PUK to play role in Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government

By Ali Mohamed

ERBIL, Iraq (AA) – The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is set to take part in northern Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), according to members of the party’s politburo.

The PUK came in second in Kurdish parliamentary polls held last September, winning 21 out of 111 assembly seats.

Notably, the party has yet to choose a new leader since the death last year of party co-founder Jalal Talabani.

In a statement, the PUK politburo said that party officials planned to hold talks with the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Masoud Barzani — which won 45 assembly seats — with a view to forming a new government.

Since 1990, the KDP and the PUK have shared power in Erbil, the Kurdish region’s administrative capital.

In recent weeks, the KDP has been holding talks with leading political blocs in an effort to draw up a broad-based government.

Once formed, the regional government is expected to hold talks with Iraq’s federal government in hopes of resolving several longstanding differences between Erbil and Baghdad.

These differences include lingering disputes over territory, petroleum exports and the KRG's share of Iraq’s federal budget.

UN's Istanbul event focuses on technology, governance

By Gokhan Ergocun

ISTANBUL (AA) – Istanbul Innovation Days have started Tuesday to gather technology experts, academics and politicians to discuss global trends and innovative approaches impacting governance mechanisms.

Hosted by the United Nations Development Program's (UNDP), the three-day event kicked off under the theme of Next Generation Governments.

The participants are discussing several topics such as technology and governance, technology's effects on the economy, future challenges and innovation experiments.

Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, UNDP's assistant administrator, said: "Today, science and technology increasingly intersect with governance and politics."

"The challenge is to ensure we are innovating not simply for the sake of innovation, but to improve the lives and livelihoods of the poorest, the most vulnerable, marginalized, hardest to reach people living in the face of complex problems which have challenged communities for generations," she said.

She noted that the event was hosting over 250 people including strategic funders, governments, start-ups, think tanks, civil society, and international organizations.

Innovation is not an end-point, it "can also be a much-needed expression of our humanity," Egger added.

Faruk Kaymakci, Turkish deputy minister of foreign affairs and director for the country's EU affairs, said that technology has a unique role to transform economies.

He added that new technologies provide new solutions for economic problems.

Kaymakci recalled the UN Technology Bank dedicated to least developed countries being established in Turkey, and underlined that Turkey is becoming the regional hub for technology.

Afghan forces bear brunt of rising Taliban attacks

By Shadi Khan Saif

KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – The raging war with Taliban has proven deadly for the Afghan security forces as bodies pile on by the dozens every week.

Taliban have accelerated armed attacks and suicide assaults in an apparent bid to demonstrate strength on the battlefield.

Alongside, U.S. peace envoy in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad continues to make attempts to cease hostilities with the Taliban.

In a rare move last week, President Ashraf Ghani confirmed more that 28,000 Afghan troops have been killed since late 2014, when they took over security responsibilities from the better trained NATO forces.

Security officials in capital Kabul told Anadolu Agency that the Afghan forces are occupied with full-blown wars in at least 22 of the 34 provinces across the country.

Taliban also continue attacks on major urban centers including the capital.

– Infiltration in security forces

Infiltration by rebels in the forces claimed the lives of local police, intelligence chiefs and a U.S. officer in the southeastern city of Kandahar last week.

Underlining the need for readjustment in war strategy, Javed Ghafor, spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, said there have been drastic changes in the way Afghan forces have been operating so far.

“We have moved away a number of remote and isolated check posts and have merged them into larger bases to consolidate the forces,” he said.

This, though, has not proven very effective. Last week, rebels stormed into one such recently consolidated base in restive Farah province bordering Iran killing 30 security personnel.

The joint army and police base on the main Herat-Kandahar highway in the Bala Bulook district was stormed by rebels with the help of at least six infiltrators earlier this month, the Taliban said.

Former Afghan Air Force chief retired Gen. Atiqullah Amarkhail says consolidating the smaller and remote check posts is a handy idea, but the reason why Afghan forces are still sustaining injuries is due to lack of coordination and contingency plans.

“The enemy has been attacking check posts in three formations; one group attacks the target while two others wait at strategic locations to target the reinforcements. This can only be overcome if the security forces have good contingency plans and coordination among them,” he said.

Delays in the transportation of wounded soldiers to health facilities has also been contributing to the death toll, the analyst noted.

– Blame game

The Kabul government has been asserting that the scaled-up offensives by the Taliban are basically to enter peace negotiations from a position of strength.

Officials have been blaming neighbouring countries, particularly Iran and Pakistan, for promoting terrorism in Afghanistan to hinder development projects, a charge Islamabad and Tehran reject.

The parliament's defense and security affairs committee has summoned concerned ministers multiple times over the past few months to question them over their failures.

Nisar Ahmad, chairman of the committee, told Anadolu Agency rising casualties is a pressing issue. "Our security forces need to change their position from the defensive posture into offensive mode that would help minimize their casualties and counter the advances of the rebels,” he said.

The strength of the Afghan National Army is over 195,000, according to official figures.

Every month 6,000 new recruits join the forces in a show of resilience in the face of terror threats, the Defense Ministry spokesman said.

Khalilzad has met twice with the Taliban representatives in Qatar in the hopes for the resumption of talks prior to the 2019 presidential elections.

Meanwhile, parallel to Washington's push for talks with the Taliban, Russia managed to stage Moscow Conference on Afghanistan last week though with low profile representation from parties to the conflict and a number of regional countries including Pakistan and Iran.

No gov’t in Lebanon without Sunni MPs: Hezbollah chief

By Wassim Samih Seifeddine

BEIRUT (AA) – Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has called on Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to cede a seat in the new cabinet to a Sunni ally or renegotiate the government formation.

“Hezbollah is proud of independent Sunni deputies or deputies of the March 8 camp,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech late Saturday.

“We want them to be represented in the government,” he stressed.

Hariri has struggled to form a new government in Lebanon following the May 6 parliamentary election.

Hezbollah insists on the representation of six Sunni opposition MPs in the new government, while Hariri argued that the six deputies had run in the polls under the umbrella of political blocs that already got their quota in the cabinet.

Nasrallah said he was told by Hariri that no ministers from the March 8 camp would be represented in the government.

“We told him that we will not send the names of Hezbollah ministers,” he said. “We do not compliment… we were clear from the first day.”

Following the May polls, President Michel Aoun tasked Hariri with drawing up a new cabinet lineup.

The process, however, has faced repeated delays amid mutual recriminations between the country’s main political forces and demands by some parties for greater representation.

According to Lebanon’s constitution, the prime minister-designate does not have a deadline for drawing up a new government.

Under the 1989 Taif Accord (which ended Lebanon’s 15-year civil war), 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.

Lebanon speaker calls for quick formation of government

By Wassim Saif al-Din

BEIRUT (AA) – Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri has reiterated his calls for the speedy formation of the country’s next government — a process that has faced repeated delays since May legislative polls.

“Formation of the incoming government is a critical issue,” Berri asserted in a Wednesday statement.

“But harmony within the incoming government is an even more critical issue,” he added.

Following May parliamentary polls, President Michel Aoun tasked Saad Hariri — who currently serves as prime minister-designate — with drawing up a new cabinet lineup.

The process, however, has faced repeated delays amid mutual recriminations between the country’s main political forces and demands by some parties for greater representation.

According to Lebanon’s constitution, the prime minister-designate does not have a deadline for drawing up a new government.

Under the 1989 Taif Accord (which ended Lebanon’s 15-year civil war), 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 rejects secret vote for new cabinet

By Ibrahim Saleh

BAGHDAD (AA) – Iraq’s firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday rejected a secret vote in parliament on the new cabinet lineup.

“The people want to reform the system through an honest government with independent technocrats supervised by the prime minister-designate without pressure from parties and blocs," al-Sadr tweeted.

Prime Minister-designate Adil Abdul-Mahdi is scheduled on Wednesday to announce his government and its program for approval by parliament.

Earlier this month, Barham Salih, Iraq’s newly elected president, assigned Abdul-Mahdi with forming the new government.

The prime minister-designate is allegedly backed by spiritual leader of Iraqi Shia Muslims Ali al-Sistani.

Abdul-Mahdi has served as the finance minister in the caretaker government and the oil minister from 2014 to 2016.

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

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.