Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani chaired the 49th regular session of the Council of Ministers on Tuesday. It was also attended by Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani.

Prime Minister Barzani briefed the Council about his recent visit to Baghdad and meeting with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. He said, they agreed to continue dialogue and coordination and demanded implementation of the Iraqi Council of Representatives decision to unify salaries and privileges of the families of the martyrs and Anfal victims in the Region with those of their counterparts in the federal government. They also discussed reopening the Erbil-Kirkuk road and the readiness of the KRG to export Kirkuk oil.

Regarding the new Iraqi government, Prime Minister Barzani emphasized the KRG has no veto against anyone. While protecting common interests, he said what is important to the Kurdistan Region is the new government’s programme that would help to materialize the rights and the constitutional authorities of the Kurdistan Region.

Minister of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs Mahmood Haji Salih and Secretary of the Council of Ministers Dr. Amanj Rahim presented a report on the latest developments in the effort towards international recognition of the crimes committed by ISIS against Yezidis and other ethnic and religious communities as genocide, and on UN Security Council’s Resolution 2379 to form a team to investigate this situation.

The Council of Ministers affirmed the Security Council Resolution to be an important step towards recognizing these crimes as genocide. The Council of Ministers assigned the High Commission on Recognition of ISIS Crimes as Genocide to coordinate with the international team.

Prime Minister Barzani instructed the commission to deliver to the UN team all evidence collected during the past four years about crimes against humanity and acts of genocide directed at Yezidis, Christians, and all other communities to apply justice to perpetrators to the full extent of the law and to compensate the victims and their families.

The Council of Ministers called on the Iraqi federal government to take into account the involvement of legal practitioners, experts, and other representatives of the Kurdistan Region in the implementation of the Security Council Resolution.

The Council of Ministers re-emphasized its policy that protects religious rights and freedoms as basic principles of human rights, believes a nation’s strength lies in its diversity, and that the KRG will continue to endeavor to make the Kurdistan Region a safe place for all members of society.

2019 budget draft

The Council of Ministers also discussed the 2019 budget draft. KRG Minister of Finance and Economy, Rebaz Hamlan, presented a report on the 2019 budget draft, a process suspended since 2014 due to the financial crisis. He informed about steps being taken to estimate general revenues and expenditures in collaboration with ministries.

The Council of Ministers expressed its support and called upon all ministers to coordinate with the Ministry of Finance and Economy as well as the Ministry of Planning.

In a press conference after the meeting, Prime Minister Barzani briefed the media on latest development in the region.

Regarding reports suggesting that US Special Envoy Brett McGurk urged postponement of the September 30th Kurdistan election, Prime Minister Barzani stated, “There is nothing like that. He hasn’t discussed this issue with us. What has been discussed is whether elections will be held or not. Yes, they will be held on time. No talk of postponing elections by Mr. Brett McGurk with us has happened. Up to the moment, no political party in Kurdistan Region has asked that the September 30th elections be postponed. If I speak as the KDP, we from the Kurdistan Democratic Party emphasize that elections need to be held at their scheduled time.”

About negotiations with Baghdad on various issues, Prime Minister Barzani said, “There are some principles important in negotiations with Baghdad. It is very important for the people of Kurdistan and for all parties to jointly participate in this process. Serious talks will begin after manual vote counting is concluded and the results are officially confirmed and announced by the Iraqi Federal Court.

Regarding trade between the Kurdistan Region and Islamic Republic of Iran after the sanctions were reimposed on Iran by the US Government, Prime Minister Barzani said, “Until now, the sanctions are not clear to us. But certainly, the Kurdistan Region will take steps within the framework and position of Iraq. We asked the US and talked with Baghdad to make it clear to us. We asked and await the US to send a delegation to explain what exactly should and should not be done.”

Regarding the Rosneft agreement and any tension with Baghdad, he said, “What we have done with Rosneft is a commercial matter. Our contracts are within the framework of the Iraqi Constitution.” He also said, “Now that Baghdad can’t practically export Kirkuk oil, which is about 250 to 300 thousand barrels per day, we have told them we are ready to facilitate export to Ceyhan port where Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization, SOMO, can sell the oil and, of course, all revenue will be for all Iraq.

(Source: KRG)

By John Lee.

Moqtada al-Sadr has reportedly retained his lead in Iraq’s parliamentary election following a full recount.

According to Xinhua, the results showed no change in 13 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, and changes in four provinces involving five seat-winners within their own coalitions.

The recount did not alter the initial results significantly, with Sadr keeping his total of 54 seats.

(Sources: Reuters, Xinhua)

SRSG Kubiš congratulates the IHEC Board of Judges on completion of the electoral recount and looks forward to a timely conclusion of the remaining stages of the electoral process

The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq, Mr. Ján Kubiš (pictured), welcomes today’s announcement by the Board of Judges of the Independent High Electoral Commission of the completion of the electoral recount in all 18 Iraqi governorates and also out-of-country voting.

SRSG Kubiš said:

I congratulate the Board of Judges on this important milestone towards the conclusion of Iraq’s 2018 electoral process.

“The timely, transparent, well-organised, credible conduct of the recount was made possible by the hands-on impartial work of the Board of Judges, and the dedication and professionalism of all recount staff, including Independent High Electoral Commission staff and judiciary personnel. The manner in which they have handled the recount has increased public confidence in the electoral process, and election results.

“I now encourage the Board of Judges and relevant state institutions to devote their attention to the timely announcement of provisional results and the speedy resolution of any outstanding appeals.

“Throughout the recount process, an experienced team of United Nations electoral experts has followed the process, providing advice and assistance. The United Nations remains available to provide further expert advice and assistance to the Board of Judges as they supervise the tabulation of recount results and all subsequent stages in certification of the results by the Federal Court.”

(Source: UN)

A new report by Ali Al-Mawlawi (pictured) argues that the illusive nature of long-term stability in the Middle East necessitates a strong commitment by Iraq’s political leaders to develop a sustainable economic and fiscal regime that can absorb future shocks to the system.

According to the World Bank, government expenditure as a percentage of GDP averaged at 52 percent between 2005 and 2012, making it amongst the highest in the region.

Modernising Iraq’s bureaucracy through a public financial management (PFM) approach will be critical, the report says.

Click here to read the full report.

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.

By Mustafa Habib.

There are anti-government protests in Iraq every summer. But the recent batch are different, and in ways that could hinder any resolution.

The protests that have been rocking the Iraqi political establishment for almost a month now began when dozens of unemployed young men from the village of Bahila, on the outskirts of the southern city of Basra, gathered outside an oil company premises demanding jobs. The protests then spread to the city centre and widened their scope, with participants demanding better state services and regular water and power supplies.

Protests are expected in Iraq in summer. It’s so hot that a lack of potable water and power to cool things down, or keep food, is enough to drive people onto the streets in anger. But these protests – which spread from Basra to other provinces, including the capital Baghdad – are different from past ones in several ways.

For one thing, they appear to be spontaneous and leaderless, their demands are many, often non-specific and in some cases, unrealistic. And if the protestors have one thing in common, it is their distrust of, and lack of confidence in, the whole of the Iraqi political establishment. They are not targeting any one party or sector; basically, they don’t like anyone.

All of these factors make it unlikely that the protestors will be able to achieve what they want. In fact, it may hamper them in the long run.

The lack of leadership makes it hard to find anyone to negotiate with. Some of the demonstrators said they were heading to Baghdad, having organised delegations to meet with the current prime minister, Haider al-Abadi. But as soon as they said this, other demonstrators were quick to announce that the delegations going to Baghdad did not represent them.

In this case it’s hard to negotiate a solution, let alone following up on any plans.

The absence of any leadership could see the protests fade away. There is also the danger that other less well-intentioned parties could exploit the protests.

During last year’s anti-government demonstrations, the leaders tended to be members of civil society groups and secular movements. They created a culture of protest going back to 2010. The other leader of that movement was the influential Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and a large number of his followers.

But all of those former organisers are now somehow tainted by their recent win in the federal elections, held in May this year. They are now seen as part of the political process and therefore, unable to participate in this round of anti-government anger.

Al-Sadr, whose alliance won the most seats in the next parliament, had proposed postponing government formation negotiations in order to respond to the demonstrators.  But when al-Sadr tried to send a delegation of his supporters to speak with the Basra demonstrators, the Basra locals refused to receive the group. It was an unexpected rejection.

“Winning has its downsides,” says an MP for al-Sadr’s alliance, who is likely to be awarded a seat in Baghdad’s parliament; he could only speak anonymously as he was not supposed to comment on the situation. “The protestors believe we have become powerful in the country’s politics before the government has even been formed, or the parliament chosen. We do support the demonstrators and if we were asked to choose between taking power or supporting their demands, we would choose protests rather than becoming part of a government that is unable to provide the necessary services,” he told NIQASH.

Another unusual thing about the current protests, and a sign that the demonstrators are opposed to all kinds of elites in Iraq: They were even criticizing the country’s highest Shiite Muslim religious authority, Ali al-Sistani, who is usually not an acceptable target. Protestors had banners criticizing al-Sistani and asking why he had not spoken in support of the protests during the first week they happened.

Al-Sistani finally spoke out about the protests during last Friday’s sermons. He called upon demonstrators to keep up the pressure on the country’s politicians and demanded that the new government be finalized as quickly as possible, and that it be headed by a “strong and brave” prime minister. Al-Sistani also called on the politicians to think carefully about what they did in the past.

By talking about the past, al-Sistani was thought to be referring to the Sunni-Muslim-majority anti-government protests of 2013. The government did not respond to the protestors’ demands, or it clamped down violently – all of which enabled extremists to weaponize the protests. This can be seen as part of the reason for the rise of the extremist Islamic State group in Sunni Muslim areas.

Angry protestors also attacked and set alight the headquarters of Shiite Muslim political parties in southern Iraq. They did not appear to care which offices they damaged and even attacked the headquarters of the Shiite Muslim militias. Until just a few months ago the latter had been revered – and in many cases, considered above criticism within their own communities – for fighting the extremist group known as the Islamic State, and sacrificing their lives to do so.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is a more obvious target for the protestors and is often criticised. But over the past three weeks, his acting government – in power until the formation of the next one – has tried rapprochement. Al-Abadi travelled to Basra but was unable to get very far as he was besieged by angry locals. He later decided to receive delegations in Baghdad instead.

To appease the protestors, al-Abadi has fired his minister of electricity and also promised the creation of thousands of new jobs. The government has also tried to engage influential local personalities – including community and tribal leaders and local politicians – to help restore peace.

Unfortunately nobody believes the government. “They are lying to us,” Abdul Ridha al-Rubaie, a community leader in Basra, told NIQASH. “Months ago, when the budget was being discussed, the government announced that it would not be able to create jobs because of the financial crisis in Iraq. Now it is suddenly offering thousands of jobs. But if it is really unable to create jobs – as they said previously – then this promise is worth nothing.”

All this pressure from the demonstrations, as well as al-Sistani’s reproach, has meant that Shiite Muslim political parties are renewing attempts to try and form a government. The political elites of Iraq are currently riven by infighting.

Nonetheless they also remain confused. They’ve been having to try and negotiate with angry mobs and deal with al-Sistani’s call to form a government of technocrats that can change the country for the better, rather than one based on Iraq’s controversial quota system. Some political parties have even stopped saying that one of their members should get the job of prime minister because they know it angers those on the street.

And now they must deal with the even more difficult part: Iraq has never formed a government that ignores the quota system before. To take a new untried route to power, makes things more difficult. And despite ongoing calls to hurry the process of government formation up, it is quite possible that doing so according to al-Sistani’s call, will delay it even further.

By John Lee.

Security forces in Basra province have reportedly prevented demonstrators from storming the West Qurna 1 oil field on Wednesday.

A military source told Anadolu Agency that demonstrators blocked all roads leading to the facility, prompting local security forces to intervene.

(Source: Anadolu Agency)

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

Negotiations are still under way to form a governing coalition in Iraq. No party won a majority during May’s national election, and the result is not yet confirmed, because a manual recount was called over allegations of vote rigging.

The parties trying to lead Iraq have major differences in their attitudes towards the United States and Iran.

But the big winner in Iraq’s contested election is expected to be Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who confidently expects his party to lead the next government once the revised result has been confirmed by the country’s Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, protests, which began in the oil-rich southern city of Basra in early July, have spread to eight Iraqi provinces, leading al-Sadr to call on all the winning lists of Iraq’s May 12 parliamentary election to suspend government formation talks until the demands of protesters are met.

Al Jazeera‘s Imran Khan reports from Baghdad:

By John Lee.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi suspended Electricity Minister Qassim al-Fahdawi (pictured) on Sunday for what he described as the “poor performance of the sector“.

Protests against unemployment and poor public services turned violent earlier this month, with several protesters killed.

Many areas of Iraq are struggling to cope with insufficient electricity supply during the annual heatwave.

(Source: Office of the Prime Minister)

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.

By Mustafa Habib.

Iraqi Internet Shuts Down, Fake News Blossoms During Information Blackout

When it came to disinformation, shutting down the Internet to prevent protests in Iraq may have backfired. Iraqis get most of their information from social media and there was none, so false reports circulated wildly.

On June 14, the Iraqi government shut down the Internet in an effort to try and prevent the spread of anti-government protests. The demonstrations, which called for better state services, power and water, had spread from the southern city of Basra to nine other provinces, including Baghdad. And clearly the government wanted to prevent them from going any further.

For the past few years, these types of protests have broken out every summer. In stifling heat rising to 50 degrees Celsius, the lack of power to refrigerate foods or keep houses cool and the fact that water coming out of the taps is salty, is enough to drive Iraqis to protest. But these demonstrations spread further than previous years.

And one imagines that the Iraqi government was trying to prevent the spread of information about the protests, in order to contain them. They are able to block the Internet thanks to the fact that most of infrastructure used for relaying the Internet is government-owned.

However the Internet blockage seemed to only frustrate Iraqis further. Locals here rely heavily on social media to get their news; they tend not to trust local media, believing it to be partisan or funded by interested parties who push their own agenda. What friends and relatives post on Facebook has become a major and important source of information – and when the Internet is down they obviously cannot access this.

So locals found themselves watching TV to get more information about the protests or resorting to VPN – virtual private networks – to access the online world. Iraqis have become accustomed to using this kind of software when the government shuts down, or throttles the Internet here, but as digital privacy experts point out, these too can be  dangerous, especially with regard to privacy.

Clearly Iraqis right around the country were interested to know more about the protests. But pictures and videos were hard to come by, given the Internet shutdown. This led dozens of Facebook pages, specializing in Iraqi news and current affairs, to write up stories about the protests – but as they did, they also used older pictures and videos and many ended up publishing unsubstantiated rumours.

Iraqis who sympathized with the demonstrators didn’t just publish news reports on their pages, they also uploaded pictures and videos to Facebook – some of these were real and some were not. News organisations, like NIQASH, received these kinds of items via messages from people who appeared to be private citizens; however, due to the Internet shutdown, it was difficult to verify the content that was being sent and some of it was certainly not from the current demonstrations.

In fact, as Internet-rights activist and head of the Ansam Network, Haidar Hamzouz, says, the Internet blockade may well have had the opposite of the government’s intended effect. “Shutting down the Internet is a violation of the freedom of expression,” Hamzouz told NIQASH. “And the decision to do this was not the right one – it actually contributed to the spread of false news and it also became very difficult to inform anyone that  certain items were false news.”

It seems that in Iraq, as elsewhere in the world, false reports and emotion-generating half-truths spread far faster than the truth.

Even though the government owns the public broadcaster, Iraqi Media Network, and they have huge resources, they still have not been able to stop the spread of these false reports and rumours, Hamzouz says. “We need institutions that are capable of relaying the facts and combatting fake news, rather than those who just shut down the Internet,” he argues. “Combatting fake news and untrue reports requires a change in the communal culture, one that values verification and checks sources. Unfortunately this doesn’t yet exist in Iraq,” he notes.

One of the more dangerous pieces of false news involved reports that the security forces, who were clashing with the demonstrators in the south, were actually from elsewhere, and more specifically from Anbar and Mosul. The message was that Sunni Muslim soldiers – who mainly come from central and northern Iraq – were abusing Shiite Muslim protestors, who mainly live in southern Iraq. It was clearly a report aimed at fuelling sectarian conflict.

“It is so unfortunate that this news incited hatred against us,” says Ali al-Rubaie, a police captain based in Rustafa, Baghdad. “The members of the security forces who were deployed to the protests were actually residents from the same cities. Each province has its own police and counter-terrorism forces. It would be impossible to do that job with troops from outside of the provinces in which the protests occurred,” he argues.

Additionally when the protests first started, news that the demonstrators were clashing with Iraqi security forces spread fast. But given the internet blockade, it was difficult to find pictures from incidents. One picture that was shared many times shows an Iraqi soldier pointing his gun at an unarmed civilian lying on the ground. However the picture was actually taken during a military training exercise in 2014, organized for a military training graduation ceremony in Karbala.

Another dangerous piece of news had Talib Shaghati, the head of Iraq’s special forces troops, commenting on the clashes between the demonstrators and the security forces. “This is not our battle and we will not stain our hands with the blood of our sons and brothers for the sake of some corrupt officials,” Shaghati was alleged to have said in a  statement that was widely circulated on social media.

The same report said that Shaghati  had been asked to send his troops to the protests but he had refused, and that he had asked the government to listen to the demonstrators’ demands before it was too late. Thousands of Iraqis believed this report and some even said that there should be a military coup because it was clear that the protests had no impact on the government, and the military were on the protestors’ side.

The US was not coming to the rescue either: One report said that US president Donald Trump had said his government was keeping a close eye on the protests in Iraq. This was followed by video footage of two military divisions landing at Baghdad airport. None of this was true: The video was an old one.

Saudi Arabia was not coming to the rescue either. As the protest movement gained momentum, its critics were divided. Some said Iran was behind the protests because the neighbouring nation was going to stop supplying power to Iraq. Others said Saudi Arabia was at fault and was pushing people to demonstrate in order to cause chaos in Iraq.

One of the obviously false reports was started by a page on Facebook called Saudi News. It said that Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarch had ordered water lines and electricity transmission lines to be built urgently for the southern parts of Iraq. The report spread quickly throughout Iraqi social media despite its fanciful nature.

By John Lee.

Prime Minister Dr. Haider Al-Abadi has directed an additional 800 billion dinars ($669 million) to Iraq’s housing fund.

According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s office, the directive “came in the interest of providing housing loans to citizens, which is estimated at about 25 thousand new housing loan, which in turn will create jobs for citizens and meet their basic needs“.

(Source: Office of the Prime Minister)