Iraqi prime minister tries to defuse Sunni-Kurdish parliamentary opposition to proposed budget

Prime Minister Haider Abadi. (REUTERS)
Updated 31 January 2018

Iraqi prime minister tries to defuse Sunni-Kurdish parliamentary opposition to proposed budget

BAGHDAD: The Iraqi Parliament failed to pass the 2018 annual budget for the third month in a row on Wednesday.
This was despite the presence of Prime Minister Haider Abadi and senior officials of the Ministry of Finance to answer questions from the opposing parliamentary blocs, Iraqi lawmakers told Arab News.
Abadi’s Cabinet had sent the draft of the budget to Parliament to be approved late in October, but Sunni and Kurdish blocs, in addition to several small Shiite blocs, were keen to break the quorum and boycott all sessions to discuss the budget.
Failure to approve the annual budget limits the central government’s ability to disburse funds and cripples local governments.
Most of the Sunni and Kurdish blocs are aiming to take advantage of this to delay the parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place on May 12.
Saleem Al-Jobori, the speaker of the Parliament, on Tuesday added the discussion of the draft budget to the Parliament daily schedule work despite the boycott of the Kurds and Sunnis, and asked Abadi to attend the session to discuss the objections of opposing blocs.
Sunnis have been demanding an increase in allocations to reconstruct the liberated areas and bring displaced people back to their homes, while some Shiites are demanding the delivery of petrodollars to oil-producing provinces. The Kurds are dissatisfied with the reduction of the budget share for Kurdistan, from 17 percent to 12.67 percent.
Abadi, who attended Parliament as prime minister and acting minister of finance, said that some of the demands could be dealt with, but the funding share for the Kurdistan region was not negotiable as it was based on the records of the Federal Ministries of Planning and Trade.
“The government has put all revenues in the budget and if the Parliament wants to reallocate some items, it can be discussed,” Abadi said in a statement from his media office after his meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday.
“The government has adopted the principle of justice and demographic proportions in determining the share of the Kurdistan region,” the statement said
Based on a political agreement made between the Shiite and Kurdish political parties, the Kurdish region has received 17 percent of the total annual budget since 2003.
Kurdish politicians and officials lost control over the oil hub city of Kirkuk, its lucrative oil fields and most of the revenues of airports and exported oil in response after a controversial referendum on independence held by KRG late in September.
If the Parliament approved the budget with the 12.67 percent proposed by the federal government, Kurdish officials and politicians will lose their last chance to remove funds from the supervision of Baghdad, lawmakers and officials involved in current discussions over the budget told Arab News.
“We boycotted the (Wednesday’s) session. We believe that our problems with the (federal) Cabinet will not be solved in a public session like this where no lawmaker can talk for more than a minute or two,” Ameen Baker, a Kurdish federal lawmaker and a member of the Parliamentary Finance Committee, told Arab News.
“Abadi’s showing up in the Parliament does not change anything relating to our stand. We are rejecting the reduction of the (Kurdish) region’s share. This is illegal and not justified.
“The reduction of our share is unjust and politically motivated,” Baker said.
Wednesday’s parliamentary meetings between Abadi and lawmakers resulted in an initial agreement to approve the budget as soon as possible after some deals were reached on the allocations of both the Sunni provinces affected by three years of war against Daesh and the oil-producing provinces including Basra and Amarra in the south.
An initial agreement was made by Abadi as the acting minister of finance and the opposing Sunni blocs to reallocate another two trillion dinars (around $16 billion) to the budget of the Sunni areas impacted by the war against Daesh, lawmakers told Arab News.
“We have agreed that the budget has to be approved soon to reduce the negative impacts of the delay. We as Sunni blocs were asking to increase the allocations of the liberated areas and the displaced people and we have received many positive signs from the prime minister that he does not mind reallocating some money for these areas,” Yaheya Al-Ethawi, a Sunni lawmaker, told Arab News.
“Abadi will come again tomorrow to the parliament and more discussions will be made to defuse the problem. The Kurds are still insisting on their positions and we believe that all sides can resort to the constitution and the records of the Ministries of Trade and Planning,” Al-Ethawi said.


Syrian and Russian troops sweep into Manbij as US withdraws

Updated 15 October 2019

Syrian and Russian troops sweep into Manbij as US withdraws

  • Standoff looms in northern Syrian town of Manbij as Turkish offensive continues
  • Trump's fresh sanctions fail to halt Turkish advance

MANBIJ, Syria: Turkey ignored US sanctions and pressed on with its assault on northern Syria on Tuesday, while the Russia-backed Syrian army roared into one of the most hotly contested cities abandoned by US forces in Donald Trump’s retreat.
Reuters journalists accompanied Syrian government forces who entered the center of the city of Manbij, a flashpoint where US troops had previously conducted joint patrols with Turkey.
Russian and Syrian flags were flying from a building on the city outskirts, and from a convoy of military vehicles.
US forces announced they had pulled out of the city.
A week after reversing US policy and moving troops out of the way to allow Turkey to attack Washington’s Syrian allies, Trump announced a package of sanctions to punish Ankara.
But the measures — mainly a hike in steel tariffs and a pause in trade talks — were less robust than financial markets had expected, and Trump’s critics derided them as too feeble to have an impact.
The Turkish lira, which had fallen on the expectation of tougher US measures, recovered after the sanctions were announced, as did its bond and stock markets, with traders noting that Trump had spared Turkish banks.
Trump’s unexpected decision to withhold protection from Syria’s Kurds after a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan a week ago swiftly upended five years of US policy in the Middle East.
The withdrawal gives a free hand to Washington’s adversaries in the world’s deadliest ongoing war, namely Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.
The United States announced on Sunday it was withdrawing its entire force of 1,000 troops from northern Syria. Its former Kurdish allies immediately forged a new alliance with Assad’s Russia-backed government, inviting the army into towns across the breadth of their territory.
Russian-backed Syrian forces moved swiftly to fill the void left by departing Americans from Manbij west of the Euphrates river, which Turkey has vowed to capture.
“We are out of Manbij,” said Col. Myles B Caggins, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Syria. Troops “are executing a deliberate withdrawal from northeast Syria.”
A group of journalists accompanied by Syrian army personnel journeyed into Manbij city where upon their arrival a group of people gathered, waving the Syrian flag and pictures of Assad.
However the reporters left when gunfire was heard and a group of some 10 young men in Kurdish YPG uniforms began breaking cameras and yelling.
Syrian state media said SDF fighters had opened fire on a march organized by the people of Manbij to welcome the army.
Trump’s pullout ends joint US-Turkish patrols of the Manbij area under a deal aimed to persuade Turkey not to invade.
Syrian state television broadcast footage of what it said was government troops entering Manbij on Tuesday, under their new deal with the Kurds. A resident inside the city told Reuters the Syrian troops were on its outskirts. Turkey-backed Syrian fighters said they would continue their advance toward Manbij.
A Reuters cameraman on the Turkish frontier reported heavy bombardment on Tuesday morning of the Syrian border town of Ras Al-Ain, where a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces reported a fierce battle was taking place.
Trump has defended his reversal of US policy as part of a plan to withdraw the United States from “endless” wars in the Middle East.
But his critics, including senior figures in his own Republican Party, cast it as a betrayal of the Kurds, loyal allies who lost thousands of fighters as the principal ground forces in Washington’s battle against Daesh.
The Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Trump’s sanctions were too little, too late.
“His announcement of a package of sanctions against Turkey falls very short of reversing that humanitarian disaster.”
Turkey says it aims to defeat the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as terrorists for their links to separatists in Turkey, and to create a “safe zone” where millions of Syrian refugees can be resettled.
The United Nations says 160,000 people have fled their homes as Turkish forces advance. The Kurdish administration puts the number of displaced at 270,000.
The UN Human Rights office said on Tuesday Turkey could be held responsible for war crimes by fighters under its direction, potentially including the assassination of Hevrin Khalaf, a leading Kurdish politician killed on the side of a highway on Saturday by gunmen who posted the incident on the Internet.
Turkish-backed fighters have denied blame for her murder.
Erdogan, who has pledged to continue military operations come what may, said Turkey was giving the world a chance to bring peace to the region.
“The international community missed its opportunity to prevent the Syrian crisis from pulling an entire region into a maelstrom of instability,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The European Union — and the world — should support what Turkey is trying to do.”
The Syrian army deployments into Kurdish-held territory evacuated by Washington are a victory for President Bashar Assad and his most powerful ally, Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swath of the country that had been beyond their grasp.
Trump allies insisted Washington had not given its blessing to the Turkish offensive, and demanded a cease-fire.
“The United States of America simply is not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion in Syria any further,” Vice President Mike Pence said. “We are calling on Turkey to stand down, end the violence and come to the negotiating table.”
Trump’s sanctions include reimposing steel tariffs and halting talks on a trade deal. But bilateral trade between Turkey and the United States is small — around a tenth the size of Turkey’s trade with Europe. Washington’s most effective form of economic leverage would be to hinder Turkey’s access to US financial markets, a step Trump has so far avoided.
“The sanctions are not related to banking, so the markets will have a positive perception,” said Cem Tozge, asset management director at Ata Invest.
In a potentially more damaging blow, German carmaker Volkswagen said it was postponing a final decision on whether to build a 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion) plant in Turkey, citing concern over “current developments” after international condemnation of the incursion.
European countries have criticized the offensive but have limited their response so far to announcing suspensions of arms sales, although weapons account for only a small fraction of EU-Turkish trade.
Trump said US troops would remain at a small garrison at Tanf in southern Syria “to continue to disrupt remnants” of Daesh. The base on the southern border is hundreds of miles away from the Kurdish area in the north that had previously been the main US theater.