Politics


Pentagon Stops Budgeting for Peshmerga Salaries

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

The Trump administration’s budget proposal for next fiscal year does not include peshmerga salaries even as the Pentagon aims to continue training the Kurdish force.

The Department of Defense had requested $365 million in stipends for the year that ends Sept. 30 but did not spend the money after negotiations to extend an expiring memorandum of understanding broke down in September. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had agreed to pay the peshmerga wages in October, but a US Inspector General report released earlier this month said the Kurdish fighters still hadn’t been paid

“Those documents do not specifically refer to training/stipends for the peshmerga,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Al-Monitor in an email today. Lawmakers have yet to weigh in on the $716 billion Pentagon request for fiscal year 2019.

Instead, President Donald Trump’s budget request for the year starting Oct. 1 seeks $850 million to train and equip Iraqi troops with a focus on bolstering the Iraqi Security Forces with Ranger brigades. As part of that amount, the peshmerga force of about 150,000 could still be eligible for up to $290 million in so-called operational sustainment funds aimed at preventing the Iraqi government from becoming more reliant on Iran and Russia, according to budget language.

The shift in focus by the United States comes as the Iraqi Kurds have been marginalized by Baghdad following the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) controversial independence vote in September. As a result, US and peshmerga officials are at odds over how much assistance is actually getting through to Erbil since Baghdad has to sign off on any weapons shipments to the Kurdish troops.

“Right now, the Iraqis are stopping a lot of stuff,” said Michael Knights, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Though the Pentagon acknowledges that the peshmerga proved helpful to the US-backed coalition until the beginning of the Mosul fight in 2016, the Kurdish force has faced difficulties in assimilating US equipment, experts say, in part because the peshmerga relies on its own training structures and tactical formations. The US-led coalition said in December that 5,200 American advisers in Iraq had stopped advising the peshmerga as the Pentagon appears set to draw down its presence.

Over the past year, the United States also sold the Iraqi government nearly $300 million worth of military equipment to outfit two infantry brigades with M-16 rifles, .50 caliber machine guns, up-armored Humvees and mine-resistant vehicles. That was cut down from an initial effort to outfit four peshmerga brigades — each typically between 4,000 to 8,000 troops — including a border unit.

“Peshmerga brigades didn’t fit a US brigade set,” Knights told Al-Monitor. “A lot of the German equipment went everywhere. Gucci German assault rifles got given to commanders and bodyguards.”

The US-led force has trained 26,000 peshmerga over the course of the anti-IS mission that began in 2014. Even though the funding stream appears to be in a winnowing process, the United States and the KRG remain engaged in high-level dialogues, with the peshmerga still playing an important role as the Pentagon aims to curb the influence of Iran-backed Shiite militias that are enmeshed in the Iraqi Security Forces.

In meetings in Washington in November, the head of the KRG’s Department of Foreign Relations called for the United States to do more to encourage talks with Baghdad and keep tenuous supply lines open on the border, including the Fish Khabur crossing, a critical lifeline for the 2,000 US troops serving in Syria.

“We already have border guards,” Falah Mustafa told Al-Monitor in a November interview. “Border guards are wearing Iraqi uniforms, they are on the payroll of the Iraqi government, they are getting instructions and directives from the Iraqi government in Baghdad.”

(Picure Credit: David B. Gleason)

Iraq Delegation to Visit Turkey over Water Dispute

By John Lee.

An Iraqi government delegation is planning to visit Turkey to discuss environmental concerns over Turkey’s Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River.

Iraqi Water Resources Minister Hassan al-Janabi (pictured) recently commented:

“All regions of Iraq face the danger of water scarcity.”

The amount of water in key Iraqi rivers has reportedly fallen by at least 40 percent in recent decades due to erratic rainfall, and the construction of dams in neighbouring countries.

The Ministry of Water Resources has stressed that Iraq is “keen to maintain cooperation with neighbouring countries, including Turkey, in order to achieve mutual benefit for all the riparian countries on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers through fair and reasonable use and based on the principle of avoiding harm to any party.”

(Sources: Al Manar)

Ex-Minister sentenced to 21 years for “Corruption”

An Iraqi court on February 12 sentenced former trade minister Abdul Falah al-Sudani to 21 years in prison on corruption charges.

Sudani was involved in a corruption scandal connected to the country’s massive food rations programme.

He was given three sentences, two for “negligence” with a 14-year jail term and a third for “misconduct” with a seven-year term, according to Iraqi Shafaq News.

Sudani, who belongs to the ruling Dawa Party, served as minister of trade from 2006 to 2009.

He was sacked and slapped with criminal charges in 2009. Released on bail, Sudani was then arrested as he tried to flee the country, but he managed to flee again.

The former trade minister was extradited from Lebanon and taken into Iraqi custody on 25 January.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has earlier vowed to fight corruption, saying it is the second war the country has to fight following its victory over IS.

(Source: GardaWorld)

UN launches Iraq Recovery and Resilience Programme

UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched the Iraq Recovery and Resilience Programme today at the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq.

The two-year Recovery and Resilience Programme is designed to fast-track the social dimensions of reconstruction and help ensure that people see tangible improvements in their daily lives at the start of the reconstruction process, rather than waiting years to benefit from large-scale infrastructure projects and structural reforms.

“Iraq surmounted an incredible challenge in its defeat of ISIL, but many challenges still remain,” said the UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “After the last three days in Kuwait, I feel hope for a new Iraq that is open for business and prepared to face the next challenge of rebuilding communities while reconstructing schools, roads, bridges, hospitals and public infrastructure. A prosperous Iraq will be a pillar for development and stability in the region.”

The RRP focuses on urgent priorities – helping people who have suffered the most, revitalizing the areas at the highest risk of return to violence, and advancing broad political participation and inclusive social harmony.

“Reconstruction is not just about rebuilding infrastructure-it’s about improving people’s lives,” said United Nations’ Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande.

The RRP includes nine components. Three will be implemented in high priority communities where violent extremism may possibly emerge unless steps are taken to restore community trust, build confidence in the Government and open economic opportunities. Six of the components are national in scope.

These components focus on decentralizing basic services, promoting sustainable returns, providing support to survivors, accelerating community reconciliation and expanding political and social participation.

“Together with community and tribal reconciliation, national political settlement and accord, based on the principle of citizenship with equal rights, obligations, justice and opportunities for all, is critically important for a future stable, united and prosperous Iraq,” said the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq, Ján Kubiš.

The UN is seeking USD 482 million for the first year of the RRP and an additional USD 568 million to help stabilize high-risk areas. Separately, partners are seeking USD 569 million to provide life-saving assistance to 3.4 million highly vulnerable people across Iraq through the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan.

Download the Iraq Recovery and Resilience Programme here in English, and here in Arabic.

(Source: UN)

Abadi Reluctant to Lift Embargo on Kurdish Airports

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation in the Kurdistan Region reiterated that the Ministry has not received any formal approval from Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi to lift the ban on international flights from the airports in the region.

Asked whether Baghdad was trying to delay resolving the issue with Erbil, Omed Mohammed said that he has no knowledge why the Federal government has not lifted the ban on the airports after the region had shown commitment to all of the conditions introduced by Iraq.

According to the Kurdish official, the Kurdish Regional Government has already accepted all of the conditions made by the Federal government, but there was no sign from Baghdad’s side to end the punitive measures imposed on the region.

(Source: GardaWorld)

Baghdad “Stops” several Kurdish Landline Services

By John Lee.

Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission (CMC) has reportedly ordered several Kurdish communication companies to stop providing landline services.

According to a report from Rudaw, the CMC ordered that all companies licensed by them should cut communications with companies that are not licensed, including Fast Link, Newroz, Link Tech, Wego/7net-layer, Nawant, Kurdtel, Tishknet and Cellnet.

A spokesperson for Newroz Telecom told Rudaw that the work of the civil services, such as hospitals, emergency lines for children, “police and security numbers, and the fire departments has been damaged.

More here.

(Source: Rudaw)

Iraq-Saudi Links Enhanced

By John Lee.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz received in Al Yamama Palace in Al Riyadh the Iraqi Planning/Trade Minister (acting) Dr. Salman Al Jumaily, Head of the Iraqi side in the Iraqi-Saudi Coordination Council, Dr. Sami R. Al Araji, Chairman of the National Investment Commission (NIC), Mr. Kadhim Mohamed Al Iqabi, Chairman of the Borders Crossings Commission, Engineer Adil Kereem, Vice Minister of Industry and Minerals and the Chargé d’affaires of the Iraqi Embassy to the Kingdom.

During the meeting, the importance of the council was emphasized in developing and enhancing the mutual cooperation between the two countries in various fields.

Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Saood Bin Naif Bin Abdul Aziz, Minister of Interior Affaires and Minister of Trade and Investment the head of the Saudi side in the Coordination Council both attended the reception.

(Source: NIC)

New EU Strategy on Iraq

By John Lee.

The European Union has adopted a new strategy on Iraq, following the joint communication by the High Representative and the Commission on elements for an EU strategy on Iraq adopted on 8 January 2018.

Among other items, the EU called on the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to engage in a constructive and result-oriented dialogue on immediate issues, providing a foundation for a more detailed discussion on all open questions and towards a more stable and mutually beneficial long-term relationship based on the full application of the Iraqi constitution, including its provisions on Kurdish autonomy.

The full 23-point strategy document can be read here.

(Source: European Council)

US Supports Iraqi National Elections on May 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Source: US Embassy in Baghdad)