On Thursday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated two militia figures, Rayan al-Kildani and Waad Qado, and two former Iraqi governors, Nawfal Hammadi al-Sultan and Ahmed al-Jubouri, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption.

“The United States is taking action against four individuals in Iraq implicated in serious human rights abuse or corruption,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “We will continue to hold accountable persons associated with serious human rights abuse, including persecution of religious minorities, and corrupt officials who exploit their positions of public trust to line their pockets and hoard power at the expense of their citizens.”

Many of the corruption- and abuse-related actions committed by these sanctioned individuals occurred in areas where persecuted religious communities are struggling to recover from the horrors inflicted on them by ISIS.  Therefore, today’s sanctions demonstrate solidarity with all Iraqis who oppose corruption and human rights abuse undertaken by public officials, and underscore the Administration’s commitment to support the recovery of persecuted religious communities in Iraq.

As a result of today’s actions, all property and interests in property of these individuals, and any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by these individuals, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.  OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit any dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked persons.

RAYAN AL-KILDANI

Rayan al-Kildani (al-Kildani) was designated for being a foreign person who is responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse.

Al-Kildani is the leader of the 50th Brigade militia.  In May 2018, a video circulated among Iraqi human rights civil society organizations in which al-Kildani cut off the ear of a handcuffed detainee.

The 50th Brigade is reportedly the primary impediment to the return of internally displaced persons to the Ninewa Plain.  The 50th Brigade has systematically looted homes in Batnaya, which is struggling to recover from ISIS’s brutal rule.  The 50th Brigade has reportedly illegally seized and sold agricultural land, and the local population has accused the group of intimidation, extortion, and harassment of women.

WAAD QADO

Waad Qado (Qado) was designated for being a foreign person who is or has been a leader or official of an entity, including any government entity, that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse relating to the leader’s or official’s tenure.

Qado is the leader of the 30th Brigade militia.  The 30th Brigade has extracted money from the population around Bartalla, in the Ninewa Plain, through extortion, illegal arrests, and kidnappings.  The 30th Brigade has frequently detained people without warrants, or with fraudulent warrants, and has charged arbitrary customs fees at its checkpoints.  Members of the local population allege that the 30th Brigade has been responsible for egregious offenses including physical intimidation, extortion, robbery, kidnapping, and rape.

NAWFAL HAMMADI AL-SULTAN

Nawfal Hammadi al-Sultan (al-Sultan) is designated for being a foreign person who is a current or former government official, or a person acting for or on behalf of such an official, who is responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

Al-Sultan is a former governor of Ninewa Province, Iraq.  Following a ferry accident in Ninewa’s capital, Mosul, that killed nearly 100 people, Iraq’s parliament removed al-Sultan from office.  The ferry, loaded to five times its capacity, had been carrying families to an island on the Tigris River when it sank.  Iraqi authorities have issued an arrest warrant for the former governor, who fled shortly after the accident.

In a letter to Members of Parliament after the ferry accident, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi accused al-Sultan of negligence and dereliction of duty, and said there was evidence the former governor was misusing funds and abusing his power.  On March 27, 2019, the Ninewa investigations court said the former governor and several other officials were suspected of misusing their powers and wasting public money.

Al-Sultan has faced allegations of widespread corruption since 1994.  He was removed from his first post as mayor because of corruption and a conviction on smuggling charges.  In 2017, the United Nations Development Program suspended reconstruction projects after multiple allegations of al-Sultan siphoning off United Nations funds.

AHMED AL-JUBOURI

Ahmed al-Jubouri (al-Jubouri) is designated for being a foreign person who is a current or former government official, or a person acting for or on behalf of such an official, who is responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

Al-Jubouri, also known as Abu Mazin, is a former governor of Salah al-Din, Iraq, and current Member of Parliament who has engaged in corruption.  Al-Jubouri was removed as governor and sentenced to prison in July 2017 upon conviction for misusing authority and federal funds and appropriating land for personal use.  Al-Jubouri has since been released.  Al-Jubouri has been known to protect his personal interests by accommodating Iran-backed proxies that operate outside of state control.

GLOBAL MAGNITSKY

Building upon the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, on December 20, 2017, the President signed E.O. 13818, “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption,” in which the President found that the prevalence of human rights abuse and corruption that have their source, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States, has reached such scope and gravity that they threaten the stability of international political and economic systems.  Human rights abuse and corruption undermine the values that form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies; have devastating impacts on individuals; weaken democratic institutions; degrade the rule of law; perpetuate violent conflicts; facilitate the activities of dangerous persons; and undermine economic markets.  The United States seeks to impose tangible and significant consequences on those who commit serious human rights abuse or engage in corruption, as well as to protect the financial system of the United States from abuse by these same persons.

To date, OFAC has sanctioned 113 individuals and entities pursuant to E.O. 13818.  These designations are in addition to the numerous human rights- or corruption-related designations Treasury has issued under various other sanctions authorities.  In total, since January 2017, Treasury has taken action against more than 680 individuals and entities engaged in activities related to, or directly involving, human rights abuse and/or corruption.  The Treasury Department has also published advisories to U.S. financial institutions on human rights abuses enabled by corrupt senior foreign political figures and their financial facilitators that can be found here, as well as advisories related to some of the programs listed above, which can be found here.

View identifying information on the individuals designated today.

(Source: OFAC)

By John Lee.

The Iraqi Cabinet held its regular meeting in Baghdad on Tuesday under the chairmanship of Prime Minister, Adil Abd Al-Mahdi, at which it discussed a series of recommendations by the Ministerial Committee for Energy regarding a number of strategic projects aimed at increasing Iraq’s oil production and exporting capacities.

The Cabinet approved the proposed Iraq-Jordan oil pipeline, and the construction of offshore oil exporting facilities in Iraq’s territorial waters in the Gulf.

it also discussed a number of infrastructure and service projects and approved a proposal from the Ministry of Construction and Housing for a pedestrian bridge in the Gherai’at area in Baghdad.

The Cabinet also approved several measures to encourage Iraqi, Arab and international investment in Iraq, including further action to cut red tape and streamline procedures.

The Cabinet approved a draft law on the accession by the Republic of Iraq to the 1997 Protocol to amend the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (1973) as modified by the 1978 Protocol.

(Source: Govt of Iraq)

Germany’s Siemens has received an order to supply the key components and long-term power generation services for the 840-megawatt (MW) Maisan combined cycle power plant in Iraq.

CITIC Construction Co., Ltd., the Chinese engineering procurement and construction firm building the plant, and Iraqi developer MPC, part of Raban Al-Safina for Energy Projects (RASEP) awarded the contract valued at more than EUR 280 million to Siemens.

The independent power project is expected to deliver first power by March 2021 and enter full combined cycle mode by early 2022. The plant will supply sufficient electricity to meet the needs of more than three million Iraqis, while also supporting the industrial sector.

The Siemens scope of supply includes two SGT5-4000F gas turbines, oneSST5-4000 steam turbine, and three SGen5-2000H generators, along with the SPPA-T3000 control systems, transformers and related electrical equipment, and the fuel gas system.

Saadi Saihood, Chairman of Raban Al-Safina Group, said, “Maisan combined cycle power plant project will be one of the unique projects in a series of power generation projects in Iraq’s history that will stand out due to its combining innovative German technology with an experienced Chinese EPC service provider. We are confident that such a strong team will enable us to deliver a successful project that will benefit millions of Iraqis.”

“Iraq is undergoing an economic transformation, and as the country embarks on a series of ambitious infrastructure projects, efficient and reliable electricity will be essential to powering this development,” said Dietmar Siersdorfer, CEO of Siemens Middle East and UAE. “With a presence in the country that dates back more than 100 years, we are proud to support the generation of half of Iraq’s power supply. We are also committed to providing vocational training for up to 1,000 Iraqis in order to develop a pipeline of talented local employees who can contribute to the new Iraq.”

New Maisan power plant to supply electricity to 3 million Iraqis

The Maisan combined cycle power plant in Iraq will add 840 megawatts to the grid and provides a reliable power supply for more than three million Iraqis.

“This project will mark an important power generation milestone in Iraq. The state-of-the-art power island that will be installed by Siemens, including the latest technology of F-class gas turbines, will turn the Maisan power plant into the most efficient gas-fired combined cycle power plant in Iraq. This is very critical for the economics of the long-term operations and the effective utilization of fuel,” said Karim Amin, CEO of Power Generation at Siemens Gas and Power. “In addition, the long-term service agreement is designed to ensure increased efficiency and maximum availability of the power plant while also providing technical training for local Iraqi staff on the operation and maintenance (O&M) front. This will support skills development and knowledge transfer to the Iraqi people.”

Siemens will also utilize its Power Diagnostics Services (PDS), part of the Omnivise Digital Services portfolio. The company’s PDS solution combines asset data with industry expertise to deliver information that allows faster and accurate predictive analysis for effective decision-making. This enables improved operational planning to increase availability, mitigate risks, and optimize operational costs.

Siemens and the Ministry of Electricity of the Republic of Iraq recently signed an implementation agreement to kick off the actual execution of the roadmap for rebuilding Iraq’s power sector. As part of the implementation agreement, the two agreed on the awarding of contracts valued at approximately EUR 700 million for phase 1 of the roadmap. This includes the EPC construction of a 500 MW gas-fired power plant in Zubaidiya, the upgrade of 40 gas turbines with upstream cooling systems, and the installation of thirteen 132 kV substations as well as 34 transformers across Iraq.

(Source: Siemens)

High-ranking officials from Iran, Syria, and Iraq have agreed to create “a multimodal transport corridor” a part of efforts to boost trade relations between the three Muslim nations.

“The three friendly and brotherly countries of Iran, Iraq, and Syria have good and growing business relations,” Iranian Deputy Minister of Roads and Urban Development Shahram Adamnejad told the Tasnim News Agency.

“Given the actual and potential capacities created by the bilateral agreements between the three countries as well as the prospect of increasing these exchanges in the near future, we will witness a new chapter of trade prosperity in the territories of the three countries,” he added.

“Accordingly, the three countries have agreed to establish a multimodal transport corridor on the route from Iran to Iraq and Syria, and vice versa,” the deputy minister went on to say.

Speaking at a trilateral meeting between the state-owned Iraqi Republic Railways (IRR) and its Iranian and Syrian counterparts, the IRR Managing Director Talib Jawad Kazim praised Iran’s achievements in the railroad industry and said the sanctions have made Iran archive great successes.

He further pointed to the railroad project connecting Iran’s Shalamcheh to Iraq’s Basra and said his country is willing to speed up the project so that the two countries’ rail networks are connected to each other and then connected to Syria.

During Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Iraq in March, the two countries signed five deals to promote cooperation in various fields.

The documents entail cooperation between Iran and Iraq concerning the Basra-Shalamcheh railroad project, visa facilitation for investors, cooperation in the health sector, and agreements between the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Trade of Iran and Ministry of Trade of Iraq, and another one in the field of oil between the petroleum ministries of the two countries.

Iran’s Minister of Industry, Mine and Trade Reza Rahmani has said that Tehran and Baghdad have agreed to reach the target of raising the value of annual trade exchange to $20 billion within two years.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon have committed to digitally transform their countries, discussing their roadmaps to support the Mashreq region’s integration into the rapidly evolving global digital economy.

The commitments came on the first day of the landmark, high-level forum on Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship Development in Mashreq, which was  hosted by the Government of Jordan and organized jointly with the World Bank Group.

The three governments had identified the challenges and solutions that would allow Mashreq countries to realize more gains to their economies and societies. Digitalization is shaping the present and future of economic activities as it brings about higher productivity, efficiencies and quicker inclusion of lagging economic and social groups, such as women and youth.

Mobile and digital solutions are contributing to facilitating greater financial inclusion. E-commerce and other digital applications are being leveraged to promote entrepreneurship, including the empowerment of women as entrepreneurs, and digital solutions are being sought to improve access to learning resources in an easier and less expensive way.

The Mobile Gender Report for 2018 lists a gender gap in mobile ownership among women in the region which can reach up to 20%. while this gap is only 2% in countries like Egypt or Turkey. Bringing this gap to less than 4% everywhere in the Mashreq would bring income opportunities for women in the region. Broadband access is estimated to increase employment among married women by as much as 4% in high income economies.

Broadly speaking, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon face similar obstacles to their quest to transform Mashreq into a regional hub for IT and Business Process Outsourcing.  Policymakers, international and regional businesses, startups and investors all convened at the King Hussein Business Park to enrich the discussion with their expertise and experience on how to push this agenda forward.

The digital roadmaps were presented by the three ministers holding the Information Technology portfolio in their respective countries. World Bank Group  committed to supporting these countries achieve their goals with specific focus on increasing broadband access, establishing cashless payment systems and bridging the gender gap in mobile usage.

Iraq

The Government of Iraq (GOI) is committed to further advancing the digital economy and aims to ensure affordable access to high speed internet, by doubling access to broadband to 54% in 2021 and 90% by 2030, achieving 100% broadband network coverage, establishing a conducive regulatory and policy framework for digital payments, developing interoperable digital payments infrastructure, and striving towards 100% financial access. The GOI is also committed to delivering digital government services and ensuring highest standards of cybersecurity and data privacy to boost consumer trust. The GOI is also keen to ensure that education and training programs meet current and future job market skills needs.

Jordan

The Government of Jordan (GOJ) is committed to advancing the digital economy as strategic growth sector for the Kingdom. On digital infrastructure, the GOJ commits to further developing access to internet broadband to reach 100% penetration rate by 2021. As part of that, the GOJ is opening the National Broadband Network (7,000 kilometers of fiber) for Public Private Partnership, allowing affordable fiber broadband to 1.3 million households around Jordan. On digital payments, the GOJ commits to increasing country-level cashless payments from 33 to 50% by 2020 and to digitizing 80% of government to citizens payments by 2021.  On developing digital skills, the GOJ will launch a national skills development initiative to train 35,000 people on the 21st century skills and mainstreaming digital skills in public schools to train 300 thousands by 2022. To enable a friendly business environment for entrepreneurs, the GOJ is committed to launching a regulatory reform process in 2019, following a participatory approach with ecosystem representatives. To complete automation of Government services, the GOJ commits to automate key services by 2021. Building on the recent transformations of the Ministry of ICT to Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship, the GOJ will launch its digital transformation action plan in partnership with the ecosystem by end of 2019.

Lebanon

The Government of Lebanon (GOL) is committed to building a Digital Nation and to transform Lebanon into a regional technology and innovation hub. The GOL  is in the process of finalizing its digital transformation plan and aims to double the knowledge economy’s contribution to GDP and double the employment in this sector by 2025. To achieve this, the GOL plans to: (i) reach 100% broadband penetration rate by end of 2021; (ii) develop and execute the digital transformation of the public sector and offer citizens a fully digitized journey across all government services, with 500,000 users signed up to the government digital platform by end of 2021; (iii) provide a supportive regulatory framework to help grow the Fintech industry and facilitate digital payments, launch a new national digital currency by the end of 2020, and launch an Electronic Trading Platform (ETP) to improve financing for private sector activities in 2020; (iv) leverage its pool of skilled and entrepreneurial talent in Lebanon and abroad to build a digital economy focused on innovation and private initiative, increase the number of start-ups fivefold and double yearly venture capital funding by 2025; and (v) address the existing skills gap by preparing the youth for the global, digital jobs of the future through launching a national training academy by 2021.

The World Bank commits to support Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan in achieving their visions and plans for digital transformation by providing the necessary resources and instruments. The World Bank will work closely with the Governments, private sector, academia and civil society to maximize the impact of digitization and reap the digital dividends for their societies. This support will include: (i) pursuing plans to ensure affordable access to high-speed internet and facilitate investment in broadband; (ii) delivering digital government services and improving access to data, while ensuring the highest standards of cybersecurity and data privacy; (iii) developing a modern digital payment infrastructure; (iv) scaling up digital entrepreneurship; and (v) ensuring education and training programs meet current and future skills needs.

More details, including a video of the procedings, can be found here.

The second high-level Digital Mashreq Forum will convene in Beirut in June 2020.

(Source: World Bank)

Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon have committed to digitally transform their countries, discussing their roadmaps to support the Mashreq region’s integration into the rapidly evolving global digital economy.

The commitments came on the first day of the landmark, high-level forum on Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship Development in Mashreq, which was  hosted by the Government of Jordan and organized jointly with the World Bank Group.

The three governments had identified the challenges and solutions that would allow Mashreq countries to realize more gains to their economies and societies. Digitalization is shaping the present and future of economic activities as it brings about higher productivity, efficiencies and quicker inclusion of lagging economic and social groups, such as women and youth.

Mobile and digital solutions are contributing to facilitating greater financial inclusion. E-commerce and other digital applications are being leveraged to promote entrepreneurship, including the empowerment of women as entrepreneurs, and digital solutions are being sought to improve access to learning resources in an easier and less expensive way.

The Mobile Gender Report for 2018 lists a gender gap in mobile ownership among women in the region which can reach up to 20%. while this gap is only 2% in countries like Egypt or Turkey. Bringing this gap to less than 4% everywhere in the Mashreq would bring income opportunities for women in the region. Broadband access is estimated to increase employment among married women by as much as 4% in high income economies.

Broadly speaking, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon face similar obstacles to their quest to transform Mashreq into a regional hub for IT and Business Process Outsourcing.  Policymakers, international and regional businesses, startups and investors all convened at the King Hussein Business Park to enrich the discussion with their expertise and experience on how to push this agenda forward.

The digital roadmaps were presented by the three ministers holding the Information Technology portfolio in their respective countries. World Bank Group  committed to supporting these countries achieve their goals with specific focus on increasing broadband access, establishing cashless payment systems and bridging the gender gap in mobile usage.

Iraq

The Government of Iraq (GOI) is committed to further advancing the digital economy and aims to ensure affordable access to high speed internet, by doubling access to broadband to 54% in 2021 and 90% by 2030, achieving 100% broadband network coverage, establishing a conducive regulatory and policy framework for digital payments, developing interoperable digital payments infrastructure, and striving towards 100% financial access. The GOI is also committed to delivering digital government services and ensuring highest standards of cybersecurity and data privacy to boost consumer trust. The GOI is also keen to ensure that education and training programs meet current and future job market skills needs.

Jordan

The Government of Jordan (GOJ) is committed to advancing the digital economy as strategic growth sector for the Kingdom. On digital infrastructure, the GOJ commits to further developing access to internet broadband to reach 100% penetration rate by 2021. As part of that, the GOJ is opening the National Broadband Network (7,000 kilometers of fiber) for Public Private Partnership, allowing affordable fiber broadband to 1.3 million households around Jordan. On digital payments, the GOJ commits to increasing country-level cashless payments from 33 to 50% by 2020 and to digitizing 80% of government to citizens payments by 2021.  On developing digital skills, the GOJ will launch a national skills development initiative to train 35,000 people on the 21st century skills and mainstreaming digital skills in public schools to train 300 thousands by 2022. To enable a friendly business environment for entrepreneurs, the GOJ is committed to launching a regulatory reform process in 2019, following a participatory approach with ecosystem representatives. To complete automation of Government services, the GOJ commits to automate key services by 2021. Building on the recent transformations of the Ministry of ICT to Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship, the GOJ will launch its digital transformation action plan in partnership with the ecosystem by end of 2019.

Lebanon

The Government of Lebanon (GOL) is committed to building a Digital Nation and to transform Lebanon into a regional technology and innovation hub. The GOL  is in the process of finalizing its digital transformation plan and aims to double the knowledge economy’s contribution to GDP and double the employment in this sector by 2025. To achieve this, the GOL plans to: (i) reach 100% broadband penetration rate by end of 2021; (ii) develop and execute the digital transformation of the public sector and offer citizens a fully digitized journey across all government services, with 500,000 users signed up to the government digital platform by end of 2021; (iii) provide a supportive regulatory framework to help grow the Fintech industry and facilitate digital payments, launch a new national digital currency by the end of 2020, and launch an Electronic Trading Platform (ETP) to improve financing for private sector activities in 2020; (iv) leverage its pool of skilled and entrepreneurial talent in Lebanon and abroad to build a digital economy focused on innovation and private initiative, increase the number of start-ups fivefold and double yearly venture capital funding by 2025; and (v) address the existing skills gap by preparing the youth for the global, digital jobs of the future through launching a national training academy by 2021.

The World Bank commits to support Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan in achieving their visions and plans for digital transformation by providing the necessary resources and instruments. The World Bank will work closely with the Governments, private sector, academia and civil society to maximize the impact of digitization and reap the digital dividends for their societies. This support will include: (i) pursuing plans to ensure affordable access to high-speed internet and facilitate investment in broadband; (ii) delivering digital government services and improving access to data, while ensuring the highest standards of cybersecurity and data privacy; (iii) developing a modern digital payment infrastructure; (iv) scaling up digital entrepreneurship; and (v) ensuring education and training programs meet current and future skills needs.

More details, including a video of the procedings, can be found here.

The second high-level Digital Mashreq Forum will convene in Beirut in June 2020.

(Source: World Bank)

By John Lee.

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in Iraq would like to highlight the role of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) as a key facilitator of stabilization and humanitarian efforts through the support of explosive hazard management and risk education activities in the retaken areas of Iraq.

More than two years after the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) retook areas previously under Da’esh control, the presence of explosive hazards continues to act as one of the primary inhibitors for the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) back to their homes. The scale, density, and complexity of explosive hazards is unprecedented, making Iraq one of the most contaminated countries in the world.

Support from the United Kingdom through DFID has a significant impact on clearance efforts in the country, allowing for the continuation and expansion of UNMAS activities in the retaken areas of Iraq. In collaboration with its implementing partners and the Government of Iraq, UNMAS has coordinated a humanitarian response framework that tackles explosive hazard contamination through three different strategies: direct explosive hazard management through clearance measures, enhancement of government capacity through advanced trainings, and provision of risk education to vulnerable and displaced communities.

Risk education is a key activity supported by the United Kingdom since inception. Life-saving messages are delivered to affected communities via sessions mostly organized in IDP camps, schools and community centers. To extend the reach of risk education messages, creative tools such as the screening of TV clips, the printing of life-saving messages on taxis, date packages, water bottles and gloves as well as the use of virtual reality goggles have also recently been developed and used. These initiatives are essential to avoid accidents caused by explosive hazards.

British Chargé d’Affaires in Baghdad John Tucknott said:

The UK is the largest contributor to the Voluntary Trust Fund for Mine Action in Iraq. UK aid supports UNMAS in clearing explosive hazards, educating vulnerable communities on how to stay safe and helping to train Iraq’s National Demining Authority.

“It also supports search and clearance teams clearing important infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and roads, enabling Iraqis to safely return to their homes. We are particularly pleased that in Sinjar these teams are gender-balanced and include members belonging to different religions and ethnicities.

Pehr Lodhammar, Senior Programme Manager of UNMAS in Iraq:

Explosive hazards continue to have an adverse effect on afflicted communities in Iraq. Our primary mandate is to facilitate the safe and voluntary return of IDPs to their homes. We cannot do that when an estimated 70 per cent of explosive hazards still lie underneath the rubble.

“Risk education and the clearance of explosive hazards always come together. To avoid accidents, it is crucial to teach affected communities which behaviours to adopt when encountering explosive hazards.

(Source: United Nations)

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued the following assessment of democracy and human rights in Iraq, as part of its annual Human rights report:

The principal human rights concerns in Iraq in 2018 were the lasting effects of Daesh atrocities, the use of the death penalty, gender disparity in society and politics, violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, and the excessive use of force against demonstrators. Following significant military progress against Daesh at the end of 2017, 4.1 million internally displaced persons had safely returned home by December 2018 to begin rebuilding their lives, while 1.8 million remained displaced.

National elections in May were held according to democratic standards and were largely peaceful. However, the continuing security threat of Daesh, preparation for elections, and a protracted period of government formation distracted the Government of Iraq from addressing major human rights issues.

There was a pressing need to address the societal effects of Daesh atrocities, in particular the stigma associated with survivors of sexual violence, children born of rape, and widows of Daesh members. The UK funded projects to reduce stigma, promote community action to prevent sexual violence, and facilitate access to services for survivors. The UN Investigative Team, established following UN Security Council Resolution 2379, was deployed to Iraq to embark on its mandate to hold Daesh accountable by collecting, preserving, and storing evidence of Daesh crimes.

This included supporting and complementing investigations carried out by the Iraqi authorities, and exhuming mass graves. The first mass grave exhumation took place on 15 March 2019 in the village of Kojo, the hometown of Nadia Murad. The UK-led Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative is working with partners to develop the Murad Code. Drawing on the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict and in consultation with Nadia Murad’s Initiative, the Murad Code will capture international standards and best practice that governments, international agencies and NGOs should adhere to when gathering evidence for judicial purposes.

The use of the death penalty remained a significant concern over the summer, when the then Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi expedited cases of convicted Daesh members, with strong public support. The Iraqi Ministry of Justice announced that 32 executions had taken place between January and August. The UK publicly condemned the use of the death penalty on a number of occasions, and continued to press the Government of Iraq to improve transparency on death penalty cases, and adhere to international standards on due process and fair trials.

In the run up to the national elections in May, the intimidation of female candidates forced some to withdraw their candidacy. The UK and EU jointly and publicly criticised this behaviour. Despite Iraq’s Constitution requiring 25% of MPs to be female, women remained sidelined from political decision making. October saw the murder of 2 high-profile women, Souad al Ali and Tara Fares, demonstrating the continuing threat of violence against women. The UK regularly highlighted the importance of gender equality in society and in politics, including by supporting the formation of a women’s caucus to strengthen the voice of Iraq’s 83 female MPs. We worked closely with the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq to support the development of Iraq’s second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

Lack of security, access to services and jobs, and marginalisation in general were the principal concerns for Iraq’s religious and ethnic minority communities, which in turn accelerated the emigration of members of minority groups. We consistently raised with the Government of Iraq, including the new Foreign Minister, the need to protect vulnerable people, including members of minority groups. By December, we had contributed over £14.4 million to the UN’s Funding Facility for Stabilisation to help the Government of Iraq rebuild communities in liberated areas, including the Ninewa Plains, home to many minority groups.

While Iraq’s media environment remained relatively free in comparison to the wider Middle East region, serious issues persisted. In April, Human Rights Watch reported arbitrary detentions and violence by Kurdish security forces against protesters and journalists. In July, the Government of Iraq shut down the internet for several days to disrupt the organisation and reporting of protests in southern Iraq. In September, Amnesty International reported that the Iraqi security forces had responded with excessive force and violence to these protests. The UK repeatedly underlined the importance of an effective and impartial media. To support fundamental media freedoms, we funded training for 280 journalists, media specialists, social media activists, and university professors.

In 2019, the UK will both press and support the Government of Iraq to make substantive reforms to be more inclusive, protect vulnerable people, deliver services to all Iraqis, and ensure that the conditions which enabled Daesh do not return. The formation of a new Government of Iraq is an important opportunity to continue Iraq’s positive human rights trajectory, but we need to maintain the pressure. We will continue to press for improvements on human rights, with a particular focus on the women, peace and security agenda, and on freedom of religion or belief. Ensuring the rule of law and fundamental human rights are crucial to Iraq’s long-term stabilisation and security.

(Source: UK FCO)

Iran Has Taken Invaluable Steps to Cement Ties with Iraq: Envoy

Iran’s Ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi highlighted the importance of bilateral relations between the two neighboring countries and said Tehran has taken major strides to strengthen ties with Baghdad.

“We are trying to boost our relations with Iraq in all areas,” Masjedi said, addressing an appreciation ceremony for the outgoing Iranian consuls in the Iraqi cities of Sulaymaniyah and Karbala.

“The embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Baghdad, as well as the affiliated organizations and consulates and other governmental agencies of Iran in Iraq, have taken invaluable strides and actions at various political, economic and security levels to strengthen relations between the two countries in recent years,” the diplomat noted.

Masjedi further pointed to historical, cultural and ideological commonalities of the two countries and said closer ties in all fields are in line with the interests of both Iran and Iraq.

Iran and Iraq enjoy cordial political, security and cultural ties but due to some internal and regional problems including Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL) terrorism in Iraq, they have not been able to increase their trade volume.

Heading a high-ranking delegation, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recently paid an official visit to Iraq to boost ties with the Arab country in the sanctions era.

US President Donald Trump’s administration announced plans in March to extend a 90-day waiver for the second time to let Iraq continue energy imports from Iran.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

By John Lee.

Israel has reportedly lifted a ban on trade with Iraq, despite the fact that the two countries do not have official relations and are technically at war.

According to Middle East Monitor, citing Israeli newspaper Maariv, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (pictured) signed an official directive on Monday allowing trade with Iraq.

Maariv speculates that the main reason for the decision is economic and security ties with the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

More here (Hebrew) and here.

(Source: Middle East Monitor, Maariv)