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.”


Turkey: EU sanctions over gas drilling ‘worthless’

Updated 16 July 2019
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Turkey: EU sanctions over gas drilling ‘worthless’

  • EU foreign ministers said they are suspending talks with Turkey over air transport agreement
  • They backed EU’s proposal to decrease financial assistance to Turkey

ANKARA: Turkey on Tuesday rejected as “worthless” an initial set of sanctions approved by the European Union against Ankara, and vowed to send a new vessel to the eastern Mediterranean to reinforce its efforts to drill for hydrocarbons off the island of Cyprus.
EU foreign ministers on Monday approved sanctions against Turkey over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights. They said they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement, as well as high-level Turkey-EU dialogues, and would call on the European Investment Bank to review its lending to the country.
They also backed a proposal by the EU’s executive branch to reduce financial assistance to Turkey for next year. The ministers warned that additional “targeted measures” were being worked on to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 2005.
Speaking at a news conference in Macedonia, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the sanctions aimed to “appease” Cyprus and were of “no importance.”
“The EU needs us concerning the migration issue or other issues,” he said. “They will come to us and hold contacts; there is no escaping that.”
“They know that the decisions they took cannot be applied,” he said. “They were forced to take the worthless decisions under pressure from the Greek Cypriots and Greece.”
Cavusoglu added: “If you take such decisions against Turkey, we will increase our activities. We have three ships in the eastern Mediterranean, will with send a fourth.”
Earlier, the Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized the EU for ignoring the rights of Turkish Cypriots and accused the 28-nation bloc of “prejudice and bias.”
It added that Turkey was determined to protect its rights and the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas on either end of ethnically divided Cyprus. A third Turkish exploration ship is also in the area. Turkey insists that it has rights over certain offshore zones and that Turkish Cypriots have rights over others.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys full membership benefits.
Cypriot officials accuse Turkey of using the minority Turkish Cypriots in order to pursue its goal of exerting control over the eastern Mediterranean region.
The Cypriot government says it will take legal action against any oil and gas companies supporting Turkish vessels in any repeat attempt to drill for gas. Cyprus has already issued around 20 international arrest warrants against three international companies assisting one of the two Turkish vessels now drilling 68 kilometers off the island’s west coast.