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Kurdistan Faces Landmine Challenge


By Devin Morrow for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

A small pile of stones in a field may look harmless to the casual observer, but they are a marker for a real danger in Iraqi Kurdistan. Land mines and other explosive remnants of war litter the country from decades of conflict.

“I don’t think mines have been used like this anywhere else in the world,” Sean Sutton, photographer and international communications manager for the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), told Al-Monitor. There are an estimated 314 million square meters (121 square miles) of contaminated land across Iraqi Kurdistan, dating from the Iran-Iraq war and Saddam Hussein’s campaign against the Kurds.

When the Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Authority (IKMAA) consolidated in 2012, they were able to provide the resources and funding to clear about 1 million square meters (247 acres) of contaminated land annually.

“It means we will need 300 years [to clear all the land],” Sabah Hama-Khan, the director general of the Sulaimaniyah Mine Action Center told Al-Monitor. Since then, Hama-Khan said clearance rates have increased, from 3 million square meters (741 acres) to 5 million (2 square miles) to 13 million (5 square miles) in 2013.

Clearing landmines has become a business here, with humanitarian and commercial clearance operators working with the government to reduce the size of contaminated land. But it has also become deeply politicized, since money for clearing mines relies on external sources of funding.

The central government in Baghdad has been holding back Iraqi Kurdistan’s budget for months, meaning government workers across the country are unpaid and IKMAA is still working off last year’s budget. They cannot continue clearance work next season without the funding they require to pay commercial operators.

Tim Kirby, the plans and development manager for Sterling Global Operations, a commercial clearance operator, acknowledges the lack of budget could adversely affect next season. Commercial clearance operators like Sterling bid on fields to clear based on areas the government decides are priorities. “It’s an industry and it’s a skill,” Kirby told Al-Monitor.

His company has been able to clear almost 14 million square meters (5.4 square miles) of contaminated land in the last two seasons and is working on a large minefield on the slopes of Iraqi Kurdistan’s highest mountain, in preparation for the creation of a national park.

While national budget issues do not affect humanitarian clearance operators, these organizations continue to have difficulty as well, because Iraqi Kurdistan’s oil and gas revenues put it into the bracket of a middle-income country.

This means that no matter how devastating its land mine contamination is, some international funders believe support should be prioritized toward more “developing-world” nations. Clearance for oil and gas development is not included toward humanitarian clearance obligations and is separately controlled by the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Iraq signed the Mine Ban Treaty in 2007, which pledges to not use, produce, transfer or stockpile anti-personnel land mines, to clear all contaminated land within 10 years and to provide assistance to land mine survivors. However, Iraqi Kurdistan’s precarious position as a semiautonomous state means despite not signing the treaty, it is still required to meet treaty obligations.

Local government authorities are frustrated by the federal government in Baghdad’s lack of assistance in funding clearance and in providing support or assistance in getting rid of landmines, especially when so many land mines are leftover from the Iran-Iraq war and from Saddam Hussein’s regime: “In 20 years, we cannot [clear all the land],” Hama-Khan said. “Kurdistan didn’t sign, Iraq did.”

Land release — the process of clearing land contaminated with land mines — is meant to be evidence-based. “Here, most of that evidence has been lost in time,” Kirby wrote in an email. The vast majority of land mines and other explosive remnants of war being cleared by commercial and humanitarian companies were laid in the decades prior to 2003.

But the latest outbreak of conflict across northern Iraq has brought the danger of land mines and other improvised explosive devices to the forefront. The Islamic State (IS) is known for leaving elaborately constructed booby traps in the houses and villages it vacates, and the Kurdish peshmerga lack the skills they require to dispose of these dangers.

MAG has cleared hundreds of pieces of unexploded ordnance, landmines and other explosive remnants of war from sites being prepared as refugee camps in the past few months. MAG, as well as IKMAA, are working hard to spread awareness regarding these dangers to people displaced into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. “Most people know the dangers but don’t know how to behave,” Mohammad Raouf, director for Mine Risk Education with the Sulaimaniyah Mine Action Center told Al-Monitor.

This is unfortunately true across the region. Refugees and displaced persons fleeing from major conflict areas such as Kobani often have to cross heavily mined areas in their attempt to find safety — there have been up to 1,000 land mine accidents in that area alone so far, according to MAG.

Villagers on the Iranian border where Sterling Global Operations is currently clearing their large minefield have been taking the threat into their own hands for years. So despite the increasing use of land mines to the west, “I don’t think this is wasted clearance,” Kirby said. There were at least four deadly accidents in this area before clearance began last year. The tomato farmers around Haji Omaran, like many other villagers across the country, continued to defuse the landmines they found, impatient with waiting for official clearance.

Determining official numbers of casualties due to land mines is difficult as well. Police and hospitals are responsible for accident records, but they are generally believed to be underreported. This has an impact on acquiring annual humanitarian funding, as a decreased number of accidents are usually understood to mean the size of the threat has diminished.

With new evidence that in addition to the already contaminated land across the region IS is creating fresh dangers on Iraqi Kurdistan’s one cleared border with Iraq, land mines and other explosive remnants of war will continue to endanger civilians. “My goal was to save lives. … We can’t clear [all land mines] in one or two years, we need a long time,” Hama-Khan said. “We must make a plan to save [the] lives of people.”

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Weekly Security Update, 14 – 20 October 2014


By Anne-Laure Barbosa at Constellis Consulting

The Iraqi parliament’s approval of Sunni MP Khaled al-Obeidi as defense minister, and Mohammed al-Ghabban, a Shia member of the Badr Organisation, as interior minister, will provide a stronger political foundation for Abadi to counter the ISIS insurgency. Ghabban’s appointment follows weeks of negotiations and resistance from Abadi to nominate a member of the Iranian-backed Badr Organisation, best known for its powerful military wing accused of sectarian killings during the 2006-2007 civil war. While the move effectively cements Iran’s influence within the Iraqi cabinet and strengthens the government’s political response the security crisis, Abadi’s strategy to co-opt Sunni tribes and convince them to join ranks against ISIS is likely to be hindered. These political movements are also unlikely to be followed by important developments on the ground, with the security situation remaining critical in most of the North despite the US-led coalition’s continued air campaign. This was reflected in an increase of suicide attacks against ISF and Kurdish units, as well as a deadly series of car bomb attacks in Baghdad and Karbala. While ISIS continue their strategy aimed at seizing territories in the northern and central provinces, the South could witness a series of militant incursions over the next weeks, as the Shia festival of Ashura, which thousands of pilgrims are expected to celebrate, looms.

North

In line with last week’s patterns of violence, the front in Diyala remained the most volatile, with militants reportedly besieging the town of Qara Tappa, in the north-east of Baquba and only 75 miles north of Baghdad. On 20 October, insurgents managed to infiltrate defences near Qara Tappa by wearing Peshmerga uniforms, a tactic repeatedly used by ISIS to hit civilian areas. The clashes which followed killed at least seven soldiers and eight civilians, prompting the Kurds to send reinforcements from Khanaqin. This bold assault also demonstrates that ISIS are consolidating their positions in Jalawla and Sadia, and are increasingly pushing Kurdish forces on a defensive footing on this front. Further attacks were also reported on areas controlled by Kurdish units in Nineveh, where ISIS launched an assault in the Rabia district, near the Syrian border, and Yazidi areas near Sinjar. Other fighting areas included Baiji, where ISIS insurgents attempted an assault on the refinery, and areas to the south of Tikrit. Airstrikes and ISF reinforcements continued to hold back ISIS in territories to the north of Baghdad, particularly in Dhuluiya, a strategic town challenged by militant attacks. Increased insurgent activity in areas defended by the Kurds could indicate an imminent assault on Kurdish interests in Nineveh, Kirkuk and Diyala.

Central

The recent gains made by ISIS in Anbar appear to have impacted on the levels of confidence displayed by insurgents on the ground, while militant cells in Baghdad also ramped up their activities with an increase in car bomb attacks in the capital. On 18 October, ISIS launched a three-front offensive on the town of al-Baghdadi between Hit and Haditha. While the attack failed after tribal fighters repelled ISIS, the group reportedly seized some neighbouring areas and are now surrounding the town. Besieging villages, in order to cause food and fuel shortages for the populations to surrender, has been a tactic consistently used by ISIS, especially in areas insulated from ISF support. While the presence of the nearby Ain al-Assad military base should ensure that reinforcements are sent, these developments show that the ISF have been increasingly pushed on a defensive footing in this strategic corridor. Meanwhile, as militants continue to be prevented from launching a frontal assault on Baghdad due to an important number of troops circling the capital, ISIS elements have been increasingly relying on suicide attacks to inflict damage and casualties. Amid a series of nine deadly car bombs, a militant blew himself up outside a mosque on 20 October, killing at least 17 people. This trend should be sustained over the next weeks.

South

The most significant incidents occurred in Karbala, where an unusual series of five car bombs killed scores of civilians. These attacks point to an escalation in militant activity in the South, as the festival of Ashura, which takes place on 03 November, usually draws tens of thousands of Shia pilgrims walking to Karbala. ISIS is intent on targeting large civilian areas and pilgrimages provide an effective avenue for such high-profile operations. ISIS’s consolidated presence in neighbouring Anbar means that heightened security measures will probably be easier to counter. The lack of ground intelligence will also be compensated by the large civilian gatherings expected for the occasion. Meanwhile, the south-east continued to follow pre-established patterns, with levels of criminal activities in Basra steadily increasing.

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UN sees Improvements in KRI Human Rights


Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani today received Ivan Šimonović, the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, and his accompanying delegation.

The delegation said that compared to their previous visit back in 2011, they noticed sound improvements made by the Kurdistan Region in the areas of diplomacy, foreign relations, infrastructure, a free press, freedom of speech, human rights, sheltering, women’s rights and combating violence against women.

They added that these developments as well as Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani’s role in bringing them about should be commended. Premier Barzani’s efforts are recognized and support by the international community, they said.

UN Assistant Secretary-General Šimonović highlighted the Kurdistan Region’s significant progress in terms of legislation, and said that more work could be done with respect to human rights. UN agencies are ready to run special workshops for the related KRG bodies, he said.

He also praised the government and people of Kurdistan for accommodating and aiding the displaced, saying that despite facing difficulties such as Baghdad withholding the KRG’s budget, they have embraced the displaced and refugees regardless of their religion, sect or ethnicity.

Mr Šimonović said that the delegation visited some camps where they spoke with displaced persons, who praised the KRG for providing them with security and stability, at a time when they wish to return to their homes but cannot due to the worsening security situation in their areas. More displaced and refugees are expected to come to the Kurdistan Region due to the dire situation in Syria.

Prime Minister Barzani thanked the delegation for their visit, noting their feedback on the Kurdistan Region’s human rights situation and stressing that the KRG will support their steps. He asked the delegation to send any concerns, reports and violations in human rights to the KRG so that they can take the necessary measures to solve them.

Prime Minister Barzani reiterated that the KRG does not deny problems or failings, especially given the current circumstances. The KRG will spare no effort in solving them, and hopes to work on them with related UN agencies.

Prime Minister Barzani stressed that the KRG expects more support and serious efforts by the Iraqi government and the international community to better help the displaced and refugees, especially as winter approaches. He reiterated that despite the KRG’s limited capacity, it will continue to support the displaced. He added that the KRG will support Mr Abadi’s government and wishes to resolve all its ongoing disputes with Baghdad through dialogue.

(Source: KRG)

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Declaration of Commerciality on Khalakan Block


Range Energy Resources has announced that, on October 16, 2014, Gas Plus Khalakan (“GPK”), the sole contractor of the Khalakan Block in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, announced by press release that it has declared the Shewashan light oil discovery commercial under the terms of the Khalakan Production Sharing Contract (the “PSC”) and is preparing a Field Development Plan for submission to the Ministry of Natural Resources (“MNR”) of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The Company is a 24.95% indirect shareholder of GPK through its ownership of 49.9% of the shares of New Age Alzarooni 2 Limited (“NAAZ2″). NAAZ2 owns 50% of the shares of GPK.

Toufic Chahine, the Chairman of the Company’s Board of Directors said:

“We are pleased to hear the news although the Company still hopes for more cooperation with our joint venture partners so that we could work together to achieve the best possible result for all.”

Range has no additional information on the extent of the discovery, including the number of barrels of oil that tests show can be produced from the Shewashan-1 well. Despite the favorable arbitration award that an arbitration panel issued last May that supports the Company’s right to obtain material information as to its investments in the Khalakan Block, neither NAAZ2 nor Black Gold Khalakan Limited, the other shareholder in NAAZ2, have complied with the arbitration award and provided Range with material information regarding the operations on the Khalakan Block.

The Company will continue to pursue its rights and remedies in an effort to obtain material information on Khalakan Block operations that it can report to its shareholders.

(Source: EIN)

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US Pledges Continued Support for Kurdistan


The United States and its allies will continue to provide support and assistance to the Kurdistan Region, a visiting US delegation told Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani yesterday.

The Prime Minister, along with a number of senior Kurdistan Regional Government officials yesterday in Erbil welcomed the United States Deputy National Secretary Advisor Anthony Blinken and his accompanying delegation.

During the meeting, both sides discussed the political developments and process in Iraq, the security situation across the region as well as the process of forming the new Iraqi government. The United States delegation thanked the Kurdistan Region for agreeing to participate in the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s new government.‎

Both sides also discussed the current security situation given the threat from Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) across Iraq, and agreed that given the urgency of the threat, there needs to be a joint plan by all sides inside Iraq who are fighting against ISIS coupled with cooperation with the international community. They also greed on the importance of the participation of Iraq’s Arab Sunnis and tribal forces in different areas so that ISIS terrorists can be defeated and routed out of the country.

The delegation praised the efforts of the Kurdistan Regional Government, the peshmerga and the Kurdish people who have demonstrated their resistance against ISIS. It also praised the peshmerga’s liberation of a number of areas that had been occupied by the terrorist organisation.

The US delegation said that the United States did not hesitate to help Kurdistan when it was under threat from ISIS and reiterated that the United States and its allies will continue to support and provide assistance to Kurdistan.

The two sides went on to discuss the humanitarian situation. The US delegation recognised the role of the KRG in embracing hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis as well as Syrian refugees, despite its limited resources, noting that the UN and other international organisations had praised the KRG for its cooperation in trying to manage this major humanitarian crisis.

The resistance against ISIS in Kobane was discussed in detail with the US delegation pledging to continue to provide air strikes to assist the Kurds fighting ISIS terrorists.

Regarding relations between Erbil and Baghdad, the Prime Minister said that the Kurds will participate in the government in Baghdad and work towards resolving the issues between both sides, particularly the budget, salaries as well as other issues that have been pending for too long.

Prime Minister Barzani thanked the delegation and conveyed the gratitude of the people and government of Kurdistan towards US President Barack Obama and the US government, saying that Kurdistan will not forget the friends who helped during this time of need.

The Prime Minister also pointed that the success of the political process in Iraq is the only way to eliminate the terrorist threat to the country. On this basis, the Kurdistan Region will participate in the Iraqi government and will do its best to help the country overcome this crisis and eliminate ISIS terrorists. He also asked the United States to support the dialogue between both sides so that the problems and obstacles can be overcome.

(Source: KRG)

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Call to help Abducted Yezidi Women


KRG officials call upon the international community to help abducted Kurdish Yezidi women

KRG officials seek international mobilization to consider the case of women abducted by ISIS terrorists. Following severe terrorists attacks against Kurdish Yezidi towns and villages in late July and early August, a large number of women and underage girls were abducted.

According to various accounts, the victims suffer physical, mental, and emotional trauma. They are forced into sexual slavery, tortured, and transferred from one place to another.

In a statement to KRG.org Dr Nazand Begikhani, senior advisor to the KRG Prime Minister for Higher Education and Gender Issues and member of the KRG Women’s Rights Board, said, “Local and international communities are now aware of these horrendous acts.”

She added, “These acts qualify as crimes against humanity, and they should be recognised as such by the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.”

Due to the military and security situation on the ground, precise information is not available regarding the number of victims and their whereabouts. Secretary General of the KRG High Council of Women’s Affairs, Pakhshan Zangana, told KRG.org that she estimates the number to be between 700 and 1000, based on accounts given by displaced Yezidi Kurds and other sources.

She said there are reports suggesting that the women are held at Badoush prison in Mosul, Talafar, and many others have been sent to Syria.

Dr Begikhani pointed out that these crimes are committed against women as a tactic of warfare, and there is a systematic strategy to abuse them. The tactic of abduction and sexual violence against women during conflict has been recognized as a threat to world peace and security by the United Nations Security Council in resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008).

Action by KRG authorities

Dr Begikhani said, “The KRG has set up a task force which includes representatives from the Ministries of Justice, Interior, Labour and Social Affairs, and Martyrs and Anfal Affairs. The Prime Minister has also appointed a special envoy to Duhok [the governorate where most of the displaced people have taken refuge].

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ShaMaran Announces Rights Offer


By John Lee.

ShaMaran has announced that it will launch a CAD 75 million equity rights offering to its shareholders that is supported by a comprehensive equity support arrangement from major shareholders, Lorito Holdings, Zebra Holdings and Investments, and Lundin Petroleum B.V. (the ‘Standby Purchasers’).

The proceeds of this financing will augment the funding required for the development of ShaMaran’s oil discovery on the Atrush Block in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Pradeep Kabra (pictured), ShaMaran’s President and Chief Executive Officer, said:

“We are very pleased to enter into this equity offering with the support of the Standby Purchasers.

The financing is the result of a review of the Corporation’s future capital requirements to meet the forecasted funding requirements under the Atrush PSC, while allowing all shareholders the opportunity to participate in the growth of the Corporation’s assets.”

(Source: ShaMaran)

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Peshmerga: Iran set Ambushes for us


By Vager Saadullah for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iranian Peshmerga Chief: Iran set Ambushes for us

The head of the Iranian peshmerga said his forces acted in self-defense during rare clashes with Iranian forces on Sept. 13, which resulted in deaths on both sides.

No exact death toll has been released, but media reports said an Iranian commander and a peshmerga member were both killed in the fighting.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Khalid Azizi, the secretary-general of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI), said Iranian troops set ambushes for his peshmerga forces, prompting a response from the Kurdish guerrillas. “The Iranian government set ambushes for them [the peshmerga], which triggered the fighting that led to the killing of Iranian soldiers and of one of our members,” he said.

The Iranian Kurdish leader said he was committed to resolving issues with Tehran peacefully, saying, “We cannot destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran and it cannot destroy us, therefore both sides have to find a solution for this issue one day.”

Azizi denied he came under pressure from the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq to halt the fighting, but acknowledged, “We cannot use Kurdish lands [in Iraq] to launch attacks against Iran,” adding, “There is no doubt that we cannot ignore Erbil and Tehran’s interests, as the KRG and Iran have common borders and have to deal with each other, and we respect these relations. We will not conduct any armed attack against the Islamic Republic from the Kurdistan region of Iraq.”

The KDPI have not sent forces to help Iraqi Kurds battle the Islamic State, but are ready to help if they receive a request, Azizi said.

Azizi criticized the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for moving its forces into Iraq without an official request from the KRG, and said it should pull its forces back to Turkey.

“Each part of Kurdistan has its own legal forces and peshmerga, and it is important not to create regional sensitivities here and there. If the PKK is indeed loyal to the other Kurdish parts, it should assist and support their parties without discrimination and without getting involved in the parties’ problems,” he said.

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