Politics


Authorities Clamp Down on Sectarian Hate Speech

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. 

The Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, is seeking to penalize people for the hate speech prevalent in Iraqi society by arresting anyone who expresses such ideas or promotes slogans that insult former or current religious and social figures.

Each year around this time, millions of Shiite Muslims make the pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala for the festival of Arbaeen. People observing Arbaeen sometimes raise banners and shout slogans insulting Sunni figures. In the past, these people were met with public indignation — but not legal measures.

Wahab al-Tai, the interior minister’s media adviser, told Al-Monitor in an interview, “Up until Nov. 8, the ministry had arrested 76 people who were caught promoting sectarianism. Out of the 76 arrested, 25 were in Karbala and 51 in Babil [province]. Most were Iraqis, but some foreigners were arrested as well.”

The Interior Ministry was reacting to a video that has been circulating. The video, taken in Karbala during the festival, shows a group of followers of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Sadiq Hussaini Shirazi — a group known for promoting hateful speech toward important Sunni religious figures. The video shows a young man with a loudspeaker cursing Umar ibn al-Khattab, a senior companion of the Prophet Muhammad considered sacred by Sunnis. Despite all the arrests, that man is still on the loose.

Only two days after appearing in the first video, the same man appeared in another video saying that he was only “expressing his opinion.”

The ministry’s measures against promoters of sectarianism received both political and public support. Sayyid Ahmad al-Safi, the representative of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in Najaf, applauded the move in his Friday sermon in Karbala on Nov. 10.

Baghdad Increases Pressure on KRG with Budget Cut

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

The first draft of Iraq’s federal budget for 2018, approved by the government at the start of the month, envisions slashing the Kurdish region’s share from 17% to 12.7% of the total.

The cut is one of several “punitive” constitutional measures that followed the Sept. 25 Kurdish referendum on independence. Those measures also saw Baghdad seize control of disputed areas, border crossings and air bases, and demand that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) transfer taxes and other public revenues to the central government.

This is the first time that the KRG’s share of the budget has been subject to review since 2005, when the government of then interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi allocated 17% to the Kurdish region, despite the fact there has not been an official census in Iraq since 1997.

“There have been no negotiations so far with Baghdad on the budget or other pending issues, despite the KRG’s desire for talks,” said parliament member Najiba Najib of the Kurdistan Alliance. “The central government is still refusing to receive the Kurdish delegation.”

“Iraq still doesn’t currently have official statistics,” she added. “Even data from the Ministry of Trade is inaccurate. It’s not reasonable to believe that the population of the Kurdish region has stayed at just 5 million, as the United Nations said in 2003 when it recommended the KRG receive 13% of the national budget.”

She said the central government has felt “arrogant and powerful” since it regained control of Kirkuk.

Border Crossings deepen Baghdad-Erbil conflict

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

In a Nov. 14 press conference, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities that he will not wait long to take control of the Kurdistan region’s border crossings with Turkey and Iran. “We will regain control of border areas without escalation. But our patience will run out. We will not wait forever. We will take action,” Abadi said.

Turkish Minister of Customs and Trade Bulent Tufenkci ssid previously that his country has reached an agreement with Iraq’s central government to open a border crossing through Ovakoy in Sirnak province, southeast Turkey. Being out of the reach of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, the crossing in Ovakoy is a strong economic and political blow to Kurdistan Region authorities.

The border dispute is a result of the desire of Baghdad, Turkey and Iran to keep Kurdish influence at bay. Kurdish authorities have been delaying the handover of the borders, and the Iraqi forces have threatened to start operations to gain control over the crossings.

Meanwhile, the United States and its Iranian opponent are both interested in the Faysh Khabur strategic crossing. The United States is trying to avoid a conflict and it is working on setting a “common security strategy” for all areas of conflict, including the crossing. This explains why the United States has suggested the presence of representatives from its US-led coalition at the crossing.

The Popular Mobilization Units have expressed interest in reclaiming the crossing, which would connect them with their allies in Syria. Moreover, the location links the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline to Turkey and acts as an important and lucrative economic passage between Iraq and its neighbors.

Who will Govern Kirkuk?

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

Although Baghdad imposed its authority on Kirkuk on Oct. 16 and appointed a new temporary governor, Kurds still hope to reach an agreement with Baghdad that will allow them to appoint a Kurdish governor in the disputed province between Baghdad and Erbil.

In the latest development, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) nominated a Kurdish candidate (the former head of the provincial council, Zarkar Ali) on Nov. 12, and demanded that the provincial council hold a meeting to vote on the new governor.

The Kurds’ proposal is one of several options on the table.

The first option is appointing a military governor. Some members of the Arab and Turkmen communities in Kirkuk proposed this before and after the Kurdish referendum. For Kurds, appointing a military governor, even if for a while, means Kirkuk’s restoration to the pre-2003 era and the reminder of bitter memories when the Kurds were the most aggrieved and affected group in the city.

The central government may be powerful enough to hold Kirkuk for now, but appointing a military governor would push the Kurds to one side, which is likely to prove both provocative and unsustainable. Election results indicate that the Kurds are larger than other groups in the province, although there has been no official and reliable census for some time.

Kurds will reassert their claim on Kirkuk at the first available opportunity — both for the symbolic reason that many Kurds regard Kirkuk as their “Jerusalem,” and for the economic reason that control of Kirkuk’s oil would play a big role in any future Kurdish independence bid.

The upshot is that Kirkuk was and remains a “disputed territory”; as a US State Department statement said Oct. 20, “The reassertion of federal authority over disputed areas in no way changes their status — they remain disputed until their status is resolved in accordance with the Iraqi constitution.”

Changes To Marriage Law Erode Women’s Rights

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.

Changes To Marriage Law Just One Small Part Of Erosion Of Iraqi Women’s Status

On October 30, Iraq’s parliament made a decision that stirred up much anger around the country. They agreed to make amendments to the country’s personal status law in principle. The proposed changes have been a subject of controversy for years but this time it seems that politicians may finally be getting their way.

In most Muslim countries, issues like divorce, custody of children and marriage are ruled by religious law, or Sharia. However in 1959, the Iraqi government passed a new personal status law, based on the law of the land that treated all sects and ethnicities equally. This is Law Number 188 and it is still in effect today, with rulings on related issues made by government-run courts.

As Germany’s Heinrich Boell foundation has reported, the current Iraqi law is based on religious rules but it took a more liberal approach. “It restricts child marriages (by setting the legal age of marriage at 18 years), bans forced marriages and restricts polygamy; it curtails men’s prerogatives in divorce, expands women’s rights in divorce, extends child custody to mothers, and improves inheritance rights for women,” the foundation has stated. “It remains one of the most liberal laws in the Arab world with respect to women’s rights.”

The latter quality is something that many modern Iraqis have been proud of. Hence the uproar when news broke about the agreement to amend the personal status law.

Those amendments have been a long time coming. Shortly after the regime headed by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was removed by a US-led invasion, the new Iraqi government stated its intention to change Law 188 and to reinstate religious courts on a sectarian basis – that is, cases would be heard by either a Sunni or Shiite Muslim court, depending on the sect of those using the law. Ever since 2004, protests by civil society organisations have managed to prevent this.

But it seems that this time the politicians may be able to make the changes they have sought for so long – even though it seems that any actual amendments will be a far longer time coming.

Changes To Marriage Law Erode Women’s Rights

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.

Changes To Marriage Law Just One Small Part Of Erosion Of Iraqi Women’s Status

On October 30, Iraq’s parliament made a decision that stirred up much anger around the country. They agreed to make amendments to the country’s personal status law in principle. The proposed changes have been a subject of controversy for years but this time it seems that politicians may finally be getting their way.

In most Muslim countries, issues like divorce, custody of children and marriage are ruled by religious law, or Sharia. However in 1959, the Iraqi government passed a new personal status law, based on the law of the land that treated all sects and ethnicities equally. This is Law Number 188 and it is still in effect today, with rulings on related issues made by government-run courts.

As Germany’s Heinrich Boell foundation has reported, the current Iraqi law is based on religious rules but it took a more liberal approach. “It restricts child marriages (by setting the legal age of marriage at 18 years), bans forced marriages and restricts polygamy; it curtails men’s prerogatives in divorce, expands women’s rights in divorce, extends child custody to mothers, and improves inheritance rights for women,” the foundation has stated. “It remains one of the most liberal laws in the Arab world with respect to women’s rights.”

The latter quality is something that many modern Iraqis have been proud of. Hence the uproar when news broke about the agreement to amend the personal status law.

Those amendments have been a long time coming. Shortly after the regime headed by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was removed by a US-led invasion, the new Iraqi government stated its intention to change Law 188 and to reinstate religious courts on a sectarian basis – that is, cases would be heard by either a Sunni or Shiite Muslim court, depending on the sect of those using the law. Ever since 2004, protests by civil society organisations have managed to prevent this.

But it seems that this time the politicians may be able to make the changes they have sought for so long – even though it seems that any actual amendments will be a far longer time coming.

KRG “Respects” Court Decision on Independence

By John Lee.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said on Tuesday that it would accept a Supreme Court decision prohibiting the region from seceding from Iraq.

It said in a statement:

At the request of the Secretary General of the Iraqi Council of Ministers on November 5th, 2017, the Federal Supreme Court issued Decision No. 122 on November 6th, 2017, regarding the interpretation of the Article 1 of the Iraqi Constitution which states: ‘The Republic of Iraq is a federal, independent and fully sovereign state in which the system of government is parliamentary and democratic republic, and this Constitution is a guarantor of the unity of Iraq.’

“As we, in the Kurdistan Region, have always emphasized on finding solutions to disputes between the federal Authorities and the Kurdistan Region through constitutional and legal means, and based on our known position which welcomes all relevant initiatives, especially the initiatives by the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al- Sistani, Iraqi dignitaries and friendly countries to the Iraqi people regarding addressing disputes on the basis of the Constitution, we respect the interpretation of the Federal Supreme Court of the First Article of the Iraqi Constitution.

“We believe that this Decision must become a basis for starting an inclusive national dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad to resolve all disputes through implementation of all constitutional articles and in a way that guarantees all rights, authorities and status mentioned in the Constitution, since this is the only way to secure the unity of Iraq, as Article 1 stated.

(Source: KRG)

Iraq-Turkey Border Confusion: Who’s In Charge Here?

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

Tensions were already high last week between Iraq’s central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil. The stress spiked Oct. 31 near the Iraq-Turkey border when sirens began wailing and a military convoy escorted by tanks was seen moving toward the border. People feared Turkey’s army was entering Iraq.

The convoy turned out to be a mixed Iraqi-Turkish one. Iraqis who had come to Turkey to participate in exercises were on their way home.

After the KRG held an independence referendum Sept. 25 and Baghdad responded Oct. 15 by sending in troops to retake disputed territory and squelch any talk of secession, many people wondered what would happen on the Turkey-Iraq border.

Habur crossing (pictured), known as Ibrahim Khalil border gate on the Kurdish side, is the sole crossing between the two countries. After taking over Kirkuk, Baghdad then decided it wanted control of the crossing. Iraqi soldiers who had flown to Turkey for the exercises were now going back by road for the first time in 26 years.

When the Iraqi army had abandoned that crossing in 1991, nobody had cell phones to report it. It took the world many days to learn that the Iraqis had handed over northern Iraq to the Kurds. But as Iraqi soldiers recently approached the border crossing, the entire world knew about it.

Some Turkish media ran false headlines saying the crossing had been handed over to Baghdad. The Turkish side was pleased with this development, especially when social media began spreading photos of Iraqi soldiers accompanied by senior officers from both sides at the border crossing. Nobody seemed to notice that there was not a single photo or report of a customs administration office being handed over.

Video: Kurdistan Secession Bid takes a toll on Economy

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

The economy in the Kurdish region of Iraq has taken a hit after the referendum on secession.

The central government in Baghdad has closed international airspace, tourists are staying away, and there’s been fighting between Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga.

And while a ceasefire is now in place, uncertainty continues to affect the region and its economy.

The Kurds are disappointed in the people they thought were their allies, especially the US.

Al Jazeera‘s Stefanie Dekker reports from Dohuk, Northern Iraq@

US Govt, Basrah Launch Takamul Project

The U.S. Consul General, Timmy Davis, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Deputy Mission Director, Dr. William Patterson, met with Basrah Governor, Asaad al-Idani, the Acting Provincial Council Chairman, Waled Ghaitan, and other provincial council members on November 6.

The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the new USAID Iraq Governance Performance and Accountability project, known as Takamul in Arabic. Takamul will support Government of Iraq reforms to strengthen public financial management and improve delivery of essential public services.

Assistance from Takamul’s predecessor project Taqadum, for example, supported the Wasit provincial government to increase provision of trash collection services to the residents of 16 municipalities throughout Wasit.

Takamul’s Basrah office will be the regional hub for supporting provincial governments throughout southern Iraq. Takamul continues the tradition of U.S. government support to the Government of Iraq to strengthen public service provision for all Iraqis.

Takamul will begin its activities in the region by holding training sessions in public financial management and service delivery later this month.

(Source: U.S. Embassy)