Thursday, August 30, 2012

Minister of Natural Resources, Thank you for “saving national resources”

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)'s Minister of Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami made a rare interview with an Erbil-based newspaper, Rudaw, that was published on Aug. 29 in which he accused Nawshirwan Mustafa, the current leader of the main opposition party, Gorran, of signing oil contracts in 2006 – while he was a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party  – that would give large shares of revenues to an exploration company in Sulaimaniyah that would monopolize the exploration in the province. He said as of his appointment as Minister of Natural Resources he had revoked that contract and had signed five deals instead of one for exploration of the same area of land in Sulaimaniyah which together would bring Kurdistan 100 times more revenue and would encourage competition among the companies. He complained that instead of being thanked for saving so much money, he was attacked by Mr Mustafa's Gorran for corruption.

I am not surprised that Mr Hawrami wants to be thanked for what he is being paid for to do. It is just a syndrome in this country that affects officials' memories once they are in power they forget that they are there to serve people not to do them favors for which people normally show gratitude. However, on behalf of all my fellow citizens, I would like to thank Mr Hawrami for doing us the favor of saving so much money, but I would also like to make the following points regarding his remarks:
·         Gorran Party has rejects such claims that Mustafa has sisgned any contracts. They say Miustafa never had a government position in order to sign a contract, and the Minister say at very beginning of the interview that the contract was signed "at the request of Mustafa" and then later on he says it "was signed by Mustafa", I wonder which is it?
·         While Hawrami talks about a mysterious 5 percent share going to two people (whom I am sure are not from Mr Mustafa's party or Mr Hawrami would not have hesitated to revel their identities) secretly, the oil revenue despite all the improvement and money savings the Minister talks about is not transparent and nobody actually knows where does the money go to.
·         The claim that the previous contract would earn Kurdistan only $40 million instead of $5 billion under the current contracts sounds to me like pure propaganda because the two figures are just no close in any way so that someone can steal some extra money from the oil revenues and fool everyone. Besides, no one would be so fool as to sign a contract that is worth $500 million for only a $5 million bonus for the region knowing for sure that all secrets sooner or later would be disclosed.
·         The Minister is so desperately in need of some pats on the shoulder as he repeats the question: "Why he did not thanks us.." for this and that. If the minister really thinks that Mustafa was involved in money laundering and corruption, then it is so naïve to expect from him to offer any gratitude for someone who discloses his scandals. Wouldn't it?
·         Mr Hawrami also refers to other contracts signed between Mustafa and other companies in which 20 percent would go to unknown people. So much for such accusations! If there is any evidence please provide it so we can believe it and so corrupt officials can be tried!
·         Mr Hawrami claims that KRG's oil contracts were approved by the parliament and 111 MPs  "voted in favor of it" and among them "SOME"  Gorran MPs. Well, I don't know what to say about this statement! If there were SOME Gorran MPs who voted in favor NOT all (there are 25 Gorran MPs in parliament apart from other opposition MPs), then he is contradicting his previous statement where he said 111 MPs voted in favor of the contracts because the Kurdish parliament is formed of 111 seats not more.
·         Now look at this quote: "During my visit with Mr. Mustafa… I also asked him if he was suspicious about the transparency of oil revenues in Kurdistan and his answer was that I appeared honest and clean in performing my duty. I asked him why he didn't say the same thing on TV so people know the truth, but he said "why would I praise a government that I wish to overthrow?" how credible! Are we really supposed to buy that? It is nice to praise oneself by putting words into others' mouths, huh?
·         And this part is puzzling to me when the minister says $4.22 billion out of $5 billion in oil revenues will be used by the companies on projects? What projects? And are they public service projects? It seems that the KRG has only received about $730 million out of the $5 billion revenue an of which only $350 million as the minister says is obvious that was spent on water projects while the rest he has no idea about. However, it is not the rest of the $730 million that is a riddle to me, but the rest of the $5 billion. What exactly does that mean that about $4.22 billion of the revenues will be used by the companies on projects? I am assuming they mean more oil exploration projects and in which case all the $5 billion revenue Mr Hawrami claimed that would go to the KRG is not actually correct and that the companies still keep about 80 percent of the revenues.

Note: I read this interview with Ashti Hawrami on EKURD.NET which had reposted it from Rudaw Newspaper's website. I tried to find the original page on Rudaw but it seems that it has been removed or there was something wrong with the website that did not show the page. When you search the headline you can still find the link to the page on Rudaw newspaper's website, but when you click on it you will get an error message saying the page is not found. The article however was re-posted by a many websites before the original article disappeared on Rudaw's website.

For the full interview on EKURD.NET click the link below:

A photo that says a lot more than words about the peaceful nature of Kurds

I saw this photo on Facebook of a village Kurdish woman using the remains of a chemical bomb used by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds in the 1980s as a vase to plant flowers in. It is really inspirational!

The photo reminds the world that Kurds are peaceful and want the world to be a better place. I was really inspired by the creativity of the woman. Who in the world would think that a bomb can actually be useful one day to plants flowers in?

The photos sends some very strong messages to the world that:
  • "We are peaceful"
  • "we can make the world a better place if we turn our weapons down and celebrate the beauty of coexistence"
  • "We are not after revenge even though we were oppressed"
  • "We value brotherhood with our fellow Iraqis. As long as we are left in peace we will not harass anyone,"
I especially liked the irony that Saddam Hussein's chemical bombs were supposed to terminate life, not only of Kurds, but also of animals, trees and wild life, but this woman has used that same bomb shell to create life. 

This photo appeared on a Facebook account by the name Fariba Mimmi

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Housing prices in Kurdistan higher than prices in California: repoft

A very impressive report about the incredible housing prices in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq by my friend and former colleague Mohammed Salih. 

Some highlights:

  • In some areas, housing and property prices are higher than housing prices in California.  
  • In some areas, prices have increased by 80 percent
  • The increase has mainly been caused by foreign investment
  • Kurdistan has attracted more than $20 billion in foreign investment since 2007 
  • Over $10 billion of the $20 billion investment has been in the housing sector
  • Over 140,000 housing units have been built in recent years yet prices keep going up

Friday, August 17, 2012

Maliki flexes muscle as he orders closedown of KRG representative office in Baghdad

Tensions between the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the central government in Baghdad were taken to a new height on Wednesday when authorities in Baghdad closed the KRG representation office in Baghdad at the request of the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office.

Iraqi officials said the office did not have legal support to exist in Baghdad. However, Kurdish officials in Baghdad said the office had the legal paperwork that was signed by the Prime Minister himself.

Yet, it is evident that the closure of the office was politically motivated and grounded in the recent tensions between Baghdad and Erbil as the office has been there for seven years now. The office was set up in 2006 after a visit by Maliki to the capital of Kurdistan Region, Erbil, where he agreed with Kurdish leaders on the opening of the office to coordinate relations between the two governments.

Mohammed Ihsan, the KRG representative to Baghdad said that the order they received for the closure of the office explained that the KRG-Baghdad relations were directly handled between the two governments and therefore a KRG representation was not necessary in Baghdad.

The closure of the office was quickly condemned by Kurdish MPs in Baghdad as an "illegal and unconstitutional" move by Baghdad. Mohsen Sadoun, a senior member of the Kurdish Blocs Coalition (KBC) in the Iraqi Parliament said the "The Iraqi government has to provide explanations for the decision [closure of KRG office].. this decision was illegal and unconstitutional… that is an official office… that has been in Baghdad for seven years."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
The timing of Baghdad's action shows the extent to which Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is upset by KRG attitudes on a number of issues including oil deals, growing Kurdish-Turkish relations and KRG support for the rebellion in Syria against the Shiite minority regime about which Iraq has kept silent amid regional and international condemnations and calls on Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Kurdistan's Oil Deals

Kurdistan Region has continued its oil deals with world energy giants. Recently the French giant Total also moved in buying a 35 percent stake in two exploration blocks in Iraq's Kurdistan region. The move set off immediate response from the Iraqi government which has desperately tried to bar companies from dealing directly with the semi-autonomous region.

The Iraqi government warned Total to cease its dealings with the KRG or lose its share in a major oilfield in southern Iraq.

United States Exxon Mobile and Chevron, Russia' Gazprom  are already working in the region.

Also, earlier this month, London-listed Genel Energy increased its stake in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region after it acquired a 23 per cent stake in the Bina Bawi exploration license. The deal was approved by the KRG and the acquisition was completed at $175 million.
The UK-Turkish firm has interests in seven exploration and production licenses in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq. Among the license are two major producing fields; a 25 per cent stake in the Tawke field, Duhok province, and 44 per cent in the Taq Taq field of Erbil province.

The firm also holds a 25 per cent interests in Peshkabir, 40 per cent in the Duhok, 18.75 per cent in Miran, 20 per cent of the Chia Surkh as well, all of which are located in Duhok province.

What added to Baghdad's rage was that Mehmet Sepil, the chief executive of Genel Energy said the central government had lost its energy fight against the KRG in Arbil. "Let's take a look at companies operating there currently: Exxon, Chevron, Total and Gazprom. These are some of the largest oil companies in the world. What's more, Exxon, Total and Gazprom are also working in Baghdad [oilfields]. Baghdad says it will put those who operate in northern Iraq on a blacklist, but the largest companies in the world are working there. This issue is over. In addition, Baghdad operates too slowly, so the oil companies are escaping from there and moving to the north. The energy fight is over today. The important question is when Baghdad will admit this." He said.

Sepil also predicted that Kurdistan "will see a large consolidation. The number of [oil]companies in northern Iraq, which is between 40 and 50 today, will fall to between 10 and 15 in two or three years," Sepil said, adding that the region has already proved its potential. What is happening in northern Iraq is typical, according to Sepil. "First the small companies penetrate, they find the oil, and sell [the field] after benefiting from it. Now this is the process taking place in northern Iraq."

Kurdish-Turkish Relations

Recent rapprochements between Turkey and Kurdistan Region have sent waves of resentment across the Shiite dominated government authorities in Baghdad. Earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Kurdistan and made a side trip to Kirkuk, an oil-rich and disputed city which Kurds have been trying to incorporate into their, angering the Iraqi government.

The Iraqi government condemned the visit as a "blatant interference in the Iraqi internal affairs" and said Davutoglu had violated the sovereignty of Iraq. Baghdad harshly criticized the Kurdish government for facilitating the Turkish official's Kirkuk visit. Baghdad also said it will review relations with Turkey. And on Aug. 15, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry denied a Turkish leader, who had plans to visit Kirkuk, visa into Iraq.

Following the Turkish FM's Kirkuk visit, Baghdad has been complaining that Turkey treats Kurdistan Region as independent from Baghdad. Maliki told a Turkish TV channel that Turkey is "dealing with the (Kurdistan) region as an independent state, and this is rejected by us,"

If Turkey "wants to establish good relations, its relations with the region must be built through the gate of Iraq," Maliki said.

Kurdistan's support for Syrian Kurds

While the rest of the world has condemned Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown on civilians in the country, the Iraqi government has remained silent. Further to that, the Iraqi government rejected in July an Arab League call for the Syrian President to step aside from his post. Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the decision was an intervention in the Syrian affairs.

Iraq's rejection to call on Assad to go drew criticism from the Kurdish leaders in the country. Spokesperson for the KBC, Moayyed Tayyib, said "What is happening in Syria is that the regular Syrian army is committing horrible crimes against the Syrian people.. And when these horrible crimes are committed, it is no longer an internal affair in any country"
The Iraqi government also shut down borders in the face of fleeing Syrians who sought refuge in Iraq from the violence in the country and sent army troops to a border crossing area that was controlled by the Kurdish Peshmarga forces. The border crossings were only opened after pressure mounted on al-Maliki from within the country to provide shelter for the refugees.

The deployment of troops to the Fish Khabur area on the Syrian border, in Duhok province, nearly broke out into a deadly fight between the two forces had it not been for a US intervention to play down the disputes.

The government claimed to have sent the troops to control the Syrian border to prevent the infiltration of militants from and into Syria and also to prevent fleeing Syrian from entering Iraqi territories. Apparently, Maliki believed that the Kurdish control of about 15 kilometer long border line made it possible for Iraqis to smuggle arms and support into Syria for the opposition forces in particular the Kurds who had taken over some towns and districts in the northeastern Syria.

Maliki's military movement came after Kurdistan Region's President Massoud Barzani said Syrian Kurds were being trained in Kurdistan and would be sent home to "defend" their territories.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Turkish FM’s Kirkuk visit: A tit-for-tat for Barzani’s efforts for a Kurdish region in Syria

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu paid a surprise visit to the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk last week after holding a meeting with the Kurdish leaders in Erbil about the future of the Kurds of Syria following a possible collapse of the Syrian regime setting off criticism from Iraqi officials.

TheIraqi officials considered the unexpected visit a “blatant interference in the Iraqi internal affairs” while Turkish officials said it was a “peaceful” visit to the city where the FM met with the Turkmen community with whom Turks share close ethnic and historic ties. Following the visit, Iraq summoned Turkish ambassador to protest the visit while Turkey summoned the Iraqi ambassador to tell him that the Iraqi government’s statements were “unacceptable”

When a high ranking foreign official such as Davutoglu visits, without notice, a disputed city in Iraq that is claimed by each of the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen communities that has been the source of tensions between Baghdad and Erbil for years, it may be deemed inappropriate. It may also be seen as the “peaceful”  visit that Turks claim, but I think there is something else behind it: a tit-for-tat for Kurdistan Region’s support for the creation of a Kurdish region in Syria, especially when Barzani admitted training Syrian Kurds in Kurdistan Region to send them home to “defend their areas”. Kurdish leaders also continued their support for all Kurdish groups in Syria even the one that Turkey accuses of having links with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebel group that has been fighting the Turkish state for almost three decades.

Barzani’s late July remarks when he told Al Jazeera that the Syrian Kurds were beingtrained in Kurdistan Region so that they can go back to Syria and “fill any security vacuum” that might come forth in the wake of the fall of the Syrian regime, upset the Turks so much that immediately after that they threatened to use military force to intervene in Syria if a Kurdish region was established where the Democratic Union of Kurdistan (PYD) – a Kurdish armed group allegedly affiliated with the PKK – had any control. The Prime Minister Recepy Teyyip Erdogan also appeared on TV saying Davutoglu will visit Kurdistan Region to “share Turkey’s sensitivities and determination on this issue” with local administration officials.

Prior to the visit, a senior Kurdish official from Barzani’s party said that Turkeyshould not push away any Kurdish parties in Syria, even the PYD.

Turkey has been viciously fighting PKK and is desperately trying to eliminate the group through military force. The creation of a Kurdish region in Syria is seen by Turkey as a potential threat to Turkey because it fears that the PKK will use the Kurdish region of Syria to attack Turkey. PKK is already using the Kurdish region of Iraq as a launch pad to attack Turkey and Kurdish leaders have made it clear that they will not fight alongside Turkey against the PKK despite their presence in the northern mountainous territories of Kurdistan on the Turkish border. Barzani once said that the blood of a Kurds should never be shed by another Kurd in response to Turkey’s pressures on Barzani to fight against the PKK.

Davutoglu’s Kirkuk visit shows the extent to which Turkey is ready to go to prevent the creation of a Kurdish region in Syria. On the surface, Turkish officials may say that they do not oppose the creation of a Kurdish region in Syria provided that it is not controlled by a group linked with the PKK. But in reality, they oppose a Kurdish region in Syria because that will no doubt encourage Turkey’s own Kurdish region in the southeast will be demanding the establishment of a similar region, not to mention that it might open a new front for Turkey to fight the PKK.

Davutoglu’s Kirkuk visit was a reminder for Barzani and Kurdish leaders in Iraq that “we can meddle in Kirkuk if you keep supporting the creation of a Kurdish region in Syria where even PYD can exist”, that Turkey will support the Turkmen in their claims of Kirkuk being a Turkmen city which the Kurdish leaders have been trying to incorporate into the Kurdistan Region since 2003 and which the Kurds fought over it for decades with Saddam Hussein.

History shows that Turkey has the potential to intervene and divide the ethnic groups as in the case of Cyprus in 1974. Davutoglu spoke to the Turkmen community as if Turkey was going to establish a Turkmen region in Kirkuk. Turkey has considered Kirkuk a historically Ottoman and the property of the Turkmenminority. “You waited for us too long, but I promise you won’t wait for us that long in the future.” He told the Turkmen community of the city stressing on Turkish support for the Turkmen.

More importantly, Davutoglu implicitly said that Turkey recognizes Kirkuk as a Turkmen city and will act accordingly when it comes to disputes between the ethnic groups of the city. “Today we [Turkish authorities] decided to make Konya city in Turkey and Kirkuk sister cities. I am a Turkmen of Konya and for that reason I feel your pain very well... Wherever there is a Turkmen, we have felt responsible towards them and protected them and we will always do so” Davutoglu told the Turkmen rally.

Davutoglu chose a Turkmen city of Turkey instead of a Kurdish city or just any other Turkish city, to be a sister city of Kirkuk. Normally, when two cities are said to be sisters, they are such because they share something vital. In the particular case of Kirkuk and Konya, that shared characteristic, according to Davutoglu’s speech is the Turkmenness of Kirkuk and the Turkmenness of Konya.