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New Kurdish PM makes Baghdad ties priority over independence

IRBIL: Two years after a failed independence bid plunged Iraq’s Kurdistan Region into months of instability, the new regional prime minister said his priority was strengthening ties with Baghdad, signaling dreams of self-rule should be put on hold. Masrour Barzani, sworn in as regional prime minister on Wednesday, told Reuters in an exclusive interview that under…

New Kurdish PM makes Baghdad ties priority over independence

IRBIL: Two years after a failed independence bid plunged Iraq’s Kurdistan Region into months of instability, the new regional prime minister said his priority was strengthening ties with Baghdad, signaling dreams of self-rule should be put on hold.

Masrour Barzani, sworn in as regional prime minister on Wednesday, told Reuters in an exclusive interview that under his leadership, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s focus would be to establish a “strong and constructive” relationship with Baghdad, leaving the question of independence aside for now.

“This (independence referendum) happened in the past and it’s a reflection of the enduring aspiration of a nation,” said Barzani, speaking at his palace in the hillside village of Salaheddine, near regional capital Irbil.

“However, the focus of my government will be how to build a stronger relationship and partnership with Baghdad,” he said, adding he would look to fix “those issues that were actually keeping us apart.”

The independence bid was led by Barzani’s father Masoud, who stepped down as Kurdish president in 2017 after the referendum backfired and prompted a military offensive from Baghdad.

At stake for the new premier are long-running disputes over independent oil exports, revenue sharing, security, and territory which have plagued ties between Irbil and Baghdad since a US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Barzani was instrumental in orchestrating the September 2017 referendum, which was held over the objections of Baghdad and regional powers. It was seen as the culmination of years of oppositional politics by the semi-autonomous region.

The backlash was swift and pushed the country to the brink of civil war, threatening to undo the years of unprecedented autonomy the region had enjoyed. Relations eventually improved, cemented by a change of government in both capitals.

A ‘win-win situation’

The region’s oil exports have long been a source of contention with Baghdad. The Kurds, who control Iraq’s only northern pipeline, had been exporting oil independently since 2013. Exports were restarted in 2018, after a year-long freeze amid post-referendum disputes.

As part of the 2018 and 2019 budgets, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) agreed to send 250,000 barrels per day (bpd) to federal authorities in exchange for Baghdad paying civil servants’ salaries.

However, Iraqi officials, including the prime minister, complain that the KRG has not kept up its end of the bargain, having not sent a single barrel to Baghdad.

Barzani said negotiations on oil and gas were already underway and he sees room for “quick progress” on the file.

FASTFACT

At stake for the new premier are long-running disputes over independent oil exports, revenue sharing, security, and territory which have plagued ties between Irbil and Baghdad since a US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

“There is great potential for a win-win situation,” he said. “Working together in cooperation with each other, we can increase the production of oil.” Mutual benefits for both sides is a theme Barzani echoed regarding regional security.

Nearly two years since Iraq declared victory against Daesh militants, the country has seen a deterioration in security in the areas bordering the Kurdistan Region.

Barzani, formerly the region’s security chief, said the threat from Daesh is not yet over. 

The group exploited the rift between the Kurds and Baghdad, he said, who fought side by side to defeat the militant group in 2017.

He is looking to establish a joint security mechanism in the so-called disputed territories, areas claimed by both Baghdad and Irbil, “to close that gap.”

Masrour is the latest Barzani to head the regional government. His father Masoud, himself the son of a veteran Kurdish leader, still holds considerable sway over its politics.

His cousin Nechirvan held the premiership until last month when he was sworn in as president, following a regional parliamentary election in September 2018.

Barzani said winning back hearts and minds was a leading priority, as was tackling graft. 

The Barzanis are one of two families that have dominated regional politics for decades. 

Though they enjoy continued support among their respective bases through extensive patronage networks, their continued grip on power has opened them up to allegations of mismanagement and corruption from voters, many of whom are owed years of back pay from the government.

“I’d like to see reform,” he said. “To make sure that people have more trust in the government.”

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Middle East News

Kuwait hands Muslim Brotherhood-linked militants to Egypt

DUBAI: Arab coalition forces have killed dozens of Iranian-backed Houthi militants including a field commander and wounded others during air strikes in the provinces of Al-Dhale and Al-Bayda in southern and central Yemen on Sunday, according to Saudi state-news agency SPA. According to the Yemeni national military website “SeptemberNet”, 13 Houthi militants were killed in…

Kuwait hands Muslim Brotherhood-linked militants to Egypt

DUBAI: Arab coalition forces have killed dozens of Iranian-backed Houthi militants including a field commander and wounded others during air strikes in the provinces of Al-Dhale and Al-Bayda in southern and central Yemen on Sunday, according to Saudi state-news agency SPA.

According to the Yemeni national military website “SeptemberNet”, 13 Houthi militants were killed in attacks against the Yemeni armed forces in Qataba in the south province of Dhale, including the Abu Sharif Abdullah Hizam Mutahar commander of the “rapid intervention forces”, was among the dozens killed.

The militia attempted to infiltrate Yemen army positions at the fronts of the Ghalq and Shakhb. But government forces managed to stop them and forced the militants to flee towards Ibb province.

The Arab coalition forces launched several air strikes targeting the militants that were in Nate east of Al-Bayda.

Several members of the militia were killed and others injured in Al-Bark and Bawwas.

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Middle East News

Dozens of Houthis killed, including a field commander in Yemen

DUBAI: Arab coalition forces have killed dozens of Iranian-backed Houthi militants including a field commander and wounded others during air strikes in the provinces of Al-Dhale and Al-Bayda in southern and central Yemen on Sunday, according to Saudi state-news agency SPA. According to the Yemeni national military website “SeptemberNet”, 13 Houthi militants were killed in…

Dozens of Houthis killed, including a field commander in Yemen

DUBAI: Arab coalition forces have killed dozens of Iranian-backed Houthi militants including a field commander and wounded others during air strikes in the provinces of Al-Dhale and Al-Bayda in southern and central Yemen on Sunday, according to Saudi state-news agency SPA.

According to the Yemeni national military website “SeptemberNet”, 13 Houthi militants were killed in attacks against the Yemeni armed forces in Qataba in the south province of Dhale, including the Abu Sharif Abdullah Hizam Mutahar commander of the “rapid intervention forces”, was among the dozens killed.

The militia attempted to infiltrate Yemen army positions at the fronts of the Ghalq and Shakhb. But government forces managed to stop them and forced the militants to flee towards Ibb province.

The Arab coalition forces launched several air strikes targeting the militants that were in Nate east of Al-Bayda.

Several members of the militia were killed and others injured in Al-Bark and Bawwas.

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Middle East News

Egyptian delegation seeks to prevent new Gaza flare-up

RAMALLAH: Egyptian security officials have held talks with Palestinian leaders in recent days in part to prevent a new flare-up of tensions between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said Sunday.The Egyptian delegation led by deputy intelligence chief Ayman Badie was in the Gaza Strip on Friday and Saturday and the occupied West Bank…

Egyptian delegation seeks to prevent new Gaza flare-up

RAMALLAH: Egyptian security officials have held talks with Palestinian leaders in recent days in part to prevent a new flare-up of tensions between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said Sunday.The Egyptian delegation led by deputy intelligence chief Ayman Badie was in the Gaza Strip on Friday and Saturday and the occupied West Bank on Saturday, the officials said.A statement on Saturday from Hamas said the discussions included talks on “understandings with the enemy” — a reference to a fragile cease-fire with Israel tested in recent days.Contacted on Sunday, a Hamas official said the movement did not want to comment further beyond its official statements.Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas met with the delegation in Ramallah on Saturday on the Gaza-Israel cease-fire and attempts to heal the long-existing division between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah, official Palestinian news agency WAFA said.Fresh tensions were feared after Israel shot dead a Hamas militant on Thursday along the border with the Gaza Strip, prompting the movement to vow revenge.Israel later signalled it had fired in error, saying an initial inquiry showed soldiers misidentified a Hamas security agent as “an armed terrorist and fired as a result of this misunderstanding.”On Friday night, Israel’s military said two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, but no damage or injuries were reported.Earlier in the day, at least 33 Palestinians were shot and wounded during weekly demonstrations and clashes along the Gaza-Israel border, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.Under a fragile cease-fire brokered by Egyptian and UN officials following a severe flare-up in May, Israel is meant to ease aspects of its blockade on the strip in exchange for relative calm.At least 295 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since major Hamas-backed protests began along the border fence in March 2018.Most were killed during the protests and clashes but others died in air strikes or tank fire in response to violence from the strip.Six Israelis have been killed.Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

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