High drama at Iraqi Kurdistan parliament as lawmakers meet to approve Barzani's resignation

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Demonstrators gesture as they gather outside the Kurdistan Parliament building in Irbil, Iraq, on Sunday, October 29, 2017. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)
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Demonstrators break into the Kurdistan Parliament building in Irbil, Iraq, on Sunday, October 29, 2017. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)
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Demonstrators break into the Kurdistan Parliament building in Irbil, Iraq, on Sunday, October 29, 2017. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)
Updated 30 October 2017
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High drama at Iraqi Kurdistan parliament as lawmakers meet to approve Barzani's resignation

IRBIL/BAGHDAD: Demonstrators angry at Masoud Barzani’s decision to step down as president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) stormed the regional parliament building in Irbil on Sunday as lawmakers met to act on the veteran leader’s resignation, witnesses said.
Barzani said he would give up his position as president on Nov. 1, after an independence referendum he championed backfired and triggered a regional crisis.
In a televised address, his first since Iraqi forces launched a surprise offensive to recapture Kurdish-held territory on Oct. 16, Barzani confirmed that he would not extend his presidential term after Nov. 1 “under any conditions.”
“I am the same Masoud Barzani, I am a Peshmerga (Kurdish fighter) and will continue to help my people in their struggle for independence,” said Barzani, who has campaigned for Kurdish self-determination for nearly four decades.
The address followed a letter he sent to parliament in which he asked members to take measures to fill the resulting power vacuum.
The region’s parliament met in the Kurdish capital Irbil on Sunday to discuss the letter. A majority of 70 Kurdish MPs voted to accept Barzani’s request and 23 opposed it, Kurdish TV channels Rudaw and Kurdistan 24 said.
Demonstrators, some carrying clubs and guns, stormed the parliament building as the session was in progress.
Gunshots were heard. Some protesters outside the building said they wanted to “punish” MPs who they said had “insulted” Barzani. Some attacked journalists at the scene.
Some MPs were barricaded in their offices on Sunday evening.
A Kurdish official had said on Saturday that Barzani had decided to hand over the presidency without waiting for elections that had been set for Nov. 1 but which have now been delayed by eight months.
The region, which had enjoyed unprecedented autonomy for years, has been in turmoil since the independence referendum a month ago prompted military and economic retaliation from Iraq’s central government in Baghdad.

'Always a peshmerga'
In his address, Barzani vigorously defended his decision to hold the Sept. 25 referendum, the results of which “can never be erased,” he said. The vote was overwhelmingly for independence and triggered the military action by the Baghdad government and threats from neighboring Turkey and Iran.
He added that the Iraqi attack on Kirkuk and other Kurdish held territory vindicated his position that Baghdad no longer believed in federalism and instead wanted to curtail Kurdish rights.
Iraq is using last month’s Kurdish independence referendum “as a pretext to attack Kurdistan,” news agencies quoted Barzani as saying.
The KRG agreed on Sunday to withdraw Kurdish forces from all disputed territories and hand over border crossings to Baghdad, federal and regional officials told Arab News. Baghdad responded to the referendum by launching a military campaign to regain control of disputed territories, including the northern city of Kirkuk and its lucrative oil fields.
The campaign achieved most of its objectives except for a few small areas. Federal forces are no more than a dozen kilometers from Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Fierce fighting erupted in several places last week between advancing federal forces and Kurdish troops, with casualties on both sides.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi on Friday announced a 24-hour cease-fire, during which Baghdad’s demands must be met and Kurdish troops must withdraw from disputed territories.
“The Kurds have agreed to everything. Everything is solved,” a senior federal security official involved in the talks told Arab News.
KRG officials confirmed the deal and said it had immediately gone into effect. “An agreement was reached on handing over the disputed areas up to the borders of the region before the fall of (Saddam’s) regime,” Ghaith Al-Suraji, a senior Kurdish leader familiar with the talks, told Arab News.
“Meetings are continuing between the two sides in Mosul in order to agree on the mechanisms of handing over the areas.” The referendum and regional airports were not included in the talks, Al-Suraji said, adding: “The referendum is a political issue and this committee is a military one. Also, there are no airports in the disputed areas, so there were no discussions on that either.”
Ihssan Al-Shimari, an adviser to Al-Abadi, told Arab News: “Baghdad won’t back down or withdraw its request to cancel the result of the referendum.” Barzani, the architect of the referendum, urged Kurdish forces to meet soon to discuss filling “the political vacuum” created by his stepping down.
Barzani said he will “remain as a fighter within the Peshmerga (Kurdish forces),” and will “continue to struggle to win the rights of the Kurdish people and preserve their gains.”

US condemned
Barzani condemned the United States for failing to back the Kurds. “We tried to stop bloodshed but the Iraqi forces and Popular Mobilization Front (Shiite militias) kept advancing, using US weapons,” he said.
“Our people should now question, whether the US was aware of Iraq’s attack and why they did not prevent it.”
Barzani has been criticized by Kurdish opponents for the loss of the city of Kirkuk, oil-rich and considered by many Kurds to be their spiritual home.
His resignation could help facilitate a reconciliation between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Iraq’s central government, whose retaliatory measures since the referendum have transformed the balance of power in the north.
Barzani has led the KRG since it was established in 2005. His second term expired in 2013 but was extended without elections being held as Daesh militants swept across vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.
US-backed Iraqi government forces, Iranian-backed paramilitaries and Kurdish fighters fought alongside each other to defeat Islamic State but the alliance has faltered since the militants were largely defeated in the country.
After the Kurdish vote, Iraqi troops were ordered by the country’s prime minister Haider Al-Abadi to take control of areas claimed by both Baghdad and the KRG.
Abadi also wants to take control of the border crossings between the Kurdish region and Turkey, Iran and Syria, including one through which an oil export pipeline crosses into Turkey, carrying Iraqi and Kurdish crude oil.
The fall of Kirkuk — a multi-ethnic city which lies outside the KRG’s official boundaries — to Iraqi forces on Oct. 16 was a major symbolic and financial blow to the Kurds’ independence drive because it halved the region’s oil export revenue.
Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga started a second round of talks on Sunday to resolve a conflict over control of the Kurdistan region’s border crossings, Iraqi state TV said.
A first round was held on Friday and Saturday, with Abadi ordering a 24-hour suspension on Friday of military operations against Kurdish forces.
He demanded on Thursday that the Kurds declare their referendum void, rejecting the KRG offer to suspend its independence push to resolve a crisis through talks, saying in a statement: “We won’t accept anything but its cancelation and the respect of the constitution.”
(With Reuters and AFP)


Can Lebanon control cannabis cultivation?

A Syrian refugee (who asked to withhold his name) from Raqqa carries a bundle of cannabis during the harvest in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon. (Files/Reuters)
Updated 23 July 2018
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Can Lebanon control cannabis cultivation?

  • Legalizing cannabis means legalizing something that is illegal and used to achieve a forbidden pleasure
  • There is a social stigma in Lebanon associated with cannabis consumption and cultivation

BEIRUT: A heated debate is taking place in Lebanon after McKinsey & Co., the global management consulting firm hired by the government to help restructure the country’s economy, recommended the legalisation of growing medical marijuana.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri received the recommendation, which isn’t binding for the Lebanese government, and informed the US ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard, that “the Lebanese Parliament is in the process of preparing the necessary laws for legalising the cultivation of cannabis for manufacturing marijuana pharmaceuticals as in Western countries.”
Some parliamentary blocs welcomed Berri’s stance, while others chose not to comment on it. Growing cannabis in Lebanon is classified as an act punishable by law, and consumers, as well as traders, are subject to legal prosecution.
No authority in Lebanon can accurately estimate the size of land cultivated with cannabis. Northern Bekaa Valley has always been the weakness of the absent state, and this allowed the de facto authorities to exploit its lands during the civil war and in the time of the Syrian occupation, which lasted 30 years and was followed by Hezbollah’s control.
Northern Bekaa is awash with cannabis fields, owing to its fertile ground that is adequate for growing this plant.
Every year, the security authorities publicly destroy lands in which cannabis was grown. Cannabis seedlings are planted between February and March every year, and the crops are harvested in September.
Cannabis cultivation has become a profitable profession for mafias that trade in cannabis, while the farmers receive the crumbs only.
Mona, a woman from Northern Bekaa who did not want to use her full name, said the fields surrounding her house were spacious and could be cultivated with cannabis, but her values prevented her from resorting to this type of farming.
She believes that by legalizing cannabis cultivation, the government is exempting those who have planted cannabis and traded in it from punishment.
“This is against the law and does not make any sense,” she said.
A Hezbollah member of Parliament, who wished to remain anonymous, refused to say whether he was for against the legalization of cannabis cultivation.
He told Arab News: “Is the Lebanese government capable of controlling cannabis cultivation? Let’s not lie to one another: no one can control it.
“Legalizing cannabis cultivation means that the government is to control and establish a company similar to the Régie tobacco company, issue licenses for farmers and receive the crops,” he continued. “This company may receive the crops, but will it be the full amount or will part of it be sent to the black market? And will the product be sold inside Lebanon or will the state sell it to other countries?”
The Hezbollah MP added: “Allowing the cultivation of cannabis means legalizing it to those who have a license and those who don’t, and this will reflect on society and the young generation.
“There is a social stigma in Lebanon associated with cannabis consumption and cultivation—a person who consumes or grows this plant is considered a failure.
“This country is neither the US nor the Netherlands—it is Lebanon. The ideas of the Dutch society are different from ours; they enjoy absolute freedom and know how to deal with it. As for us, should we legalize cannabis just because we are going through economic difficulties? So if we were looking for financial gains, should we legalize prostitution as well? Definitely not, and these things must be discussed at a religious level first and must be socially controlled.”
Rajaa Makki, a social psychology professor of the Lebanese University, said: “Cannabis cultivation might serve the country’s economy, but it needs to be regulated to limit violations.”
From a social/psychological point of view, Makki does not believe legalizing cannabis will yield positive results in a country like Lebanon, which lacks clear laws.
She added: “An individual who resorts to drugs usually has an emotional attachment, which means she/he is ill and is subconsciously seeking to have drugs replace what she/he lacks.”
“From here, legalizing cannabis means legalizing something that is illegal and used to achieve a forbidden pleasure.”
Makki stated that she was against legalizing cannabis in the absence of awareness campaigns.
“Awareness campaigns are an integral part of the process, especially at the social psychological level, and we are going to need more rehabilitation and treatment centers,” she said.
Those who are pro-cannabis cultivation claim that legalizing it will bring Lebanon money, while economists believe this step would contribute to a GDP growth rate of 0.5 percent.
Economist Louis Hobeika explained that the Lebanese government believes legalizing cannabis will control its cultivation and provide the country with legitimate income.
He added: “I am against it though, because the prices of the substance extracted from marijuana to be used for medical purposes are not globally high. Many countries are in this business and we are not inventing anything that can compete with their medical marijuana products.
“In addition to that, there is poor demand for medical marijuana, and there is an illusion that legalizing cannabis will earn Lebanon billions of dollars.”
He also said: “Who in Lebanon can control cannabis cultivation and who can guarantee that the business does not result in producing narcotics? The government cannot control it and a mafia that funds cannabis, probably in cooperation with the government, will be born, and we will find ourselves in a bigger problem.”
Hobeika asked: “Does Lebanon enforce traffic or construction laws as it should? What do you think would be the case for the law of cannabis cultivation?”
He stressed that it is necessary to help farmers in Northern Bekaa — and everyone who cultivates cannabis — find an alternative crop that generates revenue.
“Why don’t we grow flowers instead of importing them?” he suggested. “Or maybe exotic fruits—yes, they need additional efforts compared to cannabis cultivation as well as a new attitude, but these are positive products that do not harm our children.”
Pharmacist Samer Sobra was surprised how cannabis is to be used for medical purposes in Lebanon.
He said: “Cannabis in Lebanon is currently sold as a narcotic substance and not used for manufacturing pharmaceuticals. The substance extracted from cannabis for medical use is cannabidiol (CBD). It is used for manufacturing cough medicines, mood regulators, and relaxants in specialized labs. These medicines are not manufactured in Lebanon but imported from abroad.
“In Lebanon, there isn’t a high demand for these medicines which include CBD in their formula,” he added. “I believe it would be more profitable for Lebanon’s economy to sell the substance to other countries.”