Iraqi Kurdistan gets new cabinet, without oil minister

Members of the Parliament of the Kurdistan region vote to nominate Masrour Barzani for Prime Minister of the Kurdistan region, in Erbil, Iraq July 10, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 10 July 2019

Iraqi Kurdistan gets new cabinet, without oil minister

  • Barzani was appointed premier nearly a month ago by his cousin Nechirvan Barzani

IRBIL: A new regional government came into power Wednesday in Iraqi Kurdistan, but the key post of oil minister remained unassigned and therefore de facto managed by new prime minister Masrour Barzani.
Barzani was appointed premier nearly a month ago by his cousin Nechirvan Barzani, who had served as prime minister for seven years before he was elected president in June.
Masrour Barzani is the son of veteran Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, who remains a crucial powerbroker in the autonomous region.
On Wednesday, 88 of the regional government’s 111-member body granted a vote of confidence to 21 new ministers.
Among them, the Barzani-led Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) was awarded nine ministerial posts.
In October 2017, the KDP spearheaded a controversial independence referendum that prompted Baghdad to reoccupy large swathes of Kurdish-held territory and led to Masoud’s resignation as president.
Nearly a year later, the party emerged victorious in regional parliamentary elections and has since cemented its control of key government posts, including the presidency, premiership and cabinet chief.
Its main rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), was awarded six ministers. Qubad Talabani, the son of PUK founder Jalal Talabani, will retain his post as deputy premier.
Four of the new ministers hail from the Goran (Change) Movement and one from the Kurdistan Socialist Party.
Based on a sectarian quota system, one post was also awarded to the region’s Christian minority.
But the ministry of natural resources — of which oil is the most important and lucrative — remains without an official head, making PM Barzani its de facto manager.
The regional government in Irbil is currently locked in a dispute over oil revenues with Iraq’s federal authorities, which insist that the KRG must hand over revenues from the 250,000 bpd it exports through the north.
In exchange, the KRG would receive a portion of the federal budget and Baghdad would pay the salaries of its employees.
The parties regularly accuse each other of failing to fulfil their obligations.
Observers have pointed out that Nechirvan Barzani’s ascent to the presidency could ease the ties between the two, but Masrour Barzani — who embodies the KDP’s more “nationalist” current — would adopt a harder line and be less willing to negotiate.
On Wednesday, PM Barzani said a delegation from Irbil would travel to Baghdad soon to strengthen ties.
Ministers would then tackle the profound financial crisis ravaging the Kurdish region’s economy in recent years.
“The government currently owes $14 billion in debts,” he said.


Lebanon family restless as it awaits missing ‘heroes’

Updated 11 August 2020

Lebanon family restless as it awaits missing ‘heroes’

  • Najib Hitti, 27, Charbel Hitti, 22 and Charbel Karam, 37, all relatives, left together in one firetruck to douse a port blaze believed to have sparked the August 4 mega-blast
  • The Hittis’ hopes of seeing their loved ones alive have dimmed since the army on Sunday said it had concluded search and rescue operations with little to no hope of finding survivors

QARTABA, Lebanon: Three firefighters. One Lebanese family. The same restless wait. Rita Hitti has not slept a wink since the Beirut port blast, when her firefighting son, nephew and son-in-law went missing.
“In one piece or several, we want our sons back,” she told AFP from the Hitti family’s home in the mountain town of Qartaba, north of Beirut.
“We have been waiting for the remains for six days,” she added, dark circles under her eyes.
Najib Hitti, 27, Charbel Hitti, 22 and Charbel Karam, 37, all relatives, left together in one firetruck to douse a port blaze believed to have sparked the August 4 mega-blast that killed 160 people and wounded at least 6,000 others across town.
They were among the first rescuers at the scene. They have not been heard of since.
Near the entrance to their Qartaba home, the three men are praised as “heroes” in a huge banner unfurled over a wall.
The double exposure shot shows them in the foreground dressed sharply in suits.
In the background, the blast’s now-infamous pink plume rises above their heads as they try to douse a fire.
An eerie calm filled the stone-arched living room, where dozens of relatives and neighbors gathered around Rita, the mother of Najib Hitti.
The women were mum, the men whispered between themselves, the young shuffled in and out of the room, quietly.
Karlen, Rita’s daughter, looked among the most sombre, with her husband Charbel Karam, brother Najib and cousin Charbel all missing.
Sitting next to her mother on the couch, she fought back tears and did not say a single word.
The Hittis’ hopes of seeing their loved ones alive have dimmed since the army on Sunday said it had concluded search and rescue operations with little to no hope of finding survivors.
The health ministry has said the number of missing stands at less than 20, while the army announced it had lifted five corpses from beneath the rubble.
A large blaze was still ripping through the blast site when the Hittis and other relatives of port employees dashed to the disaster zone to check on their loved ones.
But they were stopped by security forces.
“I told them I would know my boys from their smell,” Rita said she told an officer who barred her from the site.
“Let me enter to search for them and when I whiff their smell I will know where they are,” the mother said she pleaded.
Ever since, her hopes have gradually dwindled, but her anger is boiling.
Lebanese authorities have pledged a swift investigation but the exact cause of the blast remains unclear.
Authorities say it was triggered by a fire of unknown origin that broke out in a port warehouse where a huge pile of highly volatile ammonium nitrate fertilizer had been left unsecured for years.
Whatever the cause of the fire was, the popular consensus is that the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of officials in charge of the port as well those who have ruled Lebanon country for decades.
“We gave them heroes and they returned them to us as ‘martyrs’,” Rita said, scoffing at the label officials have used to brand blast casualties.
“What martyrs? What were they protecting? The noxious things (authorities) were hiding in the port?” she asked rhetorically.
“They are martyrs of treachery.”
George, father of Charbel Hitti, also rushed to the blast site to look for his son and relatives after the explosion.
“I started to scream their names: Najib, Charbel... I was like a mad man,” he told AFP.
“We waited until 6 in the morning the next day for clues to what happened,” he said.
“In the end, I started crying.”
He did manage, however, to get one piece of information from a port security official close to the family who was at the scene of the blaze when the firefighting team first arrived on August 4.
The security official had told him that the firefighters were trying to break open the door to the ammonium nitrate warehouse because they could not find the keys before the explosion ripped the whole place apart.
A week has since passed and George said hopes of finding the three men alive have faded.
Assuming they are dead, George said he now wants one thing: “We just want DNA test results that are compatible with those of Charbel, Najib and Charbel,” he said.
“Imagine. This is everything we now wish for.”