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.


Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

Updated 21 min 17 sec ago

Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

  • Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington
  • It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past

ANKARA: More than 420 people working at a crucial military air base in southern Turkey have lost their jobs, with some analysts considering it symbolic of decreased cooperation levels with the US and as the Pentagon reconsiders Middle East deployments.
Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington. It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past, as well as hosting US nuclear warheads.
The Colorado-based company Vectrus System Corporation, which provides day-to-day maintenance and operation services at the base, terminated the contracts of almost half of its employees at the base earlier this month.
“The base surged to support OIR,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News. “The Turkey-based staff for OIR has mostly left. So, the base is going back to its pre-OIR level of people, and that level requires less contractor support.”
Vectrus did not reply to Arab News’ request for comment about its decision to scale back at the base.
Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said the move was largely symbolic as the canceled contracts related to logistical support rather than the US military mission.
“But obviously, it comes against the background of some tensions in the US-Turkish relationship and previous hints by Ankara that it might reconsider the status of the Incirlik base,” he told Arab News. “The Pentagon is reconsidering its deployment across the Middle East and it might be looking to become less dependent on Incirlik without fully exiting this crucial military air base.”
Incirlik air base has been used in the past as a bargaining chip at times of tension between the two countries.
“Turkey may re-evaluate the status of the Incirlik Air Base if the US imposes sanctions,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month in an interview with pro-government channel A-Haber, referring to the potential fallout from Turkey’s decision to buy an air defense system from Russia. 
Washington has threatened to use its Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act to punish Ankara for buying the S-400 system.
Seth J. Frantzman, who is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said reports of the US reducing presence at Incirlik, or challenges to the US presence there, have been growing over the last years.
“Whether these reports relate to changes or are just random is unclear and it is important to note that the large interests of the military and history tend to mean the US does not simply walk away from bases, even if it reduces its role slowly over time,” he told Arab News.
The US has invested heavily in the Jordanian Muwaffaq Salti Air Base to expand its presence there.