Iraq’s Barzani meets Iranian envoy to Baghdad in Erbil

            By Aref Youssef <br>

ERBIL, Iraq (AA) – Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and former head of northern Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), has met with Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi.

In a Friday statement, Barzani's office said the meeting — held last night in Erbil, the KRG’s administrative capital — had tackled “political developments” and continued efforts to form the semi-autonomous region’s next government.

Barzani also reportedly spoke to Masjedi about current relations between Erbil and Baghdad.

According to the statement, both sides stressed the importance of enhancing relations between Iraq’s Kurdish region and Iran.

Since the Kurdish region held parliamentary polls last September, efforts to form a new government have been stymied by differences between Barzani’s KDP and the Sulaymaniyah-based Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

Kurdish region’s security ‘important’ to Iran: Zarif

By Aref Youssef

ERBIL (AA) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday the security of northern Iraq’s Kurdish region is “important” for the Islamic Republic.

The top Iranian diplomat arrived in Erbil on Tuesday from Baghdad as part of his 4-day visit to Iraq, which he started on Sunday.

"Together, we will progress and succeed; we need the region, and the region needs us," Zarif said in a speech to an economic conference held in Erbil.

"The security of the region is important to Iran, and no one can affect the relationship between the two sides," he said.

Regarding trade and economic relations between Tehran and the Kurdish region, Zarif said Iran will work to overcome obstacles facing the region's traders.

For his part, Nechirvan Barzani, the head of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), said the Kurdish region and Iran have “bonds of brotherhood and friendship”.

"Iran has extended a hand of cooperation and friendship to the region; we will not forget these positions by Iran," he said.

“We are working to further strengthen relations with Iran,"Barzani said.

Close ties have been existed between Iraq and Iran since the toppling of the former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003 by U.S.-led coalition forces.

Zarif's visit to Iraq is particularly focused on the economic sides in an effort by Tehran to boost trade and investment between the two countries at a time Iran is suffering from sanctions imposed by the U.S.

Trade between Iraq and Iran amounted to $12 billion.

Officials say that, despite the U.S. sanctions, the two sides would work hard to increase the volume of trade to $20 billion.

KDP wins 45 seats in Iraq’s Kurdish assembly polls

By Ali Mohamed

ERBIL, Iraq (AA) – The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has won 45 seats in the parliamentary election in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region, according to the local election commission.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) came second with 21 seats and Gorran movement with 12 seats, the commission said in a press conference held in the city of Erbil late Saturday.

KDP has maintained the lead in the region’s elections for more than a decade.

Held on September 30, some 29 parties and coalition had vied for 111 assembly seats in the parliamentary polls.

The vote was the first to be held in the Kurdish region since the defeat of the Daesh terrorist group last year.

The parliamentary polls are held every four years in the Kurdish region.

Saudi launches first direct flight to Erbil

By Aref Youssef

Erbil (AA) – Saudi Arabia on Monday launched its first direct flights from Jeddah to the city of Erbil in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region.

Director of the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority Saleh bin Nasser was aboard the flight and was welcomed by a host of Kurdish regional officials, including interior minister Karim Sinjari and tourism minister Nawrouz Mouloud.

“Three flights will be launched weekly between Erbil and Saudi Arabia,” Talal Faiq, the director of the Erbil International Airport, told a press conference.

She said the flights will help bolster trade relations between the Kurdish region and the oil-rich kingdom and facilitate the movement of pilgrims to and from the holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

Erbil is the second destination in Iraq for Saudi flights after Baghdad.

UPDATE 2 – Iraqi Kurds vote in parliamentary polls

*UPDATES WITH LOW TURNOUT

By Aref Yusuf and Ali Mohamed

ERBIL, Iraq (AA) – Voters in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region began to cast their ballots in the region’s parliamentary elections on Sunday.

Around 3.3 million voters are eligible to cast ballot in the vote to elect from 673 candidates running for 111 seats in parliament.

Voting began at 08.00 a.m. local time (05:00 GMT) and ends at 18.00 p.m. (15:00 GMT).

Poor turnout was reported in the Kurdish region by mid-day.

“The turnout reached 15 percent until 9:00 GMT,” a source with the Iraqi Independent Electoral Committee in the Kurdish region told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity as he was unauthorized to speak to media.

Some 29 parties and coalitions are vying in the vote, the first since the defeat of the Daesh terrorist group by Iraqi forces and a U.S.-led coalition last year.

The High Election Commission in the Kurdish region has established some 5,933 voting stations in the cities of Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Dohuk and Halabja for the polls.

Leading parties vying for seats in the parliamentary polls include Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Gorran Movement, Kurdistan Islamic Party (Yekgirtu), Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal), Kurdistan Islamic Movement (Bizutnava) and the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF).

The parliamentary polls are held every four years in the Kurdish region.

Sunday’s vote had been scheduled to be held in 2017, but it was postponed for a year as a result of political and economic crises in the region.

For his part, Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and KDP deputy leader, denied tension between his party and PUK.

“The post of the president of the [Iraqi] republic is bound to the Kurds and we suggested to the PUK and the rest of [political] blocs to select one candidate,” Barzani told reporters after casting his ballot.

He voiced hope that all Kurdish parties would reach a common understanding regarding the choosing of a new nominee.

A quota was set up in Iraq by Paul Bremer, who was appointed head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (Iraq’s post-invasion U.S.-led interim government) in 2004.

The system is ostensibly aimed at ensuring fair representation with the post of president is reserved for a Kurd; that of prime minister for a Shia Muslim; and that of Parliament Speaker for a Sunni Muslim.

UPDATE – Iraqi Kurds vote in parliamentary polls

*UPDATES WITH REMARKS OF KRG'S PM

By Aref Yusuf and Ali Mohamed

ERBIL, Iraq (AA) – Voters in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region began to cast their ballots in the region’s parliamentary elections on Sunday.

Around 3.3 million voters are eligible to cast ballot in the vote to elect from 673 candidates running for 111 seats in parliament.

Voting began at 08.00 a.m. local time (05:00 GMT) and ends at 18.00 p.m (15:00 GMT).

Some 29 parties and coalitions are vying in the vote, the first since the defeat of the Daesh terrorist group by Iraqi forces and a U.S.-led coalition last year.

The High Election Commission in the Kurdish region has established some 5,933 voting stations in the cities of Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Dohuk and Halabja for the polls.

Leading parties vying for seats in the parliamentary polls include Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Gorran Movement, Kurdistan Islamic Party (Yekgirtu), Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal), Kurdistan Islamic Movement (Bizutnava) and the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF).

The parliamentary polls are held every four years in the Kurdish region.

Sunday’s vote had been scheduled to be held in 2017, but it was postponed for a year as a result of political and economic crises in the region.

For his part, Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and KDP deputy leader, denied tension between his party and PUK.

“The post of the president of the [Iraqi] republic is bound to the Kurds and we suggested to the PUK and the rest of [political] blocs to select one candidate,” Barzani told reporters after casting his ballot.

He voiced hope that all Kurdish parties would reach a common understanding regarding the choosing of a new nominee.

A quota was set up in Iraq by Paul Bremer, who was appointed head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (Iraq’s post-invasion U.S.-led interim government) in 2004.

The system is ostensibly aimed at ensuring fair representation with the post of president is reserved for a Kurd; that of prime minister for a Shia Muslim; and that of Parliament Speaker for a Sunni Muslim.

Iraqi Kurds vote in parliamentary polls

By Aref Yusuf and Ali Mohamed

ERBIL, Iraq (AA) – Voters in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region began to cast their ballots in the region’s parliamentary elections on Sunday.

Around 3.3 million voters are eligible to cast ballot in the vote to elect from 673 candidates running for 111 seats in parliament.

Voting began at 08.00 a.m. local time (05:00 GMT) and ends at 18.00 p.m (15:00 GMT).

Some 29 parties and coalitions are vying in the vote, the first since the defeat of the Daesh terrorist group by Iraqi forces and a U.S.-led coalition last year.

The High Election Commission in the Kurdish region has established some 5,933 voting stations in the cities of Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Dohuk and Halabja for the polls.

Leading parties vying for seats in the parliamentary polls include Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Gorran Movement, Kurdistan Islamic Party (Yekgirtu), Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal), Kurdistan Islamic Movement (Bizutnava) and the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF).

The parliamentary polls are held every four years in the Kurdish region.

The vote had been scheduled to be held in 2017, but the vote was postponed for a year as a result of political and economic crises in the region.

Campaigning begins for Iraq’s Sept. 30 Kurd region poll

By Ali Mohamed

ERBIL, Iraq (AA) – The campaigning period for parliamentary elections in northern Iraq's Kurdish region officially began on Tuesday.

Slated for Sept. 30, the poll will see more than 700 candidates — organized into two main coalitions — compete for 100 out of 111 seats on the region’s legislative assembly.

Another 64 candidates are set to vie for the remaining 11 seats, which are reserved for non-Kurdish minorities (five seats for Turkmen, five for Syriac Christians and one for an Armenian representative).

Candidates will compete for votes in the Iraqi provinces of Erbil, Dohuk, Sulaymaniyah and Halabja, the latter of which became the region’s fourth province in 2014.

All residents of the region over 18 years old are entitled to vote by secret ballot, with the number of registered voters estimated at some 3.1 million.

The Erbil-based Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Sulaymaniyah-based Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) — both of which are currently represented in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) — will be among the most prominent parties vying for votes.

Leading opposition parties, meanwhile, include the Movement for Change (Gorran), the Alliance for Democracy and Justice, the New Generation Movement and the Islamic Group.

In the region’s last parliamentary poll in 2013, the KDP came in first with 38 seats, followed by Gorran (24 seats), the PUK (18 seats), the Islamic Union (10 seats) and the Islamic Group (six seats).

The region’s first parliamentary election was held in 1992, followed by three subsequent polls in 2005, 2009 and 2013.

The upcoming election was initially slated for last year, but was postponed due to deep-seated political differences and a bloody conflict pitting the Iraqi army against the notorious Daesh terrorist group.

Iraq’s Kurd region not ready for polls: Party spokesman

By Idris Okuducu

SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq (AA) – Conditions in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region are “not suitable” for holding parliamentary polls later this month, according to Gorran, a Kurdish opposition party.

On Tuesday, leading members of the Movement for Change (“Gorran” in Kurdish) met with counterparts from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah.

After the meeting, Gorran spokesman Shorash Hajji held a joint press conference with KDP spokesman Mahmoud Mohamed, during which the two men answered questions about upcoming Kurdish regional polls, which were initially slated for Sept. 30.

“Current conditions [in the Kurdish region] are not favorable to holding elections later this month,” Hajji told reporters.

He went on to cite the region’s ongoing financial crisis, noting that Iraq’s May 12 parliamentary election had seen exceptionally low turnout.

The KDP spokesman, however, appeared to disagree, insisting that the region was “ready” to hold elections later this month.

“We have the adequate legal and technical infrastructure to conduct elections,” Mohamed said, challenging Hajji’s assertion that the region was in serious financial crisis.

Iraq Kurd region polls to be held on schedule: Official

By Idris Okuducu

ERBIL, Iraq (AA) – Parliamentary elections in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region will be held on schedule, according to Hindirin Muhammed Salih, head of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG)’s official electoral commission.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on Friday, Salih said: “We’re the sole official body overseeing the polls, which will not be canceled or postponed.”

“They will be held on Sept. 30, according to schedule,” he added.

So far, according to Salih, only 30 percent of the region’s residents had formally registered to cast ballots.

“Hopefully, the rest will register before the Aug. 16 deadline,” he said, going on to lament an apparent lack of interest on the part of much of the voting public.

Rumors that the election could be postponed — or called off entirely — began circulating after an Aug. 1 meeting in Erbil (the KRG’s administrative capital) between Brett McGurk, U.S. special envoy for the fight against terrorism, and former KRG President Masoud Barzani.

In subsequent statements, however, both men dismissed the rumors, saying that neither of them had requested any election delays.

Last week, KRG Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani poured fuel on the fire by telling reporters that both McGurk and Barzani wanted to see the polls delayed, but that neither had “had the nerve” to openly request such a move.

In televised comments on Wednesday, Heme Haci Mahmoud, a leader of the Kurdistan Socialist Democrat Party, accused Iran — rather than the U.S. — of standing behind calls for an election delay.

Mahmoud said that Iranian diplomats had recently approached the Kurdish region’s main political parties — including his own — to express their desire to see the election postponed until after a new coalition government had been cobbled together in Baghdad.

According to the KRG's electoral commission, roughly three million people are currently eligible to vote in the Sept. 30 poll, which will see 29 parties and coalitions vie for seats in the Erbil-based Kurdish parliament.

*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara