Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the arrests to which two investigative reporters have been subjected in different parts of Iraq in the past few days in connection with their coverage of corruption, and calls for an end to the harassment of these journalists.

The latest victim was Mostafa Hamed, a reporter based in Fallujah, in the western province of Al Anbar, where he works for the local TV channel Sharqeya. He was arrested at his home at 2 a.m. on 9 June by policemen who did not tell him what he was charged with, and was finally released today without being charged.

According to the information gathered by the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), RSF’s partner NGO in Iraq, Hamed had been investigating the involvement of Fallujah city hall leaders in a real estate scandal. Sharqeya is owned by Saad al Bazzaz, a local businessman and political rival of Al Anbar’s governor, who tried to get the TV channel closed last December.

The other recent victim is Hossam al Kaabi (pictured), a reporter based in Najaf, 180 km south of Baghdad, who has repeatedly been harassed in connection with his coverage of an alleged corruption case involving the Najaf provincial airport’s former governing board.

What with money, women and threats, every kind of method has been used in an attempt to silence his reporting on the case, he said. The corruption case is however by no means a secret. He has also been the target of dozens of legal actions. The latest method was an arrest warrant, which resulted in his having to pay the large sum of 15 million dinars (10,745 euros) in bail to obtain his release on 6 June.

The warrant was the result of a complaint filed by Najaf airport’s former administration four days after Kaabi’s main media outlet, the NRT network’s Arabic-language channel, was forced to close for financial reasons. Defended by a consortium of lawyers, Kaabi told RSF he is concerned about the outcome because of the lack of judicial independence in Iraq.

“These two arrest warrants highlight the different kinds of difficulties for journalists in Iraq, which not only include being unjustly prosecuted but also the risk of seeing your work used for the purposes of the political rivalry,” said Sophie Anmuth, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The absurd proceedings against Hossam al Kaabi must be dropped and the authorities must do their duty to protect journalists who are the target of threats.”

As Kaabi points out on Facebook, in theory Iraqi law protects the right of journalists to seek information and sources. But in practice, as JFO has often reported, local officials act with impunity when they use judicial pressure and sometimes death threats to pressure journalists who investigate corruption.

Iraq is ranked 160th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

(Source: RSF)

From Al Jazeera. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Entire cities, including western Mosul and Ramadi, have been destroyed in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group in Iraq.

The Iraqi government says large-scale reconstruction across the country hasn’t started yet because it doesn’t have the money.

About $90 billion is needed to rebuild the country after 15 years of war since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, but Iraq’s allies pledged only $30bn At a donor conference in February.

Al Jazeera‘s Charles Stratford reports from Iraq’s capital Baghdad:

Government officials discuss with USAID "decentralization" and budgets

6/12/2018

After the transfer of powers … Wasit expects to reach revenues to 96 billion dinars
Baghdad / Al-Sabah

Government officials discussed with representatives of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) the coordination of local revenues and budgets between the federal government and local governments during a workshop recently held in Erbil.

The meeting discussed the challenges faced by the federal government and local governments in organizing and framing the relationship between all technical bodies and working to unify visions and coordinate efforts and achieve an integrative relationship. Meanwhile, Wasit governorate expected that the volume of financial revenues will increase to 96 billion dinars during the current year, After decentralization.

The participants agreed on the importance of increasing coordination and development of local capacities while strengthening administrative decentralization through the transfer of financial powers to governorates, stressing the need to avoid problems and clashes that may occur between the federal government and local governments due to inconsistencies in the practical application of instructions or misinterpretation of the basic concepts of objectives.

The head of the Supreme Coordination Committee between the provinces, Tuhran Mufti, said during the workshop:

"The Authority is making great efforts to assist local governments in performing their decentralized functions after the transfer of powers of seven ministries to the provinces.

This requires the development and training of working cadres, especially in the financial and administrative aspects.

For his part, the governor of Wasit Mahmoud Mullah Talal that «the province succeeded in achieving more financial revenues during the past year after it worked to take advantage of the transfer of powers, which contributed to increase the volume of revenues to reach 21 billion dinars, after it was 7 billion in 2016 "

He predicted that« the volume of revenues to 96 billion dinars during the current year ».

The agency, has launched mid-last year in coordination with the Iraqi government, a project to improve performance and achieve good governance for 5 years, at a cost of 160 million dollars, and includes the first phase of the provinces (Baghdad – Basra – Arbil – Babylon – Anbar – Nineveh).

http://www.alsabaah.iq/ArticleShow.aspx?ID=158649

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

On May 30, the Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq annulled votes cast at more than 1,000 of the country’s polling stations, including 186 stations in Kirkuk, a city that has faced political unrest among its three social components — Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen — since the elections on May 12.

On the same day, Jan Kubis, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, talked during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York, where he noted reports of electoral fraud and said that Kirkuk was “one of several hotspots” of tension over the election results, adding that the situation there continues to be “volatile.”

Hundreds of members of the Iraqi Turkmen Front in Kirkuk have staged a sit-in surrounding the warehouses where the governorate ballot boxes are being kept. This has prevented the electoral commission staff from retrieving the ballot boxes despite being accompanied by a counterterrorism force.

According to statements from the commission, the boxes from some polling stations in Kirkuk remain in the warehouses and have not been transferred to the Iraqi capital because of the sit-in, which is headed by parliamentarian Arshad Salhi. “There are armed men among the protesters near the warehouses,” the electoral commission’s statement said.

Al-Monitor secured a copy of a May 30 press statement by head of the electoral commission Riad Badran. The statement said, “The Kirkuk Election Office was unable to reach the ballot boxes because of the gathering of some groups affiliated with certain political parties.”

There are concerns over the possible breakout of a conflict between different ethnicities in Kirkuk, which is what deputy head of the Turkmen Front in Kirkuk Hassan Toran warned against.

“Not responding to the demands of the Turkmen to manually recount the votes could ignite a crisis in the governorate,” Toran told Al-Monitor.

Toran, who is a member of the current Iraqi parliament, accuses the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) — which is led by the two sons of the PUK’s late leader Jalal Talabani, Qubad and Bafel — of “vote-rigging” in Kirkuk.

“President Fuad Masum is defending the false results and using his position for partisan purposes,” Toran said in a jab at Masum, who requested the federal court decide on the annulment of some votes cast.

On May 30, Masum said that annulling some poll results would be “unconstitutional.” Masum’s position came less than 24 hours after the PUK — the president’s party — rejected the proposal of having judges oversee the manual recount of votes.

Kurds indirectly accuse members of the Turkmen Front in Kirkuk, who are protesting against the election results, of “conspiring” against the peaceful coexistence in the governorate. PUK Bloc parliament member Shwan Daoudi went as far as to draw comparisons between this sit-in and the protests in the Anbar province in 2012-13, which were part of a civil conflict from which the Islamic State emerged.

In reference to the Turkmen Front, the PUK — which emerged with six seats in Kirkuk — has accused “political parties and militias” of storming into the warehouses where the ballot boxes are stored in Kirkuk.

“The head of the electoral commission office in Kirkuk handed the keys to the warehouses to the armed militias,” Daoudi said during a press conference May 30.

Arabs in Kirkuk also joined the protests against the election results. Arab political figures there believe the PUK has rigged the vote in the governorate because it seeks the return of peshmerga forces to Kirkuk.

Kirkuk Gov. Rakan al-Jabouri, who belongs to the Arab Coalition that came in second in the governorate after securing three seats in the future parliament, accused the electoral commission of covering up the fraud and vote-rigging in Kirkuk elections.

The Arab group in the Kirkuk Governorate Council warned of a conflict that may elevate the crisis in the governorate to an “unknown” state because of the results of the current elections. All of these serious repercussions indicate that there is a crisis looming in Kirkuk as long as the integrity of the elections remains in question.

“The crisis in Kirkuk is very serious, as it is related to the size of the administrative representation [of the different components] in the governorate. Turkmen believe that their representation rights are being rejected by the Kurds,” Falah Mashaal, the former editor of state-owned al-Sabah newspaper, told Al-Monitor.

“Should the situation remain at a standstill, the crisis could shift down a conflictual path and unprecedented ethnic escalation, leading to an armed conflict that would end the relative calm that has been ongoing in the governorate for years,” he added.

The international dimensions of the dispute only compound the crisis. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also has concerns about the election’s repercussions, as was evident in his recent contact with the leader of the Sadrist movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, indicating that any potential conflict between Kurds and Turkmen will also include Arabs.

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Locals in Al Qaim, Anbar, worry that the current stable security situation can’t last. It’s being upheld by US troops and Iran-allied militias, whose antipathy toward one another is becoming more overt all the time.

The people of Al Qaim, a town in the far west of Anbar province, near the border with Syria, is a much happier place these days. During the past three years of the security crisis, sparked by the extremist group known as the Islamic State, it was considered an important base for the group. It was often referred to as the Islamic State group’s secret capital.

“Compared to a year ago the security situation is stable,” says Abdul-Rahman Karbouli, a community leader in Al Qaim, based in the Rumana area. “A year ago, this was a distant dream because of the presence of the extremists. Today we can stay up late without fear and my son works in one of the dairy factories in the city.”

It sounds good but Karbouli says it may not last; there is a big problem brewing. He fears that Al Qaim will fall victim to a conflict between the US military and members of the Shiite Muslim militias. The latter are former volunteers who fought against the Islamic State, or IS, group, but who are now an official part of the state security forces.

“The Iraqi army and the militias are protecting us,” Karbouli says, “but we are hearing an increasing number of threats against the US from the Shiite militias in Anbar.”

Iraqi officials say that the US efforts in Anbar have been indispensable when it comes to securing the country’s porous borders with Syria, borders that allowed the IS fighters to come back and forth at will and which made Al Qaim such a good base for them. The Iraqi military has welcomed US troops. However the Shiite militias, who are doing some of the same work as the Iraqi and US military, are not as keen on the idea.

After the IS group was officially driven out of Al Qaim in November 2017, US troops were deployed to barracks on the outskirts of town, in an area dominated by Sunni Muslim tribes with social and tribal connections to Syrian tribes over the border – in particular the Karableh and Mahalawi clans. But at the same time, Shiite Muslim militias, with strong affiliations to Iran, were also deployed in the area, in what appeared to be a clandestine race for influence in the border area.

Both military groups have a shared objective: To keep the area clear of the IS group and its fighters. In fact, last week, after IS group attacks in Kirkuk and Salahaddin, the Iraqi air force struck locations inside Syria in an attempt to knock out IS cells. And US-Iraqi joint units were able to arrest four senior IS leaders in early May inside Al Qaim.

But there are also other apparent aims of the two anti-IS forces here. Iran has long sought to carve out areas of influence that would allow it an unobstructed path to the sea: Such a path would go through Syria and Iraq. The Shiite Muslim militias associated with Iran, which supplies funding, weapons and advisory, want to open that road. The US forces want to keep it shut.

“The information provided by the friendlies [the way that the Iraqi military describe the international coalition, including the US, fighting the IS group] obtained with their drones and other intelligence information is essential in helping us secure these long borders,” says Saad al-Obeidi, a sergeant with the Iraqi army’s 12th division.

But his division doesn’t just work with the US forces, they also deal with a Shiite Muslim militia in Anbar, the Tafouf Brigade. “The irony is that we are working with bitter rivals,” al-Obeidi says. “The US forces fear the Tafouf brigade in the city and the brigade wants the US forces to withdraw. Every time we meet either group, we hear the bad way they talk about each other.”

When the Iraqi government declared the end of fighting in Anbar, all the Shiite militias withdrew from the Sunni-majority province except the Al Tafouf brigade, stationed in Al Qaim. Its leader is Qassim Musleh, who was actually imprisoned by the US during its invasion of Iraq. He was jailed in a UK base in Basra for three years.

The brigade he commands now is one that split from the Ali Akbar fighting units, which are closely associated with the holy southern city of Karbala and Shia Islam’s highest authority in Iraq, Ali al-Sistani. As such, the Ali Akbar units were more pro-Iraq than pro-Iran. However Musleh was removed from the job, allegedly for mistakes made in battle, and founded a new militia, this time one that was more closely affiliated with Iran.

Mostly the Al Tafouf brigade has been working on removing improvised explosive devices left by the IS group on the roads and trying to ferret out sleeper cells that may still be hiding in the Al Qaim area. Last week, it announced that it had found a secret base belonging to the extremists on the outskirts of the city, complete with tunnels and weapons stores.

“Our brigade has good relations with the people of Al Qaim,” one of the Al Tafouf members, Abdul Amir al-Masoudi, told NIQASH in a phone interview. “But the brigade is not happy with the presence of US troops here. We would like them to leave the city and we believe they are actually supporting the terrorists.”

This is an old rumour that has been repeated many times by the Shiite militias opposed to the US presence in Iraq. As recently as last week, Shiite militia Facebook pages were posting clips of what they said was an American plane over Anbar. They said the plane was being used to transport IS fighters. The Iraqi government and the Ministry of Defence have denied the stories and tried to put a stop to the rumours but some Iraqis still believe the tall tales.

“The US forces, the Iraqi army and the Syrian army are coordinating to control the borders north of the Euphrates river,” a member of Anbar’s provincial council told NIQASH off the record. “The Syrian army and Shiite militias are in control of border areas south of the Euphrates river. It is a complicated but useful equation in terms of defending Anbar. But there is a chance it could all collapse because of tensions between the two groups,” the council member admitted.

“Anbar is always under threat from the extremists and we need the US to help us secure our borders,” he noted. “But we also need the militias to fight the extremists.”

A total of 95 Iraqi civilians were killed and another 163 injured in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict in Iraq in May 2018*, according to casualty figures recorded by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

The figures include ordinary citizens and others considered civilian at the time of death or injury, such as police in non-combat functions, civil defence, personal security teams, facilities protection police and fire department personnel.

Of the overall figures recorded by UNAMI for the month of May, the number of civilians killed (not including police) was 86, while the number of injured (not including police) was 148.

Baghdad was the worst affected Governorate, with 117 civilian casualties (45 killed, 72 injured), followed by Diyala with 9 killed and 35 injured, and Kirkuk with 20 killed and 16 injured.

According to information obtained by UNAMI from the Health Directorate in Anbar, the Governorate suffered a total of 21 civilian casualties (6 killed and 15 injured). Figures are updated until 31 May, inclusive.

*CAVEATS: The figures reported have to be considered as the absolute minimum. UNAMI has been hindered in effectively verifying casualties in certain areas due to volatility of the situation on the ground and the disruption of services. In some cases, UNAMI could only partially verify certain incidents. Figures for casualties from Anbar Governorate were provided by the Health Directorate and might not fully reflect the real number of casualties in the Governorate.

(Source: United Nations)

A total of 95 Iraqi civilians were killed and another 163 injured in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict in Iraq in May 2018*, according to casualty figures recorded by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

The figures include ordinary citizens and others considered civilian at the time of death or injury, such as police in non-combat functions, civil defence, personal security teams, facilities protection police and fire department personnel.

Of the overall figures recorded by UNAMI for the month of May, the number of civilians killed (not including police) was 86, while the number of injured (not including police) was 148.

Baghdad was the worst affected Governorate, with 117 civilian casualties (45 killed, 72 injured), followed by Diyala with 9 killed and 35 injured, and Kirkuk with 20 killed and 16 injured.

According to information obtained by UNAMI from the Health Directorate in Anbar, the Governorate suffered a total of 21 civilian casualties (6 killed and 15 injured). Figures are updated until 31 May, inclusive.

*CAVEATS: The figures reported have to be considered as the absolute minimum. UNAMI has been hindered in effectively verifying casualties in certain areas due to volatility of the situation on the ground and the disruption of services. In some cases, UNAMI could only partially verify certain incidents. Figures for casualties from Anbar Governorate were provided by the Health Directorate and might not fully reflect the real number of casualties in the Governorate.

(Source: United Nations)

From Al Jazeera. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq’s electoral commission says it is cancelling the results from more than 1,000 polling stations used in this month’s parliamentary vote.

It says it has evidence of fraud at voting centres both in Iraq and for citizens living abroad.

Iraqi MPs called for votes in the predominantly Sunni provinces of Anbar, Diyala, Salahuddin and Nineveh and all ballots cast by Iraqis living abroad to be manually recounted.

The demand was supported by many Sunni politicians and others who oppose the election results which saw a successful outcome for three main Shia-led blocs in Iraq’s first election since the defeat of ISIL.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi warned in his weekly news conference of potential political instability if demands for recounts continued.

Al Jazeera‘s Charles Stratford has more from Baghdad:

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

Many Iraqi legislators call for canceling election results

On May 21, a group of Iraqi parliament members submitted a request to the speaker to cancel the results of the May 12 parliamentary elections. The group also called for dissolving the Independent High Electoral Commission, discontinuing electronic voting and reinstating manual voting and sorting, with many legislators saying the elections were sabotaged.

The next day, six Kurdish parties of the Iraqi Kurdistan region threatened to boycott the political process if their demand to cancel the results in Iraqi Kurdistan and other contested areas is not met. However, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the two main political parties that came in first and second in the provinces of the region, did not join in on the complaints.

On May 18, the Independent High Electoral Commission announced the results of the elections. It also said that ballots cast in 103 polling stations in five provinces — Baghdad, Anbar, Salahuddin, Ninevah and Kirkuk — had been annulled because of sabotage and suspicions of fraud. However, the commission did not say whether the cancellation of those ballots actually changed the results.

Out of 329 members of the Iraqi parliament, 176 agreed on canceling the results of the elections, legislator Tawfiq al-Kaabi said. This would mean that the number of parliament members calling for the elections to be voided has reached the majority required for a law to be passed.

Legal analyst Ali Jaber told Al-Monitor, “The Iraqi parliament has the right to dissolve the current electoral commission and cancel the results of the election if it is proven to be sabotaged and fraudulent.”

Said al-Kakai, a member of the Independent High Electoral Commission, agreed with those calling for the cancellation of the results and the reinstatement of manual sorting. During a televised interview aired May 18, he said results that had been double checked in six provinces did not match with the original tallies, with the worst cases having differences ranging from 12% to 63%.

Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, the leader of the predominantly Sunni National Coalition, is also skeptical of the results, although his grouping won 21 seats. He is suspicious about the vote in refugee camps and abroad and called for the cancellation of those results. He also said he supports manual vote sorting in the contested provinces.

Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jubouri, who lost on May 12 despite being a top National Coalition candidate, said in a recorded message two days after the elections, “There is a conspiracy targeting me specifically. It appears to be part of a more elaborate plan. Yet most of its threads and tools have been revealed, and I will be disclosing all information to the public.”

Shiite parties were also skeptical of the results. Mohammad al-Sahyoud, a candidate from the State of Law Coalition, called “for canceling the results of the elections, extending [the term of] the parliament and announcing a caretaker government due to electoral fraud and sabotage” in a May 17 press statement.

Political analyst Ahmad al-Abiad told Al-Monitor, “The US supports the necessity of having manual sorting for 5% of ballot boxes. This might happen in the coming days.”

He added, “The suspicions around the results of the election are great and the calls for canceling them are even greater, but we do not have any constitutional procedure for canceling the results of elections. So the only solution available for political blocs is to pass a law in parliament canceling the elections before the constitutional end of their term June 30. The government can also appeal the parliament’s decision to the Federal Supreme Court of Iraq.”

The State of Law coalition, which won 25 seats in parliament, was a big loser in the elections, seeing its total drop 66 seats from the 2014 elections. The lower number could jeopardize the coalition’s involvement in the next government.

Skepticism about the results emanated from political parties and groupings that received fewer seats than expected.

Some individuals from other coalitions also called for canceling the results. Member of parliament Mohammed al-Lakash of the National Wisdom Movement (Hikma), which won 19 seats in the new parliament, called for canceling the results because of “fraud attempts, voter intimidation and bribery.”

The Iraqi Turkmen Front in Kirkuk, led by member of parliament Arshad al-Salihi, objected to the election results in the province and asked its supporters to protest in the streets of Kirkuk. It also sued the Independent High Electoral Commission.

This is the first time since 2005 that election results have faced such strong objections. The complaints seem to be coming from all political parties except for the Sairoon Alliance.

The alliance led by the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr won 54 seats in the next parliament. It is the only coalition that did not doubt the results of the elections despite Sadr’s constant objections to the current electoral law.

While it is possible that a law canceling the results could be passed, such a step seems unattainable given the short deadline left for the parliament. The parliament members would first have to hold talks in order to reach a political agreement on the topic. This might lead the country into chaos, so an alternative quick solution that might please all political parties might be to manually sort the ballot boxes of some polling stations.

A total of 68 Iraqi civilians were killed and another 122 injured in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict in Iraq in April 2018*, according to casualty figures recorded by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

The figures include ordinary citizens and others considered civilian at the time of death or injury, such as police in non-combat functions, civil defence, personal security teams, facilities protection police and fire department personnel.

Of the overall figures recorded by UNAMI for the month of April, the number of civilians killed (not including police) was 64, while the number of injured (not including police) was 121.

Anbar was the worst affected Governorate, with 53 civilian casualties (24 killed, 29 injured), followed by Baghdad with 8 killed and 30 injured, and Kirkuk with 10 killed and 21 injured.

“The casualty figures reported continue steadily to decline after the military defeat of Dae’sh last year. This is good news, but the best news will be when Iraq is completely free of the threat of terrorism and is at peace,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq Ján Kubiš.

*CAVEATS: The figures reported have to be considered as the absolute minimum. UNAMI has been hindered in effectively verifying casualties in certain areas due to volatility of the situation on the ground and the disruption of services. In some cases, UNAMI could only partially verify certain incidents. Figures for casualties from Anbar Governorate were provided by the Health Directorate and might not fully reflect the real number of casualties in the Governorate.

(Source: United Nations)