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Prime Minister Barzani receives German parliamentary delegation

Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Iraq (cabinet.gov.krd) - Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani yesterday met Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, Deputy Head of the Social Democrat Party in the German Parliament and his accompanying delegation.

Mr. Schäfer-Gümbel reaffirmed his country’s support to the Kurdistan Region in military, humanitarian and economic areas to help overcome the challenges facing the Region, and noted his party’s role in offering military aid for Peshmerga forces in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist organization, ISIS.

The Prime Minister expressed his gratitude to the German public, government and parliament for their ongoing support to the Kurdistan Region, and praised Germany’s role in sending military support, treating wounded Peshmergas and ISIS victims, particularly the Yezidi Kurds.

Prime Minister Barzani gave an overview of the current situation in the region, including the fight against terrorism and other challenges, particularly the financial crisis gripping the Kurdistan Region, stating that assistance from the international community is needed to overcome them, particularly the expertise and skills to implement reforms.

The Prime Minister also discussed the formation of a committee in charge of resolving the recent political issues, which affected the Parliament and Government. He expressed his hope that all political sides will reach agreement.

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President Barzani asks Parliament to begin work on referendum

Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani visited the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament yesterday, requesting the Parliament to immediately undertake the task of creating an independent electoral commission for the Region, and to begin preparations for holding a referendum for the people of Kurdistan to decide their future.

In his remarks to the Parliament, the President urged Members of Parliament to “promptly create an independent electoral commission and to begin preparations for holding a referendum to determine the future, as this would strengthen our hand. The time has come for us to determine our future; we should no longer wait for others to determine our future. In the meantime, we will do whatever we can to help Shia and Sunnis to save the country from this crisis.”

The President stated that the wrong policies of the Iraqi government and the collapse of the Iraqi Army have caused the current security crisis in the governorates of Anbar, Ninewa, Salahaddin, and Diyala. He said that four days prior to the events in Mosul the KRG offered to cooperate with Baghdad to confront the terrorist groups, but this was rejected by Baghdad.

Regarding the deployment of Peshmerga forces to the disputed areas, the President said that all of these areas are now under the control of Peshmerga forces. He added, “The Peshmerga forces are there to protect the people of those areas and they will not be pressured into withdrawing. We will protect these areas and we are also ready to help both Shia and Sunnis to save them from this crisis, but this can only be achieved with new people who believe in co-existence, democracy, and the Constitution. This cannot be done with people who have destroyed the country.”

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Prime Minister Barzani emphasises national unity at first cabinet meeting

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani chaired the eighth cabinet’s first meeting yesterday, highlighting the importance of national unity and a strong, fair, effective cabinet.

Opening comments

Prime Minister Barzani welcomed the ministers and wished them success. He said, “It is true that the government formation process took a long time. But it was successful; we were able to form a government of national unity comprised of all the winning political blocs. This was an important step and a top priority for the Kurdistan Region, and recent developments have demonstrated the importance of this achievement. Unity and harmony of the different forces in the Kurdistan Region are essential as we handle the Region’s next stages.”

The Prime Minister emphasised the importance of all political components governing together in genuine partnership and in the decision-making process. He said that the cabinet would work together in order to properly carry out the government’s duties.

Prime Minister Barzani stressed the need to better institutionalize government bodies to ensure a more effective and transparent government. He said, “I am confident in our capabilities to complete large-scale projects and tall buildings, but without a solid foundation for the government we cannot achieve success.”

Addressing challenges

In examining challenges facing the cabinet, the Prime Minister acknowledged that the previous cabinet could have operated with a better sense of teamwork. He stated that ministries and ministers should work more together closely in the eighth cabinet, also urging ministers to improve management and coordination in their own ministries, as strong management facilitates greater achievement.

Prime Minister Barzani discussed the importance of fairness in the distribution of salaries. He stated that policies designed to appease citizens over the last several years have had a negative impact on the issue of government salaries, adding that a number of laws must be amended and ministerial structures must be modernised. He also highlighted the important role of the Kurdistan Parliament to monitor this process, asking ministers to cooperate fully with the Parliament and its committees and to consider this matter diligently.

The Prime Minister also urged ministers to invest time in field visits throughout Kurdistan and to meet with local authorities in order to remain engaged and aware of obstacles and to identify legitimate needs. He explained that this practice was adopted successfully in the seventh cabinet.

Current priorities

The Prime Minister stressed the importance of reviewing legislation and administrative structures in each ministry to foster successful output and cooperation within and among ministries. He added that at present the primary priorities of the cabinet are security and the provision of electricity and services to the people of the Region.

The Minister of Peshmerga Affairs presented a detailed report regarding the current military situation in the Region and the ministry’s preparations to defend against terrorists and to protect the Kurdistan Region and the areas of Kurdistan beyond KRG administration. The Minister of Interior also discussed security developments.

Members of the cabinet exchanged views, all agreeing that the KRG policy priority is to protect the people and the land of the Kurdistan Region, including areas of Kurdistan beyond KRG administration, and for the KRG to adopt a defensive posture and not engage in military confrontation unless necessary.

The cabinet formed a committee to make logistical needs available under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Reconstruction and Housing, the Ministry of Municipalities and Tourism, and the Ministry of Health.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani stated that the first meeting of the new cabinet was positive. He said, “We can succeed and we will provide the people of Kurdistan with the best services if we maintain unity in our positions and attitudes.”

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KRG discusses fuel shortage and takes measures to meet demand

The KRG Oil and Gas Council held a meeting last week to discuss fuel shortages. The meeting culminated with the announcement of four important steps aimed at combating fuel shortage in the Kurdistan Region.

The meeting was headed by KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani.

In the meeting, also attended by the Region’s governors and the finance, natural resources, and planning ministers, the fuel shortage affecting the Kurdistan region was the main topic of discussion. The areas of Kurdistan beyond KRG administration but now protected by Peshmerga forces were also discussed.

It was noted that the Kurdistan Region and all of Iraq now face a huge rise in demand for fuel, particularly benzene. This demand for fuel outside of Kurdistan is acute because the Baiji oil refinery is currently unable to supply benzene due to the recent militant attacks. Within the Kurdistan Region, the refineries are having difficulty meeting internal demands. This is because, in addition to the cessation of the Baiji oil refinery supply, the Peshmerga forces require large amounts of fuel and benzene each day. The forces operate on the frontlines, and the borders of the Kurdistan Region are currently beyond KRG administration, requiring a great deal of transport.

Four measures were decided upon during the meeting:

1. The Kurdistan Region’s border crossing will be open for private sector supply of benzene, to be sold commercially. The sale will fall under the supervision of the Ministry of Natural Resources for two reasons: to maintain quality control and to monitor pricing.

2. The distribution of benzene produced in the Region’s refineries will be regulated in a manner consistent with demand and the capacity of the refineries to ensure the availability of benzene for automobiles. A system will be implemented in which benzene is distributed based on the license plates of vehicles, with odd number plates allowed to purchase benzene one day and even number plates the next. The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Finance and Economy will soon issue directives to print new distribution cards that are difficult to forge.

3. Taxis, buses, and cars shuttling between cities will be dealt with uniquely. They will have their own benzene station and can increase their share of benzene on the condition that the Directorates of Commercial Control and the Ministry of Interior monitor the prices charged to passengers using this method of transportation.

4. All ministries are empowered to regulate the use of government vehicles with a view to reducing the amount of benzene consumed.

Residents who are financially capable are requested to purchase benzene from private benzene stations if possible, as this will help to alleviate the shortage until it is completely handled. This also allows residents with limited income a better opportunity to fill their vehicles at government benzene stations via the ration card system.

The Prime Minister instructed the governors of the Kurdistan Region to coordinate and work together to implement these decisions in all the governorates of Kurdistan in a fair and just manner.

Finally, the issue of jet fuel was discussed. The Minister of Natural Resources noted that the matter had been handled completely, explaining that the airports in the Kurdistan Region have no shortage in their supply of jet fuel, and the required amount of this type of gasoline is available in the Kurdistan Region. Separately, the Minister assured that there is sufficient quantity of liquid gas in the Kurdistan Region and that there are no dilemmas regarding this supply.

Following the closed meeting, KRG Spokesperson Minister Safeen Dizayee, the Governors of Erbil, Slemani, and Duhok, and the Head of the Garmian Administration held a joint press briefing. They explained the results of the meeting and next steps to be taken, also answering questions from journalists regarding the fuel shortage.

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Nechirvan Barzani and Qubad Talabani tasked to form 8th Cabinet

Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani has signed an order tasking Prime Minister designate Nechirvan Barzani and Deputy Prime Minister designate Qubad Talabani to form the eighth Cabinet of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Prime Minister Barzani will continue in his role in the same capacity, while Minister Talabani will move from his current role as Head of the KRG Department of Coordination and Follow-up to Deputy Prime Minister.

According to Kurdistan’s laws, the cabinet must be formed within 30 days of the issuance of the President’s order. This decision signals the final step in the government formation process, and paves the way for an eighth cabinet coalition to include a number of political parties.

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Prime Minister Barzani addresses Kurdistan Parliament

The Prime Minister yesterday addressed the Kurdistan Parliament at length regarding the Region’s financial situation, disputes with Baghdad, natural resources, and other matters. An excerpt of his address is below:

“The Kurdistan Region’s policy from the beginning has been based upon solving outstanding issues with Baghdad. We want to find a solution and reach an agreement. Baghdad’s policies are, however, not reasonable. We have recently made several visits to Baghdad, and since 2005 we have made every effort to reach an agreement regarding budget distribution, but we have not yet reached a resolution…

Regarding oil, we have just begun exporting. This step has been taken after two years of negotiation with Turkey in which an agreement has been signed that permits the Kurdistan Region to export its oil. We are thankful to our Turkish counterparts for reaching such an agreement and for implementing it to the fullest…

Regarding the federal budget, we had only been receiving 10% instead of the 17% to which the Kurdistan Region is entitled. We have continuously taken initiatives to solve these financial problems, and have made several visits to Baghdad…

We are abiding by the Article in Iraq’s Constitution which states that the oil and gas are owned by all the people of Iraq. We are ready to cooperate with Baghdad and SOMO regarding the export of oil, including monitoring volumes so that they know precisely how much oil is being exported. We have suggested working with SOMO in both the tendering process, the selling process and in order to ensure transparency. We will work together in this, but we will not cede control to SOMO…

As for their request for transparency, we are open to include SOMO in every stage of the process and whatever they request under the condition of our receipt of 17% of the budget share. Again, what we are receiving is only 10%. What the KRG is offering in terms of delivery to its citizens differs [from the rest of Iraq]; therefore, today our people have higher expectation from their government and this is their right…

America is aware of the details of the outstanding issues between our Region and Baghdad. In fact, I believe that the American policy reflects the fact that the United States encourages both parties to reach an agreement that is suitable for both Baghdad and Erbil. This is our expectations of America – that they remain neutral. And this how they have acted so far…

According to Iraq’s budget law, the Federal Iraqi Government was supposed to provide the budget on a monthly basis to all of Iraq’s provinces and to the Kurdistan Region. From the start of this year until today, the Federal Government of Iraq has sent money to all of Iraq’s provinces except for the Kurdistan Region. From the beginning of the year, Iraq has sent only one trillion dinar to the Kurdistan Region. We would like to thank those local companies who have provided us with loans. In addition, we have borrowed from some foreign banks, and we also thank them. The government in Baghdad is supposed to have sent six trillion additional dinar which they have not and are not willing to provide to the Kurdistan Region…

Today I would like to say that the policy of the Kurdistan Region Government is to never take a step backwards. We want to reach resolutions with Baghdad through dialogue, but if we do not arrive at any resolutions then we have other alternatives and we will take them. We will not stop here. Why have we started selling oil? This is so that Baghdad understands full well that we are able to do this. In their eyes the KRG is overstepping its rights, and is unable to reach a point where we can openly sell our oil. But we have proved to them that we are capable of doing so…

The Kurdistan Region will soon be able to export 250,000 barrels per day. This economic independence is vital for the Kurdistan Region. We have achieved many gains through the policies that the KRG has implemented. Without the support and backing of you, the Members of Parliament, and the public, then undoubtedly we will fail. Baghdad cannot defeat us, but if we are not united in supporting these policies, then we will face crisis…

We will continue selling our oil through the Ceyhan port in Turkey to the international market, and we will try to reach an agreement with Baghdad. Our doors are always open for negotiations. Our process of selling oil has in every respect been in accordance with the policies and mechanisms also used by SOMO, without any shortcomings. We have been very careful to avoid causing any problems during the process and we will continue to pay strict attention to transparency, because the disputes are significant and are sensitive to both sides. We will work as hard as possible to ensure that our oil export process remains transparent. This is in order for the Kurdistan Region to avoid any liabilities or accusations. This process has supporters but also has its detractors. We do not want to face any problems with this issue…

It is with confidence that I tell you that we have started exporting oil and we believe we will reach a milestone at the end of the year, at which time we will able to export up to 500,000 barrels per day.”

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Pope Francis hails President Barzani’s role in protecting Iraqi Christians and Syrian refugees

Pope Francis commended Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani and the citizens of the Region for their protection of Christians fleeing violence in other parts of Iraq and the safe haven provided for Syrian refugees.

In a formal meeting held at the Vatican, the Pope explained that he was aware of the tragic history of the Kurds and the current situation in Kurdistan. He lauded the KRG’s policy of tolerance and acceptance of religious and ethnic minorities and extended his wishes for prosperity and safety to the people of the Kurdistan Region.

President Barzani also highlighted the principle of tolerance and emphasized that it is an integral part of Kurdish culture, which is based upon peaceful coexistence. In Kurdistan people of different religions have made sacrifices together in the past and now live side by side in peace.

The President said that he views support for Syrian refugees and persecuted Iraqi Christians as a humanitarian obligation, and he explained that the people of the Kurdistan Region would do their best to provide protection and assistance. He added that citizens are entitled to live freely within their country, and it is unacceptable that Christians should have to flee their homes in Iraq because of violence or discrimination.

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Prime Minister Barzani addresses Kurdistan Parliament’s Oil & Gas and Legal Committees

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani yesterday conducted a lengthy meeting with the Kurdistan Parliament regarding natural resources policy and budgetary matters.

Kurdistan Parliament Speaker Dr. Yousif Mohammed, heads of the parliament’s political blocs, the Oil & Gas Committee, and the Legal Affairs Committee all participated in the session. The Prime Minister, Minister of Natural Resources Dr. Ashti Hawrami, and KRG Council of Ministers Legal Advisor Dr. Amanj Raheem answered questions from Members of Parliament and discussed oil export and the road forward.

An excerpt of the Prime Minister’s address is below, as well as his response to two questions from Members of Parliament.

Prime Minister’s address

“The issue of energy is highly important to us. It has no relations to party politics, nor is it a personal matter. It is related to the Kurdistan Region in general and in reality it is quite a sensitive issue and it is essential that the Parliament, in its role as the legislative institution, be fully informed on the details of this issue. Our policy has been created within the framework of the laws that have been established by the Kurdistan Parliament and hence the parliament should be privy to all the details related to this issue.

“The big question is: ‘who will control the oil’? Counterparts in Baghdad did not identify ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ KRG actions – they just wanted to control the issue completely. We do not view this issue as a path towards Kurdistan’s independence, but rather as the expression of our constitutional rights. These rights are the constitutional principles upon which we agreed when we returned to Iraq in 2003 and 2004, and they have to be implemented in Iraq.

“If Baghdad today agreed with us upon the issue of oil revenue sharing, one of Iraq’s most important laws, it would lead to the resolution of a number of obstacles related to this issue. However if I speak frankly, Iraq’s federal government increases the sovereign expenditures year after year without the Kurdistan Region’s knowledge, and this is reduced from Kurdistan’s share of the Iraqi budget.

“At a time when Baghdad regularly increases its sovereign expenditure, the burden placed upon the KRG increases and citizens’ expectations of the government, in terms of services, are considerable. This is the right of citizens, and they are fully entitled to these demands. In addition, we have a large number of civil servants on the government payroll in Kurdistan. For your information, 850 billion Iraqi dinars per month are spent on the salaries of civil servants. This is a very large figure and it needs to be addressed. It cannot continue in this way.

“In order to reach international standards…we need more than $US 31 billion to meet the demands for infrastructure in Kurdistan such as highways and roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and other essential needs.

“We are determined to carry out our constitutional rights and to ensure that we receive from Baghdad the full 17% of the Kurdistan Region’s share of the budget.

“In last week’s session we provided solid clarifications. And today we have come here because without doubt esteemed Members of the Kurdistan Parliament, as members of the legislative institution in Kurdistan, have many questions that they would like to see answered. The aims of Members of Parliament are to determine whether the KRG’s oil policy will be successful or not, as well as to understand the government’s future plans. This includes the manner in which the KRG plans on spending the revenue we receive.

“We want to address these questions openly and transparently in Parliament today so that we can reach a mutual consensus regarding the energy issue in Kurdistan. And just as Speaker of Parliament Dr. Yousif explained, we want energy to be a national issue and to resolve doubts about its transparency. We are ready to answer these questions in front of the Kurdistan Parliament, as it is our legislative institution, and so we are ready to attend any time to be questioned and to be held accountable.

“We fully believe that the achievements of the KRG are in the best interest of the Kurdistan Region, and are in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution. We are confident. But the task is not easy; in fact, is it quite difficult.

“The main requirement for the success of this process is a united stance among all of Kurdistan’s political parties on this issue.”

Responses to questions from Members of Parliament

In response to questions from Members of Parliament regarding the position of the United States, Prime Minister Barzani stated that the policy of the United States is and has been to support both Baghdad and Erbil in efforts to reach an agreement, as has been reiterated by American diplomats on every occasion. The KRG wished that, when considering the oil issue, the United States had pointed to Baghdad’s unilateral and unconstitutional decision to cut the Kurdistan Region’s share of the budget. The KRG resorted to exporting oil following Baghdad’s decision to cut the budget of the Region, an act that has affected the payment of salaries of civil servants. The KRG has been forced to pursue a solution because of this action.

In response to questions regarding the agreement between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey, the Prime Minister stated, “We should not view this issue as political. We have held meetings with our Turkish counterparts over a lengthy period of time, and it culminated in a protocol for long-term cooperation on energy issues and is subject to extension. The agreement was a result of a long series of meetings. We do not consider this to be a political move to divide Iraq. That is not the case.”