Iraq parliament approves 2019 budget, one of largest ever

Iraq aims to export 3.9 million barrels of oil per day in 2019. (AFP)
Updated 24 January 2019

Iraq parliament approves 2019 budget, one of largest ever

  • The budget will be largely funded by oil revenues
  • The 2019 budget is almost 45 percent higher than last year’s budget

BAGHDAD: Iraqi lawmakers on Thursday approved the government’s 2019 budget, which at $111.8 billion is one of the oil-rich country’s largest ever spending bills.
It represents a nearly 45 percent increase from last year and awards even more money for public salaries, including those of the northern Kurdish region.
Nearly 90 percent of the budget comes from oil revenues.
Iraq expects to export 3.9 million barrels per day in 2019, including 250,000 bpd from the Kurdish region, at an average of $56 per barrel.
The current price of crude sits at $63 per barrel.
The deficit is expected to more than double to $23.1 billion, while investments increase to $27.8 billion.
The draft bill was originally submitted to parliament in October but has been fiercely debated since then.
MPs from provinces ravaged by the fight against the Daesh group criticized it for not allocating enough reconstruction funds to their regions.
Another debate raged over the share that would be allotted to the administratively autonomous Kurdish region.
MPs had originally scheduled a session for 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday but delayed it to 7:00 p.m. and voted article by article, finishing just after midnight.
The government proposed $52 billion in salaries, pensions, and social security for state workers — a 15-percent jump from 2018 and more than half the total budget.
Notably, parliament passed a budget measure to fund salaries for the Kurdistan region’s state workers and armed forces, the peshmerga.
The budget also stipulates the Kurdish Regional Government must export 250,000 bpd of crude through state-owned companies and deposit the revenues in federal coffers.
If it didn’t, MP Sarkawt Shamsaddin told AFP, Baghdad would continue to pay salaries but would not disburse other funds to the Kurdish region.
“The good thing is public servants’ salaries and peshmerga are not subject to political disputes,” said Shamsaddin, representing the northeastern Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah.
Relations between Baghdad and Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, soured in 2017 after Kurdish authorities held an independence referendum.
Last year’s budget was approved by parliament in March.
Parliament had also scheduled a vote on two of the five remaining empty cabinet posts in Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi’s government but adjourned without holding it.


Flydubai launches first scheduled Dubai-Tel Aviv flight

Updated 7 min 57 sec ago

Flydubai launches first scheduled Dubai-Tel Aviv flight

  • The Dubai carrier will fly the route twice daily
  • Israeli airlines El Al and Israir are both expected to launch their commercial services between the cities next month

DUBAI: Budget airline flydubai on Thursday launched direct flights to Tel Aviv, the first scheduled commercial service between the two cities, following the normalization of ties between the UAE and Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be on hand for the arrival of the inaugural flight after its nearly four-hour trip, his spokesman said.
“PM Netanyahu will attend this morning the welcoming ceremony for the first @flydubai commercial flight that will arrive at Ben-Gurion International Airport,” Ofir Gendelman said in a tweet.
“These are the fruits of peace Dear Emirati tourists, welcome to Israel!”
The United Arab Emirates in September signed a landmark US-brokered deal to formalize relations with Israel, the first such agreement by an Arab state in the Gulf.
With their economies hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE and Israel are hoping for rapid dividends from the normalization deal, including an influx of tourists as Dubai enters its winter high season.
“The start of scheduled flights will contribute to economic development and create further opportunities for investment,” flydubai CEO Ghaith Al-Ghaith said when the service was announced earlier this month.
The Dubai carrier will fly the route twice daily, and Israeli airlines El Al and Israir are both expected to launch their commercial services between the cities next month.
Etihad Airways, based in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, has said it will begin flying to Tel Aviv in March 2021.
The UAE became only the third Arab country to normalize ties with Israel, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
The two countries have already signed treaties on visa-free travel — although that is yet to come into force — along with accords on investment protection, science and technology.
Since the historic agreement, Bahrain and Sudan have followed suit and agreed to forge ties.
The agreements shattered a longstanding Arab consensus that there should be no normalization with Israel until it reaches a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.
After the UAE deal was announced by President Donald Trump in August, El Al flew a delegation of US and Israeli officials — led by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — to Abu Dhabi in a historic direct service between the two countries.
That was followed by an official visit by a UAE delegation to Tel Aviv as well as a string of charter flights carrying business groups.