The advance towards Raqqa by the Kurdo-Arab alliance of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is continuing, against a background of increasing tension between Turkey and the United States. The latter continue, indeed, to support militarily their best ally in the field, the SDF, while Turkey considers that its main component, the YPG, affiliated to the Kurdish Unity Party (PYD) as an aspect of the PKK and its main enemy in Syria. The latest episode to arouse Turkey’s fury is that the Pentagon sent the SDF some armoured vehicles. Although the YPG spokesman, Redur Khalil, explained on 1st February that they were sent solely to the Arab units of the SDF (which the Pentagon confirmed) they will be, nevertheless under SDF command… On the 2nd, Ahmed Jarba, the commander of the “Syrian Elite Forces”, an Arab contingent of 3,000 fighters affiliated to the SDF at present deployed in the Deir Ez-Zor-Raqqa-Hasakeh triangle and being trained by the American Special Forces, announced that the attack on Raqqa will be solely carried out by Arabs.
Turkey was not convinced, as the SDF are increasingly approaching Raqqa, which finds itself, since the 3rd, lacking water following the destruction of its main water pipeline by American air strikes. As in Iraq at the beginning of the operation against Mosul, the two bridges over the Euphrates, allowing people to leave the city from the South, have been destroyed by air strikes to hinder jihadists’ movements, and clashes have taken place North of the city. On the 4th the SDF announced the beginning of the 3rd phase of their offensive which will totally isolate the city, mainly by cutting all paths to the East. They had during phase 2 secured the banks of the River Balikh, then the West of Raqqa and the Tabqa Dam. On the 6th they regained two villages West of Raqqa, Hadi and Natali, eliminating at least 13 jihadists, and advanced on the 8th up to two strategic hills, 11 km from the city, liberating several villages North of the Tabqa Dam. Colonel John Dorrian, spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition, announced on the 10th that the complete isolation of Raqqa was “just a matter of weeks”. On the 21st, the SDF took about fifteen villages closer to the city. It should be noted that on the 17th Russian planes carried out several strikes against ISIS around Raqqa, aiming at units and training camps. This is the second series of Russian strikes close to the city since 2015, and seems to be carried in an immediate and direct support to the SDF operation.
In contrast to this rapid progress, Turkey tried to take advantage of the political transition taking place in the USA to secure a change in its political line. The Turkish President phoned his US counterpart to propose a joint operation against Raqqa. According to the Turkish daily Hürriyet of the 18th, during a meeting at the Incirlik air base between the US Army Chief of Staff Joseph Dunford and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar, Turkey made two different proposals for a joint operation: 1- A joint attack by the two countries’ Special Forces and the Syrian rebels starting from Tell Abyad, at présent held by the multi-ethnic SDF, who would be asked to withdraw from a corridor down which the joint force would push further South; 2- An attack from al-Bab that would have meant taking a route of 180 km through a mountainous terrain. The Pentagon, for its part was unconvinced … On the 13th, Rodi Osman, PYD representative in Moscow, stated that the Kurds were perfectly able to liberate Raqqa on their own, adding that Rojava did not need any Turkish troops, who were only seeking an excuse for occupying the region …
In parallel to this, the Syrian Army, for the first time since the start of the conflict, appeared to the south of Manbij – and just south of the area where Turkey and its rebel allies are operating. This advance brought it into contact with the SDF and Talal Silo, their spokesman, pointed out that this new situation creates a potential link between Aleppo (now controlled by the government) and Manbij. This, he said, would be of benefit to the civilians of the region: the Northeast, which contains 70% of Syria’s oil and has rich agricultural land, was complementary to the West, where most of the industry is located. Silo hastened to state that there had not yet been any discussions about this with the regime, but it is understandable that the Rojava authorities would prefer as neighbour the Syrian Army, which has other priorities than fighting SDF, than the Turkish Army, which regards them as their main enemy.
The Turkish Army, which according to the Syrian Centre for Human Rights (SCHR) reinforced its troops here at the beginning of the month, is carrying out its own operation against al-Bab, where it has been literally marking time for weeks and lost 60 soldiers. On the 8th the Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, declared that the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels now controlled the outer quarters of the town. On the 9th Ankara declared it was co-ordinating with the Russians to avoid incidents, but on the 10th an air strike caused 3 dead and 11 wounded to the Turkish troops. While Russia apologised, clashes began in the Southern suburbs of the town (still held by ISIS) between pro-regime militia and Turkish-backed rebels. The latter announced on the 14th that they controlled the greatest part of the town but the SCHR announced that ISIS still controlled the city completely, accusing Turkey on the 17th of “crimes against the Syrian people”: it seems that the Turkish air strikes and shelling have since the 15th caused 45 deaths amongst the civilian inhabitants, including 14 women and 18 children, and that over 430 civilians have lost their lives in the town and surrounding villages since the start of the Turkish offensive. The Syrian Foreign Minister has also written to the UN Security Council to condemn “Turkey’s violation of Syria’s sovereignty”. On the 26th, fresh fighting broke out to the South of the town between Turkish-backed FSA units and pro-regime militia … Both camps are competing tp regain Raqqa, even though the Syrian Army seems closer to the target, but Erdoğan had included Raqqa amongst the objectives of the Turkish operation on the 17th, before repeating, on the 28th, his determination to march on Manbij once al-Bab is taken. The Turkish Army has also continued its attacks on the SDF, mainly at Tell Rifaat and, according to the YPG, the Turks have also shelled with heavy artillery two villages East of Kobané, Esafa and Qawikli. After the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmus, had declared that taking of Raqqa by the YPG was a threat to Turkey, the PYD has warned Turkey on the 16th that the Manbij Military Council was ready to resist. Turkish attacks on Tell Rifaat are continuing and, according to local sources, the Turkish Army has also advanced in the Afrin region, where it has been occupying several acres since January. Further East, in the Hassaké governorate, some Cobra helicopters have entered Rojava to bomb the village of Tell Alo, while another force was coming up against a strong resistance by Kurdish YPG fighters near the town of Amoude. The commander of the latter stated: “After three hours of sporadic confrontations the Turkish Army was forced to retreat (…) to the other side of the border”.
While the regime has emerged militarily strengthened over the last few months thanks to Russian support, especially by regaining Aleppo, the publication of a report by Amnesty International on the 7th seems to have had hardly any diplomatic impact. According to this report, between 2011 and 2015 it has executed at least 13,000 people at the rate of between 20 to 50 a week in Saïdnaya Prison, North of Damascus, nicknamed “the Slaughter-house” by its inmates. At diplomatic level precisely, activities seem to have intensified since the Russians and Turks have agreed to soft-pedal their differences, each admitting that the other would have to take part in the solution to the crisis. In the field, consequently, Moscow has let Turkey enter Syria to contain the YPG while Ankara put pressure on the rebels it supported to evacuate Aleppo. Nevertheless Russia has not aligned itself with Turkey for its position towards the PYD: according to the Sputnik News agency, a Russian Foreign Office official, Botsan-Kharchenko, recalled at a Press Conference that the PKK and PYD are not considered terrorist organisations in Russia... Besides, the diplomatic process initiated by the two with some contribution from Iran has proved difficult to advance. On the 6th, Mohammed Alloush, head of the Syrian opposition delegation to Astana, declared that it would not take part in the Geneva negotiations if its demands were not first met: release of political prisoners, guarantees regarding the cease-fire, an end to the regime’s siege of several towns held by the rebels. The discussions, that were due to start on the 15th, were postponed first by one day then to the 20th before finally starting on the 23rd…For its part, Russia has several times called for the Participation of the Kurds: on the 9th, the Russian representative to the Geneva Offices of the UN, Alexeï Borodavkin, declared that the Geneva negotiations should be a face to face between the regime and the opposition, and so should include the Kurds. The next day Sergueï Lavrov announced in Izvestia that the Russian diplomats had acted as mediators between June and December 2016 in some indirect discussions between the Damascus regime and the PYD aiming at preserving Syrian unity. He explained that the Kurdish question was one of the key factors of the unity of Syria as a State and of the stability of the Middle East as a whole. On the 27th, Mikhaïl Bogdanov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and special Presidential envoy for the Middle East, expressed himself in similar terms.
Since each of the actors has its own idea regarding which Kurds to invite, observers witnessed the reappearance in the press dispatches of the Kurdish National Council (KNC or ENKS, Encumana niştimanî ya kurdî li Sûriyê) which brings together about fifteen parties opposed to the PYD. On 1st February KNC representatives visited Masud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government to discuss the Astana discussions. Barzani, whose party, the KDP, does not recognise the Rojava administration set up by the PYD, promised to continue to support the KNC. On the 3rd, according to a Turkish diplomatic source, the KNC representatives, already present at Astana, joined some Syrian opposition members in Ankara to discuss their future participation in the Geneva negotiations. On the 13th, it was confirmed that a KNC delegation led by par Fuad Aliko would be at Geneva. On the 18th Kamiran Haj Abdo, a member of the KNC’s Foreign Relations Committee announced that a representative office would be opened in Berlin on 8 March. Finally, on the 27th, a KNC delegation led by Ibrahim Biro arrived at Washington to discuss federalism in Syria and relations with the PYD — in particular the question of the “Syrian Peshmergas”, affiliated to the KNC, the “Roj Force”. About 3 to 5 thousand strong, these Kurdish deserters from Damascus regime’s Army, are at present taking part alongside the KRG forces in the fight against ISIS on Iraqi territory. The PYD, which feigns to regard them as part of the Free Syrian Army (with some groups of which it has fought in the past) refuses to let them return to Rojava unless they enter the YPG, which it considers Rojava’s only official army. It should be noted that, according to its official spokesman, Major Siva Deriki, the Roj Rorce has rejected the PYD’s demand that they go and oppose the Turks at Jerablus but also one from the Turks to take part in the operations against al-Bab… If the PYD considers that the KNC does not represent the Kurds but rather the Syrian Opposition, as his co-President, Salih Muslim, stated on the Ronahî TV, the KNC members inversely, do not recognise the administration set up by the PYD and thus refuse to ask its authorisation to before organising rallys or demonstrations — which regularly leads to their being arrested. Thus Alan Ahmed was arrested on 15 August 2016 while he was covering, for the Yekiti Party’s media, the funeral of a Peshmerga killed in the operation against Mosul. In November as several were released from jail during a visit by Bernard Kouchner and Peter Galbraith, there was hope for a reduction of tension — only to see them rise again after an attack, at Qamishli, of a KNC demonstration by pro-PYD youth. Other arrests and releases took place in the course of February.
This recurrent tension between the PYD and the KNC had already led last January 270 Syrian Kurdish journalists and activists to publishe an appeal for negotiations, the “Bremen Appeal”. The Movement for a Democratic Society (Tevgera Civaka Demokratîk, TEV-DEM), the coalition the officially runs Rojava and of which the PYD is the dominant member had welcomed the initiative… and demanded that the KNC join its federal project. The KNC had replied in return by demanding a return to the Erbil and Dohuk agreements, which had provided for the creation of a “Supreme Kurdish Council” including, in theory, both the KNC and the PYD. However the PYD, the only body having any fighters and thus controlling the field, never really took this seriously. The KNC also demanded the release of its political prisoners held in Rojava.
On the 10th, President Erdogan unsurprisingly endorsed the constitutional reform passed by Parliament, which will thus be submitted to a referendum. The next day the Electoral Commission announced that this would take place on 16 April. The country is thus going through the last act of the process so much desired by Erdoğan — the extreme strengthening of his power.
Faced with this process, some increasingly numerous voices are being raised outside the country, to express their concern. On the 29th of the previous month the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had declared its fear that the revised constitution no longer guarantees “the separation of powers and (…) the independence of justice, which are necessary for democratic societies”. On the 3rd, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel used an official visit to Ankara to have dinner with some HDP members of Parliament. The head of the HDP parliamentary group, Idris Baluken, and the head of its International Relations, Hisyar Ozsoy, and the Mardin M.P. Mithat Sancar told her that the best means of resolving the long term refugee problem was not “a short-sighted agreement” (with Turkey) but a political resolution of the Kurdish question… On the 21st, after the Turkish authorities had forbidden, on the 17th, a Council of Europe delegation to visit Demirtaş in prison, the HDP filed a request to the European Court for Human Rights describing the imprisonment of its two co-Presidents as a “violation of the right to freedom, security and freedom of expression”. The HDP accuses the government of having imprisoned, without any legitimate motive, all those whose voices risked being heard in opposing the Constitutional changes that Erdoğan wanted.
Nevertheless, the arresting of HDP elected representatives have followed one another throughout the month. On the 1st, two M.P.s from Şanlıurfa, Dilek Öcalan (a niece of Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the PKK) and Ibrahim Ayhan were jailed on the grounds of “terrorist propaganda” because they had attended the funeral of a PKK fighter. While, on the 4th the former mayor of Mardin, Ahmet Türk, 74-years of age, who had played an important role in the negotiations between the PKK and the government, stripped of office and jailed last November on charges of terrorism, was released for health reasons, the M.P. Leyla Zana was briefly stopped by the police in Diyarbekir to testify before the Court in an enquiry initiated by the Public prosecutor of Ağrı. She was then released on bail. Leyla Zana had spent 10 years in prison charged with links with the PKK for having spoken in Kurdish while being invested as M.P. in 1999 then was freed in 2004 and re-elected in 2011.
On the 6th, an anti-ISIS operation was launched, according to the Anatolia News Agency, in 29 of Turkey’s 81 provinces — 763 people were arrested and arms, ammunition and documents were seized. According to the police, ISIS was preparing an attack. The operation may have been decided following the revelations of the perpetrator of the 1st January attack in Istanbul, Abdulgadir Masharipov, who was captured alive. Then on the 13th it was the PKK sympathisers who were targeted, with 544 people arrested in 25 provinces and the major cities of Istanbul and Izmir. According to the HDP Executive Council, more than 318 of its members, including provinces and districts council members and co-presidents, were arrested in the towns and provinces of Istanbul, Izmir, Van, Adana, Adıyaman, Kocaeli, Siirt, Bingöl, Malatya, Bursa and Ağrı. Then, still according to Anatolia, on the 14th, the anti-terrorist police arrested 86 people suspected of links with the PKK in several early morning raids. On the 16th the Prosecution called for 23 years in prison for the HDP spokesman and M.P. for Kars, Ayhan Bilgen, placed in temporary detention on 31 January, and 15 years for Ferhat Encü, M.P. for Şırnak
On the 17th a delegation organised by the EU-Turkey Civic Commission, including European and American citizens and members of the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, academics, journalists and members of civil society organisations was forbidden to visit the imprisoned HDP co-President Selahattin Demirtaş. The written demand was sent to the Turkish Minister of Justice but having received no reply, the Prison authorities would not let the delegation enter. One of the delegation, T. J. Milley, of Cambridge University, made a public déclaration in the delegation’s name before the Edirne Prison, demanding that the peace process be resumed and denouncing Öcalan’s detention, stating that “the Kurdish movement for freedom cannot be defeated by military means and a “political solution must be found”. “We will continue to return until we obtain the authorisation to meet our imprisoned colleagues”.
On the 21the head of the HDP Parliamentary group, Idris Baluken, was again arrested in Ankara after a Diyarbekir Court had issued a warrant for his arrest. Parliament had deprived the HDP co-President, Figen Yuksekdağ, of her status of as Embower of Parliament because she was found guilty in 2013 of “PKK propaganda” and the Prosecutors demanded a sentence of 23 years in prison for Yuksekdağ for “inciting violence” and “propaganda for a terrorist organisation”. On the 22 the Dogubayazit Court sentenced Selahattin Demirtaş to 5 months jail for “insulting the State”. On the 24 the HDP appointed a new spokesman in place of Ayhan Bilgen: Osman Baydemir, Member for Şanlıurfa and former mayor of Diyarbekir Province between 2004 and 2014.
Other targets for repression: journalists, and especially those who have published news about relatives of the Turkish President and the suspicions of corruption that surround them, or those who gave evidence of acts of violence by members of the police and security forces in the country’s Kurdish Provinces. An example of this is Deniz Yücel, a correspondent of the German paper Die Welt, who has double nationality, German and Turkish. First arrested on the 14th for having taken up the email published by a group of Turkish hackers covering the accounts of Berat Albayrak, Minister of Energy and the Turkish President’s son in law, he saw his interrogation drifting onto reports made at Cizre and Yüksekova and his interviews with Cemil Bayık, co-president of the KCK (the PKK’s political wing) Executive Council, going back to 2015. He was arrested again on the 27th, this time for “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” and “inciting violence”.
The violence that is indeed also continuing. From the guerrillas, two attacks this month have taken the lives of civil servants: at Viranşehir, in Şanlıurfa Province on the 18th, a remote-controlled explosion of a bomb placed under a car in the garden of an apartment building housing Judges and Public Prosecutors killed a child and a member of staff and injured 17 others. This attack was not immediately claimed. On the 27th, PKK activists exploded a bomb as a freight train passed by in Diyarbekir and caused the derailing of several wagons. There were no casualties. As for the violence carried out by the state, it has also been continuing. The Turkish Air Force has unceasingly carried out air strikes against alleged PKK positions in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan: in the Sidakan district on the evening of the 7th, repeated on the 18th, 19th, and 20th. According to the PKK, these strikes caused 4 death and 5 injured in its ranks. The Air Force announced on the 21st that they had destroyed 10 caves and shelters used by the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan and in the Turkish provinces of Hakkari. In the morning of the 22nd, it stuck the Amêdî region to the Northwest of Dohuk Province (the inhabitants having evacuated the targeted villages), then in the afternoon of the 22nd at Qandil as on the 27th at the Avasin-Baysan region. The Turkish Army has continued its operations in Turkish Kurdistan as well: on the 19th the HDP issued a communiqué expressing concern about the situation in the village of Xirabê Baba (Kuruköy), in the Mardin-Nusaybin district. A curfew imposed on 1st Febuary on 9 villages in the region was lifted for 8 of them but maintained at Xirabê Baba. There has been no news from it for 9 days while rumours are circulating on the net about burning houses and extra-judicial killings as well as rather worrying videos, allegedly shot by soldiers, while a delegation from the HDP was refused access to the village. According to a Peace in Kurdistan dispatch dated 20th, 3 inhabitants were executed, 39 tortured and there are no news of 2 others.
Faced with the repression and the acts of violence, Europe has, so far limited itself to verbal condemnations without being able to reach any political decision either of sanctions or the official suspension of the process of Turkish membership accession. Will this pusillanimous attitude continue if Turkey becomes, institutionally the “post-modern Sultanate” that Erdoğan is dreaming about? It will them be a bit late for any action…
On the military level, the Iraqi Army, after regaining 15 villages from ISIS started shelling the West part of Mosul on the 18th, after dropping millions of leaflets warning the inhabitants that the attack was imminent. The attack itself began on Sunday 19th. The Iraqi troops did not attempt to cross the river within the city, as this way was too exposed, but advanced from the South towards the former International Airport, which, once taken, could serve as a base for the rest of the operation. The officers, however, expect a more difficult battle than they had in East Mosul, especially in the old city, with its narrow streets, which armoured vehicles cannot enter and in which many civilians are still living. Indeed, UNO stated that it feared that 400,000 of them would become displaced persons. The fight will thus be hard — even though the estimation is that over a thousand Jihadists had been eliminated during the phases that preceded the offensive, ISIS still has some 5,000 fighters.
The fighting began round the Airport on the 20th and the Iraqis announced on the morning of the 23rd that they had penetrated it before announcing later they controlled it completely. On the 24th, at the cost of some very tough fighting, they entered Al-Maamoun, a West Mosul quarter. On the 25th they continued advancing through the Southern quarters of West Mosul while a thousand civilians succeeded in escaping. On the same day, the Kurdish Rûdaw television announced that it reporter, Shifa Gerdî, had been killed by a bomb as her car drove past it and her cameraman had been wounded. Gerdi, a Kurdish woman journalist, is the second Iraqi journalist killed covering the battle for Mosul, the first being last October. On the 27th the Iraqis took the Southernmost bridge across the Tigris. Damaged by air strikes, it could still, once repaired or complemented by a floating bridge, enable reinforcements come to the West bank to advance into the parts of the city still held by ISIS. Once again a thousand civilians, mostly starving and thirsty, reached the government lines after marching for an hour across the desert.
On the 24th the Iraqi Air Force hit ISIS in Syrian territory for the first time, the Iraqi authorities declaring that they were ready to continue if necessary. The jihadists still show themselves to be determined fighters, offsetting their inferior numbers by using drones that they modify in a dozen small workshops before sending them towards the enemy lines to obtain information or carry out suicide attacks. They unceasingly try to organise fresh attacks like the booby-trapped car that caused 48 deaths in Baghdad on the 16th. On the 1st, the Asayish (Kurdish security) had already announced having arrested on the night of 3rd January six people in a village suspected of preparing an attack on the city and on the 12th five others in the Hawija district who were trying to join ISIS.
Economically as well as politically, the Kurdistan Regional Government is still facing a crisis. Not having received its share of the Federal budget from Baghdad since 2014 (a billion dollars monthly) it has had to struggle to finance its expenses, including the wages of over 1.3 million civil servants. On 1st February, however, it announced that its new biometric paying system, which identifies the civil servants by their fingerprints, had revealed a great number of abuses, some of them receiving up to 5 salaries! Moreover the spokesman of the KRG, Safîn Dizayî, recently estimated that only 740,000 of the 1.4 million civil servants were really carrying out useful work… On the 7th, President Barzani ordered all Peshmergas to register under this system if they wanted to be paid. On the 15th the Region’s Presidency published a report on the economic reforms achieved to date, indicating, inter alia, that payments to 23,000 people and pensions of 20,000 others had been stopped as well as the buying of vehicles for senor officials and petrol for electric generators, previously costing 2 to 3 billion dollars. Finally enquiries have been started into about 20 senor officials suspected of having enriched themselves in a suspect manner and some Army commanders. In addition to salary cuts, the KRG also cancelled 89 projects. The result on the annual budget of nearly 5.4 billion dollars (80% of which comes from oil sales) is that the expenses, that in 2013 “weighted” about 10 billion dollars have been reduced to a shade over 5.5 billion. According to the Kurdistan Investments Commission, in 2016 these were at their lowest for the last six years, at 2 billion dollars against four the year before.
Although the KTG spokesman. Safîn Dizayî, announced, on the 24th, that economic perspectives for 2017 being better, the reductions in wages could perhaps be partially or even totally stopped, the economic stagnation has undeniably had consequences on the population’s morale. According to the Minister for Social Affairs, Muhammad Hawdiani, since 2003 almost 55,000 people had returned to Kurdistan after years in exile in the West, but after the deterioration of finances, two years ago, a fresh wave of young Kurds has left for foreign countries to seek a better life. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Migration, over 25,000 people of Kurdistan origins, mainly young men, have left the country since 2015 to seek asylum in European countries, but the figures could be even higher. One of the unforeseen consequences of this situation is some renewed interest for agricultural activity. The volume of agricultural exports from Kurdistan has considerably increased, with 380,000 tons in 2016 and on the 21st the KRG’s Ministry of Agriculture announced it was planning to end taxes on exporting agricultural products to neighbouring countries and to propose helping sellers with transport to help maintain exportations.
On the political field, this is still a period of inter-party discussions to try and find a breakthrough to end the internal crisis, without much result yet, even though discussions recently held between the KDP and the PUK show the possibility of a reactivation of the Kurdish Parliament in the spring. Moreover, internal discussions within the PUK are continuing, with the resignation, on the 10th, of an important member of the Political Committee, Azad Jundiani. A meeting took place on the 12th between the leaders of the two opposed PUK factions to try and bring their views closer. A Political Committee communiqué announced other meetings were being pursued. On the 14th the PUK-Gorran joint orientation committee, created during the signing of their agreement of last 17 May, met in the Gorran offices in Suleimaniyah to try and decide whether the PUK could reach a fresh agreement with the KDP to form a new government. The PUK, still torn between its relations with the KDP and Gorran, had indicated to the KDP that it would have discussions with it after its meeting with Gorran. On the 25th the PUK published a series of proposals for resolving both the political and financial crises that are paralysing the Kurdistan Region. Making a point about the importance of relations between the PUK and the KDP, the document declares that they must be renewed and developed, while remaining open to the idea of re-unification with Gorran. It puts forward an order of priorities: 1- Resolution of the internal political and financial crises; 2- Applying Article 140 of the 2005 Constitution; 3- Holding the referendum on independence.
Regarding the Region’s Presidency, the PUK proposes that the parties reach a majority agreement on a candidate and set up an orientation committee to make the decisions needed until the elections. Regarding the management of oil and the future of Kurdistan, the PUK notes that these issues cannot be resolved without a political settlement with Baghdad since most of the oil resources are in the disputed territories. The PUK calls for defining a timetable for carrying out Article 140 of the 2005 Constitution, delayed by Baghdad for 9 years, an article which specified the mechanism for settling this very question. Regarding the referendum on independence, described as a democratic right and a national duty, the PUK proposes to place it under the supervision of the United Nations or other international agencies, and to hold it at the same time as Parliamentary and Presidential elections planned to take place this year. The PUK also suggests the use of alternative ways for exporting oil — such as Iran. A suggestion which without expressing it head-on, calls into question the exclusive route for oil export via Turkey. Concerning the social situation, the PUK suggests a law that would allow depositing onto a separate account the unpaid part of the civil servants’ salary, thus enabling it to be refunded to them at a later date.
Finally, two cases regarding Human Rights in Iraqi Kurdistan have received attention from the media in the course of this month. On the 13th, the President of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in Iraqi Kurdistan, Diya Boutros, accused the Kurdish security forces (Asayish) and the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular mobilisation units — mostly Shiite) of having tortured several children of 12 to 17 years of age suspected of links with ISIS in two detention camps, at Dibaga and Hassan Sham, to make them confess. About 200 children are said to have been detained in these camps. These accusations were refuted on the 16th by Erbil’s Head of Security, Tariq Nuri. Then the American TV Channel Fox News and Investigative Project accused the KRG’s Peshmergas of seeking to prevent the displaced Yezidis of Sinjar and Assyrians from the Nineveh plain from returning home. According to lawyers representing the Yezidi, the Kurdish authorities would allow Kurds to take over the abandoned houses. A representative of the KRG answered that the booby traps and explosives left by the jihadist had first to be defused. On the 23rd, the official in charge of answering international reports, Dindar Zebarî, refuted these accusations, explaining that retuning home had been delayed by the extent of the destruction and by the time needed to restore basic services (water and electricity) to the liberated areas. He added that the KRG regularly co-ordinated with UNO on these issues. On the same day, the KRG representative in the United States, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, declared that the KRG was not opposed to the creation of autonomous zones for the Yezidis and the Iraqi Christian minorities: “We have no problem with their autonomy”, she declared during a Press Conference at the Hudson Institute. “We have to listen to them and give them what is needed.” The question of resettling these minorities is linked to that of defining Kurdistan’s borders, the territories concerned and, in particular Sinjar, being located in the disputed territories.