Iraq: Kirkuk Oil Flowing Fast, But Locals Never See Any Money

Shalaw Mohammed (Niqash)
The province of Kirkuk exports millions of barrels of oil per month. But nobody knows where the money is going – and as a result, local protesters say they will try to stop oil exports soon.
28.01.2016  |  Kirkuk
Bai Hassan field in Kirkuk. (photo: شالاو محمد)

Bai Hassan field in Kirkuk. (photo: شالاو محمد)

The northern city of Kirkuk and its surrounds are well known for their oil producing abilities. And locals know that thousands of barrels of oil are being extracted and exported from their area. But nobody seems to be seeing any kind of revenues from that oil.

The Kirkuk authorities say they have received none of Iraq’s “petrodollars” for almost two and a half years.

This is how the system should work: An agreement between Baghdad and the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan says that the Kurdish should send their oil, and the oil from Kirkuk, through the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, which transports crude from Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey. Revenues from these exports are supposed to go to Iraq’s central State Organization for Marketing of Oil, or SOMO, and from there it should be distributed back to Iraqi Kurdistan and other provinces, as a portion of the federal budget. In Iraqi Kurdistan’s case it is supposed to be 17 percent of the federal budget.

However this has not been happening in the agreed upon way for some time now.

“Kirkuk isn’t receiving its fair share because of the ongoing conflicts between Erbil and Baghdad,” says Ahmed al-Askari, a Kurdish member of the provincial council in Kirkuk who also heads the council’s oil and gas committee. “We are not happy about this or about the Iraqi Kurdish policies on this. We don’t know how much oil is being exported and we know that Baghdad isn’t giving Kirkuk its rightful share of the federal budget. For some of 2013 and all of 2014 Baghdad didn’t send us any money. In 2015 Kirkuk’s oil was sold directly by the Iraqi Kurdish government. Neither group of authorities is telling us who has our oil money,” he complains.

“Over the past two and half years, Kirkuk has fallen into debt to the tune of between a trillion (around US$766 million) and 100 million Iraqi dinars (around US$76,000),” says Jamal Mawloud, the head of the provisional council’s financial committee. “If the governments in Baghdad and Kurdistan don’t send us our budget, this financial crisis will continue on into 2016.”

In Kirkuk province there are five oil fields – the Jambour, Khabaza and Baba Gurgur fields, which are controlled by Iraq’s own North Oil company, part of the Iraqi Ministry of Oil and headquartered in Kirkuk, and the other two fields – Bai Hassan and  Havana – which are run by Iraqi Kurdistan’s Ministry of Natural Resources.

According to figures published by various government bodies, Kirkuk province exports around 340,000 to 400,000 barrels of oil per day.

“The citizens of Kirkuk have been following up on Kirkuk’s provincial budget,” one official at the Ministry of Natural resources told NIQASH, on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to comment on the matter. “They are accusing everyone involved – the central government, the regional government and the governor of Kirkuk – of hiding the facts. These bodies have control of the oil and the budget and nobody knows anything about where the revenues are going.”

“The central government, the Iraqi Kurdish government and the governor of Kirkuk have all refused to respond to our enquiries about revenues coming from Kirkuk’s oil,” says Adham Juma, a member of new civilian action group on oil that founded two months ago. “That’s why citizens here believe that there is actually a secret agreement not to talk about Kirkuk’s oil money.”

“We have given the governor some time to come back to us with further information,” Juma continued. “If he does not clarify this, we will start organizing demonstrations and we are also going to try and impede the export of Kirkuk’s oil.”

NIQASH also tried to contact Kirkuk’s governor, Najmiddin Karim, but his office did not return the calls.

In Istanbul, Meeting The Iraqis About to Take Illegal Route Into Europe

Nawzat Shamdeen (Niqash)
During a visit to Istanbul’s “small city of Arabs” neighbourhood, NIQASH’s correspondent meets three friends who fled Islamic State-controlled Mosul and who are about to try to get to Europe, to seek asylum.
6.01.2016  |  Istanbul

As the day surrenders to darkness, Aksaray Square in the Turkish capital city, Istanbul, becomes a launchpad for the dreams of hundreds of Iraqis and Syrians desperately seeking a better life in Europe. The neighbourhood of Aksaray – or the small city of Arabs, as Turkish locals call it – looks like any busy neighbourhood in Baghdad or Damascus, with its cheap cafes and hotels filled with Arabs. And it is there that people smugglers meet with their clients to negotiate fares, and from there too, that would-be refugees are taken to the coast in order to make the illegal and perilous sea crossing to European shores.

I met there with three young men originally from the city of Mosul in northern Iraq; Mosul was taken over by the extremist group known as the Islamic State in June 2014 and has been controlled by the group ever since. Life is not good for residents of Mosul who don’t agree with the draconian philosophy of the Islamic State, or IS, group and many locals have tried to escape. These three young men are among them and one of them is a friend, a journalist named Abdul Muhaymin Bassel. When we met, the trio had already negotiated with a Syrian people smuggler and were supposed to meet him near the train station in Aksaray Square.

“From death…to death,” Abdul called to me, joking as he climbed aboard.

The people smuggler had told them to buy life jackets, rain coats and to carry only a small sports bag of their belongings. These are the only things allowed on the boats that will be used to carry them from Turkey to Greece. The items are sold everywhere here, with pictures displayed on signs outside dozens of small shops in lanes around Aksaray Square.

The people smuggler’s name is Tariq and he is in his late thirties. By the time he meets my friends, he has collected all of his clients for this journey after making a series of telephone calls. He left nine of them, including the three from Mosul, standing in the Square while another five were taken to an empty space underneath a bridge where he negotiated payment and departure dates in relative privacy. Prices are set by Tariq, who is successful, a big name in local smuggling circles, and non-negotiable – it costs US$1,300 for the trip and this includes the bus to the coast. Other people smugglers charge more per person – between US$2,500 and US$3,000 – and they say the would-be migrants will cross on a bigger boat. But this can often be a more complex process as the bigger boats are more likely to be stopped by the coastguard. Cheap rubber boats are faster and tend to encounter less official resistance, even though they are also more dangerous.

To hide his clients, Tariq divides them into three groups before they begin walking to the bus that will take them to the coast.

Tariq wouldn’t allow me to travel on the bus with my friends. And Abdul waved goodbye as he boarded the bus. “From death…to death,” the 25-year-old called to me, joking as he climbed aboard. He was referring to the fact that he and his friends, Omar, 22, and Moheb, 30, had all escaped death in Mosul, where the IS group have killed many local journalists, but that they were now facing death again, as they attempted to get to Europe. They have left their families behind in Iraqi Kurdistan and also in Turkey. How Abdul sees it: This voyage is just another journey, another adventure, that he must survive.

At around 10pm the bus left, heading for Izmir on the Turkish coast. Abdul promises to keep in touch with me by phone and Internet.

Rumour has it there are gangs on the road preying on migrants, stealing their money and sometimes even body parts.

The bus drove for nearly five hours, Abdul told me later, and Tariq got off and on at short stops. More passengers joined the bus, including women and children, and Tariq would also stop and talk to drivers of small cars he met with on the road – Abdul assumed they were lookouts. “It was like we were being kidnapped,” Abdul said, referring to rumours that there were gangs on the road preying on migrants, stealing their money, possessions and sometimes even body parts, before dumping the corpses in remote areas.

The bus stopped in a dark and lonely place and the smugglers ordered the passengers off the bus, telling them to switch off their cellphones and not to make any noise. In one long line they all walked through a ghostly forest for about an hour. When they got near the coast, they were told to wait. The smugglers could see the lights of the Turkish coastguard but they were waiting for a signal of their own too.

As soon as they received that signal, they swung into rapid action, inflating a rubber boat, attaching an outboard motor to it, as well as tyres and ropes. Then they set off for Greece – there were 49 people on the boat, which was about ten meters long.

And these migrants were lucky. They made it without any problems, Abdul told me later. “And when we got to Greece they gave us food and water, with a smile,” he says. From the coast of Greece, the trio of ex-Mosul locals were on their own. Abdul says the refugees share information with another continuously on social media and on messaging apps. He says their next moves were guided by one message telling them that the borders to Croatia are open but that there might be potential delays at the borders to Slovenia. “Be aware that the authorities may try and take you to the Hungarian border. To get to Croatia, buy a ten Euro ticket to the Serbian town of Šid then walk into Croatia. The nearest village is Tovarnik. There you will find help,” the message said.

After two days of non stop travelling, the three friends shared a hotel room for the night before moving onto Athens the following night, then to Thessaloniki on the border of Greece and Macedonia. At the train station there, Abdul estimates there were about 600 others trying to catch a train. The train, when they finally got on it, stopped at the last station on the Serbian border and then they joined a crowd of others and walked about another ten kilometres. The trio panicked when they saw Serbian troops – but in fact, Abdul reports, the soldiers were kind and told them which way to go. Then followed a taxi ride, a bus ride and then another taxi ride until the group reached Belgrade.

From Belgrade, they took a bus to the Croatian border, walked for five hours in a mountainous area and then at the Croatian border were hoping to catch the train. But the messages on social media were not private. “And we were so surprised to see about a thousand people all at the station waiting for the same train,” Abdul adds. The train was supposed to go to Slovenia and then Austria but instead it detoured to Hungary. Rumours about how harshly the Hungarian authorities treated migrants made everyone panic, as well as stories about how being an illegal immigrant could get you thrown into a Hungarian prison for three years – but their fears turned out to be baseless. After waiting several hours at the Hungarian border, the migrants were told that they could catch the next train to Austria, which would seat as many as 1,400 people and they were also offered a free lunch.

Many Iraqis who made the dangerous journey to Europe have decided their lives were better back home and they want to return.

Seven hours later, the trio were in Vienna. And it was here that they say they first felt some relief and some sense of the freedom they had so desperately been seeking, Abdul says. In Vienna they were told they could stay in Austria but that they were also free to leave. The trio decided they wanted to go to Sweden and after spending a night in one of the refugee camps in Germany, they travelled onwards. All three are now in Sweden applying for asylum.

Speaking to Abdul on Skype in Sweden, he is filled with optimism and describes the 13-day voyage as one of the most dangerous and most important in his life. He says that he and his friends were very lucky to have made it because they know plenty of other Iraqis who haven’t been able to make this journey – either they were stopped by security services, or their boat floundered (leading, in some cases, to fatalities) or they were tricked by people smugglers.

However, Abdul counters, since arriving in Europe he and his friends have also met plenty of Iraqis who say they want to return to Iraq, or who are seriously thinking about doing that. Ahmed Jamal, the spokesperson for the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirms this, saying that 7,500 temporary passports have been sent to Iraqi missions in Europe in order to facilitate the return of Iraqis who want to come back voluntarily, who had changed their minds about staying in Europe; widely publicized decisions by some European governments meant that Iraqis didn’t want to stay, and the passports were sent because often applying for asylum involves surrendering one’s own passport.

Speaking to other Iraqis in Scandinavia who are hoping for asylum in Europe, it becomes clear that many of them realise that their situation is somewhat precarious. Those from the south and from the north of Iraq may have lost hope that their lives will ever get better in Iraq and there may be ongoing daily dangers to survive. But in general they are not considered to be in as much danger as, say, Syrians or Palestinians who are applying for asylum. Many of these Iraqis will eventually be denied asylum. Some Iraqis have eventually discovered that their lives in Iraq were actually much better than they seemed to be in northern Europe, where they cannot speak the language, are unemployed and dependent on local bureaucracy.

As yet my friend Abdul is not one of these Iraqis. Despite any hardships Abdul, who is currently in Malmo, Sweden, with a temporary residency permit, may face, he says he will not go back to Iraq – unless he is forced to.

For Iraqi Minorities, ‘Immigration No Longer A Choice, It’s Inevitable’

Saad Salloum (Niqash)
In an interview, Raad Jabar al-Khamis, a representative of the Sabean-Mandaean minority, talks about why all minorities in Iraq will leave the country over the next decade.
14.01.2016  |  Baghdad

Raad Jabar al-Khamis has held many senior political positions on behalf of Iraq’s Sabean-Mandaean minority. The Sabean-Mandaeans are a tiny minority in Iraq, characterised by ancient rituals that cross between Christianity and Islam. Despite the fact that this minority has been able to secure one of the quota seats, dedicated specially to the country’s minorities, in Iraq’s Parliament, al-Khamis says that this is largely symbolic and that Mandaeans have no real political power thanks to power sharing deals between the country’s larger ethnic and sectarian groups. As it is, it probably doesn’t matter anyway, he says. The way things are going all members of Iraq’s minorities, and especially the ones like his, will have left the country during the next decade.

NIQASH: The Mandaeans are well known for running the minority’s affairs in a particularly democratic way. Can you tell us more about this?

Raad Jabar al-Khamis: This is true. In fact, we have three different leadership organisations. These are the Mandaean Spiritual Council , the Mandaean General Assembly and the Community Affairs Council. All of these were originally formed in the 1980s and each one represents the different social groups within the minority. For example, the Spiritual Council is composed of clergy and headed by the Mandaeans’ spiritual leader, Satar Jabar Helo. Meanwhile the General Assembly represents members of all the different family groups or tribes and these representatives have been elected by their own families. This council is like the Mandaeans’ own Parliament, of sorts. And finally the Community Affairs Council is another kind of authority, with members coming from the General Assembly. This body manages the more general, custodial affairs of all Mandaeans

Many religious and social leaders have already left Iraq. That makes every other Mandaean want to leave too.

NIQASH: In terms of these democratic processes, how did you end up being elected the Mandaean representative on Baghdad’s provincial council?

Al-Khamis: We hold other internal elections inside our community to select the candidates who will take up the special minority quota seats. I competed and won, which is how I got the job as Mandaean representative on Baghdad’s provincial council.

NIQASH: It doesn’t seem like the interests of the Mandaean minority are particularly well represented by any of Iraq’s political parties. Have you thought about starting your own party?

Al-Khamis: We haven’t done this as yet. Some Mandaeans have joined left wing parties, as have members of other Iraqi minorities. But we did start a committee composed of between nine and 15 members, whose job was to try and build bridges and to encourage cooperation with decision makers in other parties, as well as to represent the Mandaean people in any political forums. We believe this fills the political gap.

NIQASH: Do these different groups work together at all?

Al-Khamis: There’s a lot of coordination between the religious leaders and the political committee. The clergy try not to get involved in the details of daily political affairs. Still the religious leaders have an important role to play when it comes to any candidacies. While the final decisions should be made democratically by the Mandaean General Assembly, there’s no doubt that if the clergy accept a candidate this is seen as an endorsement.

NIQASH: The Mandaeans have had a quota seat – one that is automatically given to a Mandaean politician – in the Iraqi Parliament for several elections now. How do you feel about the minority’s participation in Iraqi politics?

Al-Khamis: In reality our participation is symbolic. It has no significant political weight and there is no real or active participation in the political process. The Mandaeans are not represented in any of Iraq’s federal ministries, we don’t even have one general manager. The only high-ranking position we can get is as the general manager of the endowment for Christians, Yazidis and Mandaeans [the body taking financial care of the minorities’ religious buildings]. This is really disturbing because the Mandaeans are one of the oldest religious groups in Iraq.

NIQASH: So what would the Mandaeans like to see happening?

Al-Khamis: We would like to participate in the political process without marginalization or exclusion. However the power sharing deals between the major political groups in this country – the Sunni Muslim parties, Shiite Muslim parties and the Iraqi Kurdish – don’t allow minorities to make any real progress or to participate.

Personally I believe that giving Mandaeans responsibility for a service- provision ministry would give us an opportunity to serve our country. But I also think this is impossible at this stage.

NIQASH: What do you think the future holds for Mandaeans in Iraq?

Al-Khamis: In the past we were just worried that all Mandaeans would leave Iraq. But now we think that Iraq will actually lose all of its minority groups within the space of ten years – and ten years is optimistic. Many Mandaeans have already left the country and this includes religious and social leaders. That makes every other Mandaean want to leave too. Immigration is no longer a matter of choice. It is an inevitable reality.

Activists’ detention renewed, call to revoke Wael Ghoneim’s nationality dismissed

Policemen and people walk in front of the main gate of Tora prison, where former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli are held at, in the outskirts of Cairo June 4, 2012. Egypt's general prosecutor lodged an appeal on Sunday against the acquittal of six senior police officials charged with the killing of protesters during the uprising against Mubarak, an assistant to the prosecutor said. Mubarak and al-Adli were sentenced to life in prison on Saturday for their role in the killings. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh  (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW)

Policemen and people walk in front of the main gate of Tora prison, where former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli are held at, in the outskirts of Cairo June 4, 2012. Egypt’s general prosecutor lodged an appeal on Sunday against the acquittal of six senior police officials charged with the killing of protesters during the uprising against Mubarak, an assistant to the prosecutor said. Mubarak and al-Adli were sentenced to life in prison on Saturday for their role in the killings. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh (EGYPT – Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW)

Cairo, Jan 17 (Aswat Masriya) – A Cairo judge decided on Sunday to renew detention of Taher Mokhtar, a member of the Freedoms Committee in the Doctor’s Syndicate, and two others for 15 days pending investigations.

The three defendants, arrested on Jan.14, are accused of possessing leaflets calling for the overthrow of the regime. The leaflets featured content criminalising medical negligence in prisons coupled with calls to reform the health sector and demands to overthrow the current government, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE).

Homeland security claimed their investigations indicated that the detained individuals were attempting to incite citizens to join protests on Jan. 25, which marks the annivesary of a popular uprising that toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak after he ruled the country for 30 years.

The Cairo Administrative Court also rejected on Sunday a lawsuit filed by a lawyer who sought to revoke the Egyptian citizenship from political activist Wael Ghoneim.

Lawyer Samir Sabry accused Ghoneim of working for the “external forces” that “control and protect him.”

Ghoneim became a popular figure after the January 25 uprising. He was one of the co-founders of the well-known Facebook page created to criticise police brutality, “We are all Khaled Said”, set up in memory of a young man who was beaten to death while in police custody in June 2010.

On Saturday police forces arrested ِAhmed Youssef, a photojournalist, as he was taking a photograph of the trees next to Cairo University. Police accused him of photographing “police facilities”, in reference to police vehicle that was in the area. He was released on Sunday without any charges, according to AFTE.

Security officers also stormed the privately-owned Masr al-Arabia news website and arrested its managing editor on Jan. 14. He was released the day after pending investigations.

Egyptian poet and novelist Omar Hazek was also prevented from travelling to the Netherlands to attend the Writers Unlimited Festival, where he was set to receive the Oxfam Novib/PEN Awards for Freedom of Expression in a ceremony.

Hazek previously spent two years in prison before he was pardoned among 100 others last September by virtue of a presidential decree.

The arrests and court decisions came a little over a week before the fifth anniversary of the January 25 uprising, which toppled former president Honsi Mubarak in 2011.

Yasiin Bey Speaks Out on Arrest in South Africa

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 10.23.17 AM.png

Listen here: KanyeWest.Com

Peace, this is Yasiin

No more parties in SA
Please, tell ’em no more parties in SA

[Verse 1]
Ain’t home arrest, I don’t need to stay
I’ll leave and I’ll stay away
I committed no crime any place
Why these police up in my face?
Why they raiding my place?
Why I don’t feel safe?
This is not an expression of fear
This is just to make things clear
My intentions are pure in coming here
And that’s for everything I love or hold dear
Homie’s in the building
So is my wife and my children
I committed no crime
Why is the state wasting my time?

They must be out of their minds
I forgive ’em, that’s the spirit of divine
I just wanna go where I’m wanted
Where I’m loved, stop frontin’
Where I live is my choice, you cannot mute my voice
Thank you, Kanye West, for being a real friend, a lil’ friend
A lil’ friend
Continue reading

U.S. presidents are vandalized and called “Assassins” in Puerto Rico


War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony

The statues of four former presidents of the United States were recently smeared with red paint, and the word “Assassins” was painted on the sidewalk in front of them, in a public park in San Juan. 

Herbert Hoover, Teddy Roosevelt, and two other US presidents now have blood red eyes, foreheads, cheeks and stomachs.

Three individuals were accused of painting the presidents.

They were arrested, taken to the San Juan Police Headquarters, and a hearing in San Juan Criminal Court was set for January 24.

The statues which comprise the Paseo de los Presidentes were unveiled nearly six years ago on February 15, 2010. They depict the nine US presidents who have visited Puerto Rico: Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Barack Obama.

The Paseo de los Presidentes was built at a cost of…

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Egyptian Women Protest Minister Of Justice’s Decree On “Summer Marriages” Phenomenon

Wednesday, December 23, 2015 1:33 PM

Women protest violence against women in front of the Journalists’ Syndicate.

CAIRO Dec. 23, (Aswat Masriya) A group of 15 young women stood on the steps of the Journalists’ Syndicate on Tuesday night with black make-up around their eyes, to symbolize bruises, and signs that read, “No to violence against women.”

Aya Hosny, one of the organisers of the small protest told Aswat Masriya that the point was to oppose a new law issued by the minister of justice that “legalizes touristic marriages,” and to oppose all the types of violence that women are exposed to in shapes and forms.

Earlier this month, the minister of justice issued decree No. 9200 for the year 2015, requiring that foreign men pay 50,000 Egyptian pounds in investment certificates at the National Bank of Egypt if they wish to marry women 25 or more years younger than they are.

The decree was met with a lot of criticism from women, activists, and human and women’s rights organizations that stated the law is legalizing and facilitating what are called seasonal summer marriages or “touristic marriages” in Egypt.

The term references the phenomenon of wealthy foreign men, primarily from Gulf countries, marrying much younger Egyptian women, usually temporarily, over the summer.

Hegazy described the law in a comment to Aswat Masriya, as a decision “to sell Egyptian girls in slave markets.”

Lawyer Rabab Abdu, vice president of the Egyptian Society to Support Juveniles and Human Rights, previously said that the minister’s decision to “put a price tag on touristic marriages” flies in the face of efforts to combat human trafficking.

“Now these women can marry these men, who are decades older, only on condition that the men can afford the price. This takes place in a legal setting, with the blessing of the ministry of justice,” she told Aswat Masriya earlier.

The protest came shortly after an international awareness campaign entitled “16 days of activism against gender-based violence,” which has taken place every year from 25 November to 10 December, since 1991.

Hegazy clarified that she chose this date, after the end of the campaign, so that action for ending violence against women can continue all throughout the year.

Hala Hassan, one of the protesters, told Aswat Masriya that she was subjected to physical violence and humiliation from her now ex-husband. She added that he is unemployed and has not provided her or their child with financial support since their separation.

“I wish that the law could punish and jail any man who hits his wife, and that men in Egypt learn to respect women,” she said.

More than 30% of ex-wives in Egypt have been exposed to physical violence at the hands of their husbands, according to a Demographic Health Survey in Egypt for 2014, the state-owned Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics announced in November.

Hegazy added that the group of protestors are not driven by any political parties, or factions, but that she and a group of her journalist colleagues created this event on Facebook. The protest also received approval from the ministry of interior, the event said.

(1 dollar = 7.73 Egyptian pounds)