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Iraq UN chief bearish on Erbil-Baghdad budget agreement

  2021-05-11  | 
 Zhyan News Network
Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert speaks in her quarterly briefing to United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in Baghdad, Iraq, May 11,2021. Photo by UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI)
 Zhyan News Network

SULAIMANI - Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert on Tuesday (May 11) stroke a bearish tone regarding a recent budget agreement between Erbil and Baghdad, over a month after the federal budget law as approved. 

Ambiguous wording will open the door to divergent interpretations and mutual accusations of non-compliance between Erbil and Baghdad, Hennis-Plasschaert said in her quarterly briefing to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

“Now, this bodes ill for the future of Baghdad-Erbil relations, and is also worrisome in the context of the upcoming elections: disagreements could easily be exploited to amplify divisions,” she said., noting a long-term constitutional way forward is needed.  

On March 31, Iraq's Council of Representative passed the belated budget bill after several delays and disputes among the political blocs, especially between the Kurdistan KRG and the federal authority.

The budget’s article 11 stipulates that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) should abide by its obligations to hand over not less than 250,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) and an amount of non-oil incomes to the federal authority.

The Region will receive 13.9 percent share from the estimated at 129 Iraqi dinars trillion ($89 billion) budget if it obeys its obligations in the budget law. Unlike the previous years, the KRG will not get any share if it fails to live up to its commitments. 

Baghdad is yet to send the first budget transfer to the Kurdistan Region.

“One thing is clear: the all-important Baghdad-Erbil relationship urgently requires sustained, strategic dialogue as well as clear-cut implementation mechanisms. I have to admit: my experiences thus far do not lend themselves to optimism in this regard,” she said. 

KRG depends on oil ales for most of its revenue as well as cash transfers from Baghdad to pay public sector employees and conduct infrastructure projects. 

The cash-strapped KRG cabinet of Prime Minister Masrour Barzani still unable to pay its wage payroll on in full without cuts following the rise of the global crude oil prices.

Throughout 2020, the KRG missed five months’ worth of salaries to its public servants and paid one in full and slashed others by either eighteen or twenty-one percent citing the COVID-19 pandemic, budget with Baghdad and low oil prices. It paid March and April salaries by 21 percent.

‘Curtailment of Free Expression in Kurdistan Region’ 

There has been a surge in concerns about the condition of the state of freedom of the press and expression in the Kurdistan Region spoken up by local and international watchdogs and foreign missions. 

The controversial case of three journalists and two activists sentenced  in February to six years in prison over controversial charges and its approval by the appellate court has 
crystallized the concerns. 

“Different, but also worrisome: the developments in the Kurdistan region in the past year. These developments give rise to concern about the active curtailment of free expression,” Hennis-Plasschaert said. 

Last summer and autumn, a number of journalists and activists, including the five, were arrested by the security forces affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Erbil in a bid to crack down protests criticism over the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) decision to delay and slash public sector salary payments amid deteriorating economic conditions.

“Critics of public authorities have risked not only intimidation, movement restrictions and arbitrary arrest, but some were also charged with defamation, and others, more recently, were prosecuted under national security laws,” she added. 

Sinjar Agreement 

In October 2020, the Iraqi federal government and the KRG inked an agreement to normalize situation in the war-ravaged Sinjar district, purportedly to remove the armed forces from the district and facilitate the return of the displaced Ezidi minority, who mostly reside in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in the Kurdistan Region.  

The agreement drew condemnations from some Ezidi groups that they were not included in the decision-making process and describe it as an agreement between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the federal government.

“Representatives of the federal and Kurdistan regional governments are engaged in discussions around the security provisions in the agreement reached last October,” the UN chief said.

“These provisions have not yet been implemented, hindering progress on administration and reconstruction,” she stated. “The absence of an institutionalized dialogue and implementation mechanism between Baghdad and Erbil is being negatively felt, fueling misperceptions and distrust.”

In early August 2014, ISIS militants rampaged through northern Iraq, especially in the areas covered the community of ethno-religious Ezidis, which sent many Ezidis fled to the safe areas in the Kurdistan Region and many went abroad. 

Not all Ezidis, seen by the ISIS as infidels, were lucky and stranded in the ISIS-occupied area that witnessed a massacre and other human rights abuses.

Several armed groups with affiliations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Iraqi government, Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and the KRG hold sway in and around the districts. 

(Zhyan English)