One year since referendum crisis, Iraq's Kirkuk thrives

By Ali Mukarrem Garip

KIRKUK (AA) – One year since a controversial referendum on Kurdish regional independence, Turkmen and Arab residents in Iraq’s northern province of Kirkuk cite major progress in various fields since Iraqi government forces seized control of the oil-rich area.

“The situation is Kirkuk is getting better day by day,” Ali Mehdi, a spokesman for the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), told Anadolu Agency.

In September 2017, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) held a controversial referendum on secession of northern Iraq’s Kurdish region from the country.

The Sept. 25 vote was strongly opposed by most regional and international actors — including the U.S., Turkey, and Iran — who warned the initiative would further destabilize the region.

Following the vote, Iraqi government forces moved into several parts of the country “disputed” between Baghdad and the Erbil-based KRG, including the oil-rich Kirkuk province.

“We are now freed from the one-sided dominance of the Kurdish political parties," Omer Hussein, a local resident in Kirkuk, said.

Kirkuk had been under the control of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces for more than three years, before Baghdad seized control of the area last year.

– Thriving

Mehdi cited that kidnapping for ransom and murders have almost vanished in Kirkuk since government forces seized the oil-rich province.

“All parties should understand that Kirkuk will not be governed by one side,” he said.

He said local residents were relieved since unofficial forces affiliated to KRG and Kurdish political parties as Peshmerga and Asayish have gone.

"With the presence of government forces in the area, people’s trust into the state was ensured again,” he said. “Now, residents want to see stability, security and development.”

“A long-term solution is the greatest expectation of Turkmens. We want the International Kirkuk Airport to start flights and to have higher living standards.”

The ITF spokesman went on to call for the appointment of a Turkmen governor for the oil-rich province.

“Turkmens aspire to justice and are looking most forward to its implementation," he said.

– ‘Feeling like Iraqis’

Hatam at-Tai, a member of the Kirkuk Arab Assembly, said Arabs in the city feel like "being in their reclaimed country" since the intervention of government forces in the province.

"Looking forward to enjoying stability, the Arabs want to see free local elections, an improvement in the agricultural sector, reconstruction in the regions damaged by Daesh terrorist group and development in the building sector," he said.

ITF member Mardin Gokkaya said Kirkuk residents have been relieved for the past year.

"With government forces controlling the province, we began to feel like Iraqis," he said.

Gokkaya said the change was most visible in the security field, citing that reports about murders have almost disappeared since last year.

He called for activating the role of the Kirkuk Provincial Assembly “to contribute to the development of the province as soon as possible”.

*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara

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Jordan king approves 1st reshuffle of Razzaz government

By Laith Juneidi

AMMAN (AA) – Jordanian King Abdullah II on Thursday approved a minor reshuffle of Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz’s six-month-old cabinet, according to a statement issued by Jordan’s Royal Court.

Al-Razzaz dismissed 10 government ministers while appointing seven new people to his cabinet.

The move also saw six cabinet portfolios merged with other ministries, while a new portfolio — that of "Administrative and Institutional Development" — was created.

None of the government’s “strategic” portfolios (i.e., foreign affairs, defense, economy, etc.) were affected by the limited shake-up.

Al-Razzaz was appointed to the premiership in June, succeeding Hani al-Mulki, who stepped down from the post amid widespread demonstrations against an unpopular income tax law.

The al-Razzaz government is Jordan’s 18th government since King Abdullah assumed the throne in 1999.

Lebanese gov’t to be drawn up within days: PM-designate

By Wassim Seifeddine

BEIRUT (AA) – A state of cautious optimism now prevails among Lebanon’s leading political forces after Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s assertion that he was close to unveiling a new cabinet lineup.

Hariri on Thursday said he was “confident” that a new government — representing all of Lebanon’s main ethno-religious segments — would be unveiled within the next 10 days.

"We may be in the final stages of forming a government, as long as we adopt the right criteria," Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said at a Friday press conference.

"Everyone must make genuine concessions; we are aiming for a government of national unity," Bassil, who also leads Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement, said.

Rola Tabash Jaroudi, an MP for Lebanon’s Future Bloc, told Anadolu Agency that Hariri's assertion suggested that the country’s main political parties were working in concert.

"Hariri’s positive assertions indicate that a degree of consensus has been reached," she said.

And Bilal al-Abdullah, an MP for the Lebanese Socialist Party, told Anadolu Agency: “We hope Hariri's stated optimism about forming a government is well-founded.”

Al-Abdullah voiced his party’s willingness to make concessions in the government-formation process — as long as other parties were willing to do the same.

Ali Khreis, an MP for Lebanon’s Amal Movement, for his part, warned that delays in forming the next government would reflect negatively on the country’s social and economic situation.

"We must build a nation based on justice and equality, not on sectarian quotas and political positions," Khreis said.

Following parliamentary polls held in May, President Michel Aoun tasked Hariri, the leader of Lebanon’s Future Movement, with drawing up a new government.

Formation of the government, however, has been repeatedly postponed amid mutual recriminations and demands by certain parties for greater representation.

According to Lebanon’s constitution, the prime minister does not have a deadline for unveiling a new cabinet lineup.

As it currently stands, government posts are shared between the country’s main ethno-religious groupings, with six cabinet portfolios reserved for Sunni Muslims, six for Shia Muslims, and three for Druze.

Iraq’s al-Sadr won't propose nominees for incoming govt

By Ibrahim Saleh

BAGHDAD (AA) – Firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said Thursday that his Sairoon coalition would refrain from nominating candidates for Iraq’s incoming government.

“We have begun taking steps toward [political] reform,” al-Sadr tweeted. “We have already managed to secure the independence of the premiership.”

According to al-Sadr, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has been tasked with drawing up a new government “far from partisan pressures or sectarian or ethnic quotas”.

On Tuesday, newly-elected President Barham Salih instructed Abdul-Mahdi — an independent Shia politician — to form a new government after the latter was officially appointed to the premiership.

Abdul-Mahdi now has 30 days in which to draw up a new cabinet, which must then be presented to parliament for approval.

“Either promised reforms will be carried out gradually or the people will rise up,” al-Sadr warned, referring to ongoing protests in Iraq’s Shia-majority southern and central provinces.

Abdul-Mahdi was chosen for the premiership by Iraq’s leading political powers, including al-Sadr’s Sairoon coalition, which came in first in Iraq’s May 12 parliamentary poll, winning 54 out of 329 assembly seats.

Following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, a political quota system was set up by Paul Bremer, who at the time served as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (Iraq’s U.S.-led post-invasion interim government).

Ostensibly aimed at ensuring fair representation among Iraq’s main ethno-religious segments, the system reserves the post of president for a Kurd; that of prime minister for a Shia Muslim; and that of parliament speaker for a Sunni Muslim.

Iraq parliament to elect president on Oct. 2: Speaker

By Ali Jawad

BAGHDAD (AA) – The Iraqi parliament will choose the country’s next president on Oct. 2, Assembly Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi said Tuesday.

The two main political parties in northern Iraq's Kurdish region are both competing to obtain the post, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) nominating Barham Saleh and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) nominating Fuad Hussein.

“The deadline for electing the next president of the republic has been set for Oct. 2," al-Halbousi told members of the assembly.

On Monday, Abbas Beyatli, deputy leader of Iraq’s Turkmen Nationalist Movement, also announced his intention to vie for the post.

And on Sunday, Sirve Abdulvahid, an independent politician of Kurdish origin, likewise announced her candidacy, becoming Iraq’s first female politician to do so.

Once elected by lawmakers, the new president will task the majority bloc in parliament with drawing up a new government.

Sudan announces new government as economy struggles

By Gulsen Topcu

KHARTOUM (AA) – Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party said early Friday that a new government has been formed.

The party's vice president, Faisal Hassan Ibrahim, said in a press conference that the new ministers will assume their duties after being sworn-in at the Presidential Palace this evening and the first cabinet meeting will be held Sunday.

The government will reportedly consist of 21 federal ministers compared with 31 previously and 27 state ministers versus 47, reflecting Sudan’s efforts to cut down on spending as it grapples with a growing economic crisis.

President Omar Al-Bashir dissolved the government Sunday evening, according to the Sudan News Agency (SUNA).

Newly-appointed Prime Minister Mutaz Musa was sworn-in on Monday.

Sudan's economic crisis has deepened since January this year, with inflation surging to 65 percent amid stagnant growth.

The government of national unity was established in 2015 following general elections.

'Cyberattacks in Turkey rises 3 pct in first half'

By Tuba Sahin

ANKARA (AA) – Cyberattacks in Turkey rose 24.9 percent in the first half of 2018, up from 21.9 percent in the same period last year, according to Moscow-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab.

"If we compare the number of people affected by web-borne threats in Turkey in the first half of 2018 and the same period in 2017, there is an increase by 3 percent," Amir Kanaan, managing director for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa (META) at Kaspersky Lab, told Anadolu Agency.

Praising cybersecurity awareness in Turkey at government and enterprise level, Kanaan said the company is willing to improve cybersecurity awareness and protection in the country through sharing Kaspersky Lab's experiences.

"We are really interested in the cybersecurity initiative that the government is driving forward and we want to be a supporter for such initiative," he said.

Kanaan noted that the average cost of an attack on an enterprise was around $600,000, according to their studies.

He added that this awareness was weak at small companies and consumers level.

"For example, we did a research in Turkey and we saw that 46 percent of the respondents, that usually are on the consumer side, don’t have any kind of protection on their devices such as laptops, mobile phones and this is a little bit dangerous," Kanaan said.

He highlighted that despite the fact that cybersecurity market expands, the number of professional working on cybersecurity was still low.

– Cybersecurity program

Kaspersky has started an initiative in META region in order to increase the employment in the sector, he stated.

"We have talked with several universities for a one-year program or curriculum on cybersecurity for the students. After [attending the program], the student would get cybersecurity degree," he said.

Kanaan remarked that the company also seek for universities in Turkey to launch the program.

"In doing that we will have a big number of students that will be graduated with not only good experience but also good knowledge on cybersecurity," he said.

He stated that Kaspersky Lab aimed to focus on enterprises in Turkey.

Kanaan added that the company plans to expand their operations in Turkey by around 25 percent next year.

He noted that the company did not change its prices for all consumer security solutions despite fluctuation of the currency exchange rates in Turkey.

"Considering the unstable currency rates and difficulties that customers experienced since beginning of 2017, the company started selling its solutions and services not in U.S. dollars, but in Turkish Lira. At the moment all the prices are fixed at the current level, which represents last year’s rates," Kanaan said.

"With this offer, Kaspersky Lab once again emphasizes its commitment to Turkish market and support for customers," he added.

Macron names successors to resigned ministers

By Hajer M'tiri

PARIS (AA) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday made a mini government reshuffle to replace the resigned ministers of environment and sports.

According to an Elysee statement, Parliament Speaker Francis Rugy, a former Greens party member who joined Macron's Republic on the Move party last year, is to replace Nicolas Hulot as environment minister.

Macron lost a key figure who was pushing the government to prioritize climate-related issues.

Last year, the appointment of Hulot came as a surprise as both former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande had previously failed to convince the television star to join their respective governments.

Former swimmer, Roxana Maracineanu, a silver medalist in the backstroke at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney and a world champion in 1998, will become the minister of sports after Laura Flessel resigned on Tuesday, citing "personal reasons".

The resignations came at a time when Macron’s popularity rating dropped 10 points to reach 31 percent, according to an Ifop survey for Paris Match magazine and Sud Radio released on Tuesday.

French sports minister resigns ahead of gov’t reshuffle

By Hajer M'tiri

PARIS (AA) – France's Sports Minister Laura Flessel on Tuesday announced her resignation "for personal reasons" ahead of a cabinet reshuffle expected during the day.

"After 16 exciting months at the head of the Ministry of Sports, I made the decision to leave the Government for personal reasons," Flessel said in a statement.

The former Olympic fencer said she informed French premier Edouard Philippe of her decision "last night".

UPDATE – Lebanon PM gives president ‘formula’ for national unity

UPDATES WITH PRESIDENTIAL STATEMENT

By Wassim Saif al-Din

BEIRUT (AA) – Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday announced that he had provided President Michel Aoun with a “formula for achieving national unity”.

After a meeting with Aoun at Beirut’s Baabda presidential palace, Hariri told reporters that his formula — aimed at achieving consensus on the country’s next government — had not yet been revealed to political parties.

He added that consultations among the country’s main political parties were still underway, but noted that cabinet nominees had not yet been put forward.

For its part, the Lebanese Presidency, said in a statement, that Aoun has received from Hariri an initial formula of the new cabinet.

According to the presidential statement, Aoun has made some remarks on the formula based on the criteria that he has set for government and required for the interest of Lebanon, without disclosing those remarks.

The statement stressed that, Aoun will remain in consultation with Hariri in preparation for agreement on the future cabinet.

Following parliamentary polls in May, Aoun tasked Hariri with drawing up Lebanon’s next government.

Since then, the country’s main political parties and forces have striven to reach a degree of consensus amid mutual recriminations as to who was responsible for the ongoing delay.