Baha’i Forum mentioned that Baghdad is a sacred city for Baha’is as well as how important it is to hold ceremonies in Baghdad as a solidarity action against the difficult circumstances Iraq is going through.

In this context, Aseel Salam, a Baha’i activist, told Al-Monitor, “The organizing of this ceremony in Baghdad connotes several messages, among which is the importance of Baghdad as a sacred city for Baha’is, as it is the capital city where Baha’u’llah launched his call in 1863. His house, where Baha’is from all over the world travel to perform pilgrimage, is in Baghdad as well. Moreover, Baghdad holds a special place in Baha’i history, as Baha’u’llah was exiled there from Tehran before he was exiled again in Istanbul and Edirne [in Turkey] prior to his last exile in Acre [in Syria, now Israel].”