Iraq to unify customs procedures with Kurdistan, PM says

Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi (C) attends the opening of Baghdad International Fair, Iraq November 10, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 22 November 2018
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Iraq to unify customs procedures with Kurdistan, PM says

  • The decision will be implemented after the federal government in Baghdad reaches an agreement on the move with the Kurdistan Regional Government
  • Exports had been on hold since Iraqi government forces retook Kirkuk from Kurdish authorities in 2017

BAGHDAD: Iraq will unify customs procedures in all of its border areas, including within semi-autonomous Kurdistan, the prime minister said on Wednesday, signalling a further thaw in ties between Baghdad and Irbil after a resumption of Kirkuk oil flows.
The decision will be implemented after the federal government in Baghdad reaches an agreement on the move with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi told a news conference.
He said the unified procedures would make it easier to transport imported goods and commodities.
Currently, the KRG independently imposes and collects custom tariffs on imported goods in border areas it controls, which Baghdad considers illegal.
Baghdad in turn imposes more tariffs of its own on commodities coming in from Kurdish-controlled border areas and the double customs have been seen as a burden by traders.
Abdel Mahdi said he would meet Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, who is set to visit Baghdad, on Thursday. Barzani resigned as the region’s president following a failed bid for independence but remains the leader of its largest party.
Barzani, still one of the most influential Kurdish politicians in Iraq, has not visited Baghdad since before the referendum, which took place in September 2017.
“I will meet Barzani tomorrow on relations between Irbil and Baghdad to discuss key issues that will strengthen relations between Irbil and Baghdad. We want to help the region and its citizens,” Abdul Mahdi said.
“I don’t think we’ll discuss oil ... It’s a shame that the pumping of oil from Kirkuk stopped especially when these fields boost our federal revenues,” he added.
Iraq on Friday restarted exports of Kirkuk oil, halted a year ago due to a standoff with Irbil following the referendum.
Exports had been on hold since Iraqi government forces retook Kirkuk from Kurdish authorities in 2017. The Kurds had taken control of Kirkuk and its oilfields after Daesh militants drove the Iraqi army out in 2014, and Kurdish forces, in turn, ejected the militants.
Flows resumed at a modest level of around 50,000-60,000 barrels per day (bpd) compared with a peak of 300,000 bpd seen last year.
Abdul Mahdi said he would go to parliament next week to get his full cabinet approved. Lawmakers had only confirmed 14 out of the 22 ministers he initially presented but granted his government confidence, allowing him to become prime minister.
“Next week, Monday or Tuesday, we’ll go to parliament and present what we see as the right candidates to complete the cabinet. We take responsibility for whoever is selected.”


UN Yemen envoy pushes Security Council for robust truce monitoring

Updated 14 December 2018
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UN Yemen envoy pushes Security Council for robust truce monitoring

  • Griffiths called for deployment of UN monitors to observe the implementation of a cease-fire in Hodeida and the withdrawal of Houthi militia
  • Saudi Arabia says it is committed to reaching a political solution that guarantees the security and stability of Yemen

JEDDAH: A robust monitoring regime is urgently needed in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah to oversee compliance by the warring parties with an agreed cease-fire in the region, United Nations Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Friday.
The Iranian-aligned Houthis and the Arab Coalition-backed Yemen government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi agreed on Thursday to stop fighting for Houthi-held Hodeidah and withdraw their troops, the first significant breakthrough for UN-led peace efforts in five years of conflict.
“A robust and competent monitoring regime is not just essential, it is also urgently needed and both parties have told us they would very much welcome it and indeed depend on it,” Griffiths told the 15-member council, adding that UN officials were already planning for such a deployment.
Such a monitoring mission needs the backing of the Security Council in a resolution, diplomats said.
Griffiths said in a video briefing that retired Dutch Major General Patrick Cammaert had agreed to lead the monitoring component of the agreement, which took effect on Thursday when the deal was published. He said Cammaert could arrive in the region within days.
“Being present in the field soon is an essential part of the confidence that needs to go with the implementation of this agreement,” Griffiths said.
The council was already discussing a British-drafted resolution to enshrine five requests made by UN aid chief Mark Lowcock — one of which was for a truce around facilities needed for aid and commercial imports — and diplomats said that would now be reworked to endorse the agreement reached in Sweden.
“We hope to be able to work expeditiously with colleagues to bring about a Security Council resolution which will give the firmest possible support to what has been achieved so far,” British UN Ambassador Karen Pierce told the council.
“As requested we will of course want — with colleagues — to address the monitoring requirements,” she said.
“The UN will take on a leading role in supporting Yemen Red Sea Ports Corporation in management and inspections at Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa,” Griffiths said. “The UN ... has developed a plan seeking specific support from member states in the port.”
Meanwhile, in a statement by Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Kingdom backed “the agreements reached in Sweden in UN-sponsored talks between a delegation of Yemen’s legitimate government and the Houthi rebels,” the official SPA news agency reported.
“The Kingdom remains engaged in the search for a political solution in Yemen which guarantees the security and stability of the country,” the statement said.
The statement also called on the Iran-aligned Houthis to “embark on this path” toward a political solution.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry also said on Friday that it welcomed the agreement between Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Houthi militia. 
The ministry said that the Kingdom was committed to reaching a political solution that guarantees the security and stability of Yemen.
The handing over of the port of Hodeidah to the control of the United Nations will help to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, the ministry stressed.