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  1. France agrees 1 billion euro loan to Iraq for reconstruction - Le Drian Website Admin 6 hours ago Le Drian made a statement to reporters after meeting his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed al-Hakim in Baghdad. France has agreed to loan Iraq 1 billion euros to help reconstruction of areas devastated by conflict in recent years, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday. Le Drian made a statement to reporters after meeting his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed al-Hakim in Baghdad.
  2. Delays to Iraq’s 2019 Budget reflect growing political deadlock by Ali Al-Mawlawi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi meets with his cabinet on 8 January 2019, where some posts remain unfilled. Source: Press Office of the Prime Minister As Iraq enters a new fiscal year, the proposed 2019 federal budget remains stuck in parliament with few signs that a deal will be reached soon. The delay in passing the budget is symptomatic of the growing political intransigence that is most acutely exhibited in parliament. Twelve weeks after assuming office, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s cabinet is still not complete, with 4 of the 22 ministerial posts vacant including the highly contentious positions for interior and defence ministers. Disagreements over the budget began back in early October 2018, when then prime minister Haider Al-Abadi’s cabinet reviewed a preliminary draft from the Ministry of Finance. Just a day before Abdul-Mahdi assumed office, a draft bill was submitted to parliament, proposing some $110 billion in total spending, making it the second largest budget in the country’s history. When parliament convened on 6 November 2018 to undertake a first reading of the bill, it was clear that none of the leading political blocs were willing to move ahead without significant amendments. The two leading parliamentary coalitions – and architects of Abdul-Mahdi’s ascendancy to power – Fateh and Sa’iroon both expressed major reservations about the draft, citing the need for the budget to better reflect the country’s priorities in service provision and job creation. As a compromise, the government agreed to form a high-level joint committee that would consider the demands of the blocs before submitting an amended version of the bill to parliament. Six weeks later, parliament completed the first reading of the amended bill despite the fact that only minimal changes had been made to the original version. A further $700 million had been added to overall spending including significant budget increases for the Hashd al-Shaabi and the ministries of health and defence. It was clear that most of the issues raised by the political blocs had not been addressed by the joint committee, so the parliamentary finance committee carried out a thorough review of the draft bill. The committee claimed that the budget in its current form did not meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people and four days later, parliament reconvened to discuss the committee’s findings. Out of 47 recommendations it says it had submitted to the joint committee, only 9 had been incorporated into the amended bill. Among the major contentions, the committee noted that the budget was no different from previous budgets, namely its heavy dependence on oil revenues, with income from non-oil sources such as taxes and customs only making up a small fraction. Secondly, the bulk of spending is allocated to operational costs, while less than a quarter of the total budget is earmarked for capital spending. Third, the committee raised concerns about the size of the deficit and the extent of growing external and domestic debt. Related to this, it expressed reservations about the continued financing of unprofitable state-owned enterprises. And finally, the committee called for greater allocation of resources to reconstruction and investment in areas liberated from ISIS. Trends within the budget The proposed 2019 budget represents a 28% increase in spending compared to last year. To compare, oil revenues are only projected to rise by 22%, meaning that the expected deficit this year is much higher. Projected oil revenues account for nearly 89% of the government’s income, based on an average price of $56 per barrel and exports averaging 3.88m bpd. But with oil prices currently on a downward trend, some lawmakers have urged the government to revise the oil price to as low as $45 per barrel. However, it is also important to factor in actual spending given sub-optimal budget execution across all state institutions. By the beginning of November, actual spending of operational expenditures was 84%, while capital spending was only 61%. Ministry of Finance records show that by September 2018, the government had already accrued a $15 billion budget surplus. This is also because it generated higher than expected oil revenues. The 2018 budget was based on forecasted oil sales of $64 billion but, by the beginning of November, Iraq had already reached its annual target. Table 1: Overview of key trends. Figures are in billion IQD. 2018 2019 Change Total spending 104,158 133,108 +28% Capital spending share 23.7% 24.8% +1.1% Deficit 12,514 27,539 +120% Average oil exports 3.888 million bpd (at $46 per barrel) 3.88 million bpd (at $56 per barrel) Projected oil revenue 77,160 93,741 +22% Non-oil revenue share 15.2% 11.2% -4% Employee compensation (salaries, contractors, pensions, social security) 54,448 62,524 +15% Total number of salaried employees 2,885,716 2,941,986 +2% Among the biggest beneficiaries to the expanded budget is the Hashd Al-Shaabi, whose budget has grown by 54%. Although the number of personnel on its payroll has remained frozen at 122,000, the budget increase reflects last year’s parliamentary decree that ensures Hashd members achieve wage parity with other members of the security forces. Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)’s share has officially remained at 12.67% of total spending minus sovereign expenses. In real terms however, budgetary appropriations to the KRG have jumped by 47% compared to 2018. A couple of interesting changes happened to the KRG’s share in the amended 2019 bill. Firstly, a breakdown of spending for each of the three KRG provinces was removed. This had been initially introduced in the 2018 budget to illustrate the exact per capita share of the provinces of Erbil, Sulaimaniya and Dohuk. The original version of the 2019 budget maintained this arrangement, but the amended version has done away with it. Secondly, compensation for KRG employees as a share of their total budget inexplicably jumped from 38% to 56%, despite the number of budgeted employees remaining the same at just over 622,000. While Kurdish lawmakers will continue to push for the reinstatement of their 17% share, it does appear that this will be difficult to achieve. Abdul-Mahdi has hinted that rather than renegotiate their share, Baghdad will pursue a broader political and financial settlement that includes a deal on oil exports as a means toward reaching a compromise. Table 2: Comparison of budgetary appropriations for key ministries and institutions. All figures are in billion IQD. 2018 2019 Change Ministry of Interior 10,067 11,270 +12% Ministry of Defence 7,487 9,056 +21% Hashd al-Shaabi 1,682 2,593 +54% Ministry of Electricity 6,129 10,057 +64% Ministry of Health 1,919 3,292 +72% KRG share 6,637 9,783 +47% As things currently stand, it seems unlikely that the budget will be approved anytime soon. The biggest obstacle lies in the fragmented nature of Iraqi politics. With so many demands and little internal cohesion within parliament, it will be an uphill struggle for the government to satisfy enough parties to get a majority in parliament for the bill. Reports suggest that during the final cabinet meeting of 2018, a decision was made to make yet more changes to it. At what point Abdul-Mahdi’s government will satisfy the demands of the key blocs, or whether agreement on the budget will be tied to a broader deal over the vacant ministerial posts, remains unclear. What is abundantly clear from the parliamentary debates over the budget is how inconsistent and contradictory the demands have become. On the one hand, lawmakers are concerned about the burgeoning size of spending and the deficit, while at the same time calling for job creation in the public sector. Similarly, the finance committee wants the budget to encourage growth of the private sector, but it has committed to ensuring that all public sector contractors are afforded salaried employment. This dichotomy between a commitment to fiscal reforms and the political imperative of meeting the popular demands of citizens is emblematic of the general malaise that has afflicted post-war politics in Iraq.
  3. SocalDinar

    Let us have a THINK

    But who collects the tax? Filing my quarterly State board of equalization (Can’t remember the new name of agency) is a pain in the rear. And I only sell about 150 units a quarter. As as far as my S Corp goes my tax guy saves me quite a bit of money . But it Would be nice to get rid of 7 years worth of files . Must be 20 boxes of them in my garage LOL iIf we are to believe the climate science ( and I do ) there is no stopping this train .And storms and drought are the least of our worries . When the oceans Bio plankton die off we will witness decreased oxygen levels . By 2100 our O2 levels at sea level will be the same as Mount Everest . Mankind will suffocate And this will be a natural event. We are a part of nature. We are not special
  4. SocalDinar

    Let us have a THINK

    Hey Caz.. Hope all is well with you and your family We had a chance to repeal a gas tax and make our legislature vote on any new gas tax. Guess what .. The morons voted against it. Could not believe the amount of wasteful bonds that passed also. I now get taxed for every square foot of impermeable ground ( concrete. ) Thjey say its because the water does not go into the water table.... I live 1/4 mile from the pacific. No water wells here. Their will be a tipping point Not sure when but its coming.
  5. SocalDinar

    Let us have a THINK

    I just looked up what the top 10% make annually . LOL I guess my wife and I are in the Top10% for the USA. Could not find CA data. I surely dont consider myself wealthy. But we own a few properties and a couple of businesses so we do OK. I would be game for a flat tax. But hate to put any burden on Businesses . My main company is an electrical contracting business. I pay tax on all my materiels . I dont deal with the reseller with the state. We are a service business so we dont charge tax. I would imagine i would need to start collecting tax if we go to a federal sales tax. Also concerned about the Black markets this will cause with everything.. My other business is a product I invented and sell. Its an RV accessory ..... no pun intended. I do collect all state sales tax for this on Ca sales. I have it made in China. Could not even come close to being able to manufacture here. One raw unit would cost $58 each.made here. Im having two made ( set ) powder coated, bubble wrapped put in a retail box with all mounting hardware and shipped half way around the world. Take a guess how much $18.50!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! As far as climate change goes i feel we will evolve or die. Simple as that. Main problem is there are too many people and the Worlds population is growing. How do you make other countries adhere to climate change policies. Answer is we cant. I do work for some refineries in SOCAL. They sell the petroleum coke. Its to dirty to burn here, So off it goes to China. Guess what? They burn it!!!!!!!! They dont have a different atmosphere last time i looked. No doubt that the glaciers are melting. What we need is a nice global pandemic.... Thats about the only real solution. That or when we run out of Oil..
  6. SocalDinar

    Let us have a THINK

    I personally know a few who haved moved to Oregon, Texas and Colorado. We do produce a lot of high wage earners so the numbers show a net increase of high wage earners. Jerry Browns exit tax stalled a lot of moves. I also know many that simply moved their physical address to other states to avoid paying California's capitol gains taxes. They only pay earned income taxes. But I do wonder why you think its fair for any one person to pay a higher percentage of tax? You already pay more because you make more. The bottom 40% pay nothing and many get money back because of credits. That surely does not seem fair to me. As far as live within our means i agree. But more tax is not the answer. Our local governments are bloated and overspend. Our Librarian in my small town of 20,000 people makes $160,000 per year. I have two small businesses and when i see that i wish i had taken a city job years ago. Many times i have put my house on the line and for what? To keep my employees working and my businesses alive. As far as green house gas taxes we already pay the highest in the nation. Arnolds cap and trade tax on refineries costs everyone over 50 cents a gallon. And you want to increase that tax to go to infrastructure products.? Jerry's gas tax passed in the middle of the night was supposed to make our roads better but it has only made government pensions better. And how about all the taxes they call fees? No voter approval needed if they call it a fee. California was paradise when i grew up here. Not so much anymore.
  7. Baghdad Allocates 50 IQD Billion for Implementing Article 140 BasNews 07/01/2019 - 00:27 Iraq ERBIL - The Iraqi government has allocated 50 IQD billion from its 2019 budget bill for implementing the article 140 of the constitution, a Kurdish lawmaker said on Sunday. Mariwan Nadir, a Kurdish MP in the Iraqi Parliament, said in a statement that the allocation is "a good sign" as the federal government has not paid any significant attention to this article in the past few years. Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is to normalize the situation in the disputed Kurdish areas However, Nadir pointed out that the implementation of the article, which is meant to compensate the people affected by the former Iraqi Baath regime in the disputed territories, would cost about 420 IQD billion. "But only 50 [IQD] billion have been allocated and that would result in a delay in the process [of compensation]," the Kurdish MP said .
  8. POLICYWATCH 3061 Designing Win-Win Economic Policies in Washington and Baghdad Katherine Bauer, Michael Knights, and Bilal Wahab January 3, 2019 To pressure Iran without cornering Iraq, U.S. officials should set a program of activities with achievable timeframes, supported by public diplomacy. On January 3, Iraqi foreign minister Muhammad Ali al-Hakim expressed annoyance at U.S. sanctions on Iran, stating that “the sanctions, the siege, or what is called the embargo, these are unilateral, not international. We are not obliged [to follow] them.” The comments came two weeks after the United States issued a 90-day waiver to allow Iraq to continue importing Iranian natural gas and electricity. This renewal followed the prior 45-day waiver allocated alongside the November 4 reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran. Despite defiant statements, Iraq has signaled its intention to comply with U.S. sanctions and move toward energy independence, while asking Washington for some flexibility with its electricity shortfall problems (especially during summer months). In the next 90 days, the two governments need to agree on a practical program to build confidence and allow for longer waiver periods, akin to the 180-day waivers available to most purchasers of Iranian energy supplies. IRAQI COMPLIANCE WITH U.S. SANCTIONS Energy transfers between Iran and Iraq are a potential source of much-needed hard currency for Iran’s security agencies. For example, Washington sanctioned a major Iraqi bank and its well-connected chairman last May for their role in moving millions of dollars from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to Hezbollah. Iran has also historically used Iraq as a source of U.S. dollars, which is prohibited under sanctions. Washington therefore has three ongoing concerns relating to Iraqi trade with Iran: Payments for Iranian electricity. Iraq imports between 500 megawatts of electricity from Iran in winter and 1,200 MW in summer, costing approximately $1.2 billion per year. Under the U.S. waiver conditions, Iraq must pay for this in dinars, not U.S. dollars. Purchases of Iranian gas. The BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy reported that Iran’s gas exports to Iraq reached 154 million cubic feet per day (or 13% of the current Iraqi gas supply), allowing Baghdad to generate at least another 1,000 MW of electricity, with plans to increase this to 4,000 MW. Under the waiver, Iraq is required to hold Iran’s revenue from this gas in an escrow account that can only be used to finance bilateral trade. Other Iranian efforts to secure U.S. dollars. In late 2011, demand for U.S. dollars at currency auctions conducted by the Central Bank of Iraq more than doubled, corresponding to rapid depreciation of the Iranian rial as multilateral sanctions built pressure on Iran’s economy. Although the bank began taking steps in 2015 to ban suspicious buyers in response to U.S. fears that the Islamic State was exploiting auctions, concerns remain that Iran could access the auctions through poorly regulated exchange houses and front companies. Dispensing with the auctions is a distant possibility, but the bank has managed to reduce their profitability by narrowing the gulf between official and actual exchange rates from 6.25% in 2017 to 2% by mid-2018. FOCUS ON ENERGY INDEPENDENCE The United States is encouraging Baghdad to reduce its dependence on Iranian gas and electricity by harnessing its own copious and underexploited capacity. Iraq currently wastes around $2.5 billion worth of gas per year via flaring, or 1.55 billion cubic feet per day (ten times the amount imported from Iran). U.S. officials have cautioned Iraq that future waiver extensions will require it to provide a clear plan for achieving energy independence and show tangible steps toward implementation. Washington would also prefer that Iraq diversify its energy purchases. In July 2018, Saudi Arabia announced its willingness to cooperate on a plan that would supply electricity to Iraq for $21 per megawatt-hour, one-fourth the cost of Iranian imports. Jordan might also be willing to export electricity there, and Turkey has contemplated increasing its cross-border supply to the Mosul area. Moreover, during a recent visit to Iraq, U.S. energy secretary Rick Perry mentioned the potential for temporary imports of liquefied natural gas from the United States and other vendors. These options could reduce the price of exorbitantly expensive imports from Iran. Iraq buys Iranian gas for $11.23 per thousand cubic feet—compared to the $5.42 that Germany has paid to acquire more-distant gas from Russia, the $6.49 that Kuwait paid for U.S. LNG, or even the $7.82 that Japan paid for LNG, according to BP. POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS In the next 90 days, the U.S. government first needs to hold an interagency policy discussion to ensure that the State Department, National Security Council, Treasury Department, intelligence community, and Energy Department are on the same page. Energy experts within these agencies need to clearly lay out which advances are feasible for Iraq in a 90-day timeframe. Likewise, financial and sanctions experts should assess the risks of diverting Iraqi payments to Iran and, relatedly, the capacity of Iraqi financial institutions and their regulators to comply with the waiver conditions. Furthermore, the next waiver extension should be issued with a less arbitrary duration, along with a set of achievable and measurable milestones. These might include: Iraqi white paper on energy independence. It is reasonable to expect Iraq to draft this paper and get it approved by the cabinet energy committee within the next 90 days. The report should provide a prioritized and sequenced roadmap for increasing gas capture and strengthening the electricity sector by summer 2019 (e.g., the latter effort could include gradually collecting electricity dues with the World Bank’s help and reducing power leakage by refurbishing distribution networks). Memoranda of understanding. Expecting Iraq to sign major deals with energy firms during the first 45-day waiver period may have been unrealistic. Such deals are typically very large in value and require approval from the Iraqi cabinet, which was only partially formed on October 25—a week before the United States began the 45-day clock. It is more realistic to expect Iraq to sign memoranda of understanding and heads of agreement with international companies in the next 90 days. Yet Washington should appreciate that Baghdad has received competing proposals for gas capture and electricity sector management, and thus will likely try to combine them and force providers to work together—a slow process under the best of circumstances. At the same time, the United States is right to expect progress by this summer, when drought and heat may combine to create a new and destabilizing electricity crisis. This suggests the need to set realistic timeframes and prioritize projects that can show immediate effects. Energy compact among Iraq’s neighbors. The United States, Germany, and other parties should work to bring Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan together on the sidelines of the January 9 Middle East Strategic Alliance meeting in Oman, with the aim of discussing electricity exports to Iraq. Monitoring U.S. dollars. U.S. and Iraqi authorities should continue their robust exchange of information related to troubling trends in U.S. dollar demand within Iraq, suspicious cross-border wire transfers, and dubious Iraqi exchange houses. As Iraq and Iran seek to expand bilateral trade from $12 billion to $20 billion, Washington will likely keep a close eye on such activity generally. It also has considerable insight into dollar-denominated transactions that draw on Iraqi reserves held at the U.S. Federal Reserve. Expose bad actors. The Central Bank of Iraq should identify and ban exchange houses and front companies attempting to access U.S. dollars on Iran’s behalf via Iraqi currency auctions. The bank has blacklisted more than 200 exchange houses suspected of engaging in illicit financial activities since 2015, some jointly designated with the United States. Boost banking sector to counter sanctions evasion. Iraq’s cash-based economy makes it a challenge to stifle Iranian sanctions evasion through monitoring of dollar demand and wire transfers alone. To reform its financial sector, Iraq needs prodding and technical assistance in switching public payrolls from cash handouts to bank debits. Beyond efforts to bring additional trade financing activity into the formal sector, U.S. and Iraqi authorities should reach out to banks, financial firms, and commercial actors in key sectors, raising awareness about the legal parameters of U.S. sanctions and the potential consequences of doing business with certain Iranian entities. Washington should also offer technical assistance to increase regulators’ capacity to implement counter-illicit finance regulations. Although the United States is pursuing its own interests through these measures, each aspect of its Iran sanctions policy is good for Iraqis. Their leaders should want to use wasted Iraqi gas instead of buying Iran’s expensive imports. They should want to have a more diverse range of electricity providers to secure better value, reliability, and energy independence for the people. And they should want to improve financial controls and promote transparency in the economy, safeguarding its integrity and protecting Iraq’s vital connection to the international financial system. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad should use all available channels to ensure that the Iraqi people understand how sanctions can facilitate these benefits.
  9. World Iraq bans orange imports to 'protect' local yield Kosar Nawzad | 2 hours ago Share share Merchants in the process of importing oranges have 10 days to bring in supplies that are presumably already on their way to Iraq. (Photo: Archive) Iraq Baghdad Orange A+AA- ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture announced on Monday an unexpected halt on all imports of oranges that would go into effect the following morning to compensate for an overabundance of locally-produced supply. Ministry spokesman Hamid Nayef said in a statement that officials had decided to stop the import of the popular citrus fruit through all border crossings to "protect the local product on one side and... the consumer on the other." It is unclear what the ministry meant by "protecting" the consumer since restricting the supply of a product would likely lead to an increase in price. Iraqi oranges are known for their higher prices when compared to Iranian or Turkish imports. The contrast is even greater in the Kurdistan Region since their price is compounded by additional transportation costs. The decision was initiated after a letter by the Economic Affairs Committee of the Council of Ministers, which stipulated that the goods covered by the ban should not be allowed to enter according to the crop calendar, suggesting the move would only be temporary. Merchants in the process of importing oranges have 10 days to bring in supplies that are presumably already on their way to Iraq. The Ministry of Agriculture called on all border posts to strictly adhere to the resolution. It was not specified whether the decision will apply to the border crossings of the Kurdistan Region.
  10. This is a few days old Iraq's National Debts on the Rise: MP BasNews 18/12/2018 - 02:02 Iraq ERBIL - Iraq's national debts have reached $ 140 billion, a member of the parliamentary economic committee revealed on Monday, predicting the country to finish the repayment by 2056. "The Parliamentary Finance Committee is aware of Iraq's national debts and the amount of the budget which has been allocated to the ministries," Adnan Zwrfi, a member of the committee, said in a statement. The official also noted that they are trying to make an economic plan to reduce the expenses, urging the federal government to prepare an accurate data on the expenditures. In a separate statement made previously, Haisam al-Jabouri, a member of the same committee, said that Iraq's debts were $ 124 billion, explaining that $ 40 billion of them are to Arab Gulf states.
  11. Philanthropists building 99% of mosques and just 1% of schools in Iraqi Kurdistan Posted on December 22, 2018 by Editorial Staff in Education, Islam, People Grand mosques in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. Photo: Courtesy of Safin/flickr HEWLÊR-Erbil, Iraq’s Kurdistan region,— More than 99 percent of all mosques in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region have been built by philanthropists and the religious affairs ministry is overwhelmed by applications for construction permits for new mosques, government data suggest. “Ninety-nine percent of mosques in the Kurdistan Region were built by philanthropists who applied for construction permits to build mosques even during the financial crisis,” Nabaz Ismael, spokesperson of the Ministry of Religious Affairs told Rudaw. “We are currently processing 70 applications for permits to build mosques,” he added. Of more than 5,500 mosques in the Kurdistan Region 99 percent were fully funded by local philanthropists, according to the ministry. The religious affairs ministry is overwhelmed by the number of applications for building new mosques to an extent that they have now introduced new conditions for issuing such permits. “There are places that have a mosque already, yet they want to build another one there,” Ismail explained. “The Ministry of Religious Affairs does not allow them to build mosques anywhere they wish to build one.” He maintained that permits are only given for mosques where they are needed. “Mosques are allowed to be built according to the need and instructions,” Ismail said. “Permits are issued to build mosques in places that don’t have one or have an old one that needs to be renovated.” Ismail said they did not have such conditions for building churches or other houses of worship. He added that there are 122 churches and 32 Christian sites in the Kurdistan Region. Ismail said that foreign organizations and governments have helped rebuilding some Christian churches and Yezidi sites damaged by or during the war with ISIS. “The Ministry of Religious Affairs only facilitates the process for them,” he added. In comparison, philanthropists have contributed to the building of only 1 percent of all more than 7,000 schools in the region. Some believe philanthropists should channel their money towards other projects such as schools and hospitals. “There is only one hospital in the Kurdistan Region that was built by a philanthropist, and this hospital is called Nana Kali in Erbil which is special to blood diseases and cancer,” There are also some health centers built by philanthropists. The rest was built by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG),” Dr Khalis Qadir, chief of staff of the KRG Ministry of Health told Rudaw. From 2013 to 2017 only one school was built in the province of Erbil and that was funded by a private company. The government says that philanthropists have built only 28 schools across the Kurdistan Region: 7 in Erbil, 7 in Sulaimani, 10 in Duhok, 3 in Halabja, and one in Garmiyan. “Of the 6,799 state schools, 189 schools are in rented buildings, 2006 schools have double shifts, and 150 schools have triple shifts,” Shorish Ghafur, head of media office at the Ministry of Education, told Rudaw. The KRG needs to build 3,098 new schools by 2022, according to a 2017 government plan.
  12. Sana Mahmoud crowned as Miss Iraqi Kurdistan 2018 Posted on December 21, 2018 by Editorial Staff in Lifestyle, Women Sana Mahmoud (C) crowned as Miss Kurdistan 2018, Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan Region, December 20, 2018. Photo: Rudaw HEWLÊR-Erbil, Iraq’s Kurdistan region,— Sana Mahmoud of Halabja was crowned as Miss Kurdistan 2018 in a ceremony at the Babylon Hotel in Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan, on Thursday night. She beat out thirteen other finalists who were evaluated by a ten-person committee. The committee also took into account votes submitted by the public through Viber. The finalists were selected from an initial group of 107 candidates. Both Kareiz, from Erbil, and Merian, from Sulaimani, were nominated as the first and second runner-ups. This is the fourth iteration of the pageant. Shene Aziz Ako was crowned Miss Kurdistan in 2012, Fênik Mohammad Abdul Karim in 2013, and Zhalia Sirwan in 2016. At the height of the financial crisis and the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in 2014 and 2015, the contest was also postponed. In 2017, the contest was not held in Iraqi Kurdistan Region because of political instability following the October 16 military takeover by Iraqi forces and Shia militias on disputed territories after the ill-fated independence referendum of Massoud Barzani. Sana Mahmoud (C) crowned as Miss Kurdistan 2018, Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, December 20, 2018. Photo: Rudaw The type of competition is relatively new in the region, with traditional norms often acting as barriers for girls attempting to take part in such events. Bikinis are banned at Kurdistan beauty pageant.
  13. Iraq’s charred olive groves - another ruinous legacy of Islamic State #IslamicState When IS burned and poisoned olive groves in northern Iraq, they left a devastating legacy which will long outlast their bloody rule Four years after they were burned, a few trees in Tal Afar put out new branches (MEE/Tom Westcott) Tom Westcott Thursday 13 December 2018 12:19 UTC Last update: Saturday 15 December 2018 12:24 UTC reddit googleplus 26 Topics: IslamicState Tags: Olives, Farming, agriculture, Tal Afar, Nineveh, rural, Reconstruction Show comments TAL AFAR, Iraq - The pavement outside Tal Afar’s main wholesale store is stacked with large tubs of olives imported from Turkey. Before the Islamic State (IS) group seized control of the rural town in mid-2014, its olive-loving locals had not imported the fruit for decades, relying entirely on produce from their own olive groves, which amply supplied the town and outlying villages. Large tubs of olives imported from Turkey outside Tal Afar's main wholesale store (MEE/Tom Westcott) One of the first things IS militants did when they seized control of Tal Afar in June 2014 was to set olive groves and orchards ablaze, destroying a thriving local industry which had taken decades to nurture. “We never bought these before because all our olives were grown locally and there was never a need to buy them from outside,” says shopkeeper Nashd Hussein, gesturing towards the stacks of Turkish olives. “But it’s not only the olive trees that IS destroyed here, it was all our fruit trees, along with our agricultural buildings and farming equipment.” Tal Afar, a countryside town in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province, is predominately inhabited by Iraqi Turkmen. It lies 63km west of Mosul and 52km east of Sinjar, and is strategically close to the Syrian border. After more than three years under IS control, during which time many inhabitants - particularly from its minority Shia population - fled, Tal Afar was liberated by Iraqi forces in August 2017. Desolate olive groves On the outskirts of Tal Afar, farmer Ali Azgar Suloman leads a sad tour around one of his former olive groves, where once-bountiful trees now stand as dry brown skeletons. IS set some olive groves ablaze but they destroyed others, including this one, by poisoning the roots of the trees. Suloman tenderly steps between the dead trees in the walled olive grove, fretting about the condition of the soil. He understands that IS mostly used oil and petrol to poison the roots of the trees, but worries they could have applied some other, unknown poison that has left the soil permanently contaminated. Tal Afar farmer Ali Azgar Suloman stands in one of his former olive groves. These trees were killed by IS poisoning their roots (MEE/Tom Westcott) “This whole area was olive trees before IS came,” he tells MEE. “Tal Afar was always famous for its olives but almost all our trees were destroyed by IS. Our olive groves are all gone, all destroyed.” Suloman estimates that local farmers had around 5,000 olive trees just in Tal Afar’s outlying farmland, almost all of which have been killed. A handful of trees in private gardens are all that remain. In one corner of the olive grove stands his ruined farm machinery that IS also set ablaze. “This was a brand new tractor and I had only driven five kilometres in it,” he says, shaking his head and pointing to the now rusted skeleton of a burned-out tractor. Farmer Ali Mohammed Saleh had a hard homecoming after the liberation of Tal Afar. Not only had his flock of 640 sheep vanished - taken across the border into Syria, according to a local undercover intelligence officer - but his olive groves of 265 trees were all dead. His farm equipment had been looted, the well he relied on to water his crops had been filled in with rubble and his agricultural buildings had been set ablaze by IS in attempt to conceal militant activities from aerial surveillance. “Of course I was pleased to come back and happy my family were okay but it was very painful to see my farm like this,” he says. “Everything was so badly damaged, it is very difficult to start farming again but I'm working with my sons and we are trying to fix whatever things we can.” Mukhtar al-Musawi, the former commander of the Tal Afar-based Brigade 53 of Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) forces, who was recently elected to the new Iraqi parliament, said IS targeted Tal Afar farmers because between 70 and 80 percent of them were Shia. He said they wanted to ensure Shia residents never returned and, if they did, they would struggle to rebuild their livelihoods. Tal Afar was famous for its unusual-tasting sweet-sour olives, he said, adding that IS also had a regional plan to force the area to become reliant on imported fruit. For the region, olive harvests had previously provided a lucrative trade. “Before IS came, I could make between 1.5 million and 2 million dinars [approximately $1,250 to $1,666] per month,” Suloman says. Tal Afar’s main wholesale market is now spending thousands of dollars a month importing olives from Turkey, money which had previously stayed circulating within the local community. Locals say the destruction of the town’s olive groves and orchards was a deliberate move to prevent people from trying to restart their former livelihoods. “IS knew this area well and they also knew that the people of this area love olives, so they knew exactly what they were doing by destroying our trees,” Suloman says. “And they also knew the consequences of doing this but they wanted to ruin our future as well as our present.” A 2011 report about Iraq’s potential to diversify into olive oil production by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said that Iraq’s annual olive production was between 10,000 and 12,000 metric tons, not enough to supply its average annual national consumption of 30,000 metric tons. Noting that most of the country’s 600,000 trees were in Ninevah Province, especially in the Bashiqa area, which is some 100km from Tal Afar, the report said: “Olives are a potentially important cash crop for Iraqi farmers and are attractive because olives can survive and produce fruit in areas with limited water resources.” Bashiqa was also under IS control for two and a half years. An uncertain future for farmers For this remote rural population, the fruit trees and agricultural equipment were valuable and costly items that will take a long time to replace. Suloman says Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture values the worth of a single olive tree at 25,000 dinars [$19], so the region’s farmers had lost the equivalent of millions of dinars as a result of IS’s destruction of the olive groves. IS militants set fire to Tal Afar's orchard and olive groves (MEE/Tom Westcott) “It will take around 40 years to properly rebuild the orchards and olive groves here,” Musawi predicted. He explained that rebuilding the area’s decimated agriculture wasn’t helped by ongoing water shortages in Tal Afar, which leave little spare water for farming. He complained of neglect from Iraq’s former government and parliament, which had not offered compensation to local farmers for their lost livelihoods. “The people here have lost faith in the government because it’s in Baghdad and here we are in a remote rural area,” he said. “The [former] parliament had six members from Tal Afar but, after liberation, not a single one came here to the town to see the situation.” The burned trees and poisoned land are not the only obstacle facing Tal Afar’s farmers. IS also left the area extensively booby-trapped with mines and IEDs. “The farmers in and around Tal Afar lost everything under IS, and much of the agricultural land has been left heavily mined so people are afraid to return to their farms,” Musawi said, explaining that the area urgently needed the support of international de-mining groups. For the farmers of Tal Afar, many of whom are already facing the challenge of rebuilding their homes, damaged by IS or during fighting, the ruinous legacy of IS on their agricultural livelihoods will take decades to repair. Mukhtar al-Musawi, former head of a Tal Afar brigade, recently elected into the new Iraqi parliament (MEE/Tom Westcott) “If I can, I will buy new trees in the future, but I’ve also lost all my equipment and this will take years and years to replace,” Suloman says. “I must have tools because I am a farmer and it’s impossible to work without equipment.” As dusk falls, he walks back towards his family home, where in his garden two lone, healthy olive trees stand. “I should have already started this year but I could not. Perhaps next year I will think about how to restart,” he says. But slow-growing olive trees take years to reach maturity and to start producing decent harvests, and Suloman is already in his 60s.
  14. Iraq's GDP to grow 4.1% in 2019 thanks to oil prices, Moody's says Opec's second-largest producer is benefiting from improvement in security Dania Saadi December 13, 2018 Updated: December 13, 2018 04:16 PM Gross domestic growth will accelerate from 2.8 this year to 4.1 per cent next year, the highest level since 2016’s 13.1 per cent economic expansion, the rating agency said. Reuters Iraq’s economy is forecast to grow further in 2019 to a three-year high due to stronger oil prices that are expected to average $75 a barrel, Moody’s Investors Service said. Gross domestic growth will accelerate to 4.1 per cent next year from 2.8 this year, the highest level since the 13.1 per cent economic expansion in 2016, the ratings agency said in a report on Thursday. “Higher oil prices and output, as well as an expected increase in investment spending because of the improved security situation, have bolstered Iraq's economic outlook,” said the report. “However, oil price volatility and potential further social unrest that could weaken Iraq's economic infrastructure, as well as Iraq's vulnerability to environmental risks, exacerbated by outdated infrastructure are continued risks to growth.” Iraq, the second-largest oil producer in Opec that pumped around 4.6 million barrels of oil per day in November, is benefiting from a rebound in oil prices this year after a three-year slump that sent prices to less than $30 a barrel in the first quarter of 2016. Improvement in security has also helped boost economic activity in the country. Iraq’s economy, which shrank 2.1 per cent in 2017, is projected to expand 1.5 per cent in 2018 and 6.5 per cent in 2019, "largely from continuing reconstruction efforts", according to the International Monetary Fund. ___________ Read more: Iraq could raise output capacity by 1 million bpd in 10 years, says Wood Mackenzie While energy outlook improves for Iraq, vulnerabilities remain ___________ Stronger oil prices have helped Iraq lower its public debt to GDP ratio, which doubled to 66 per cent between 2013 and 2016, and narrow its fiscal deficit which peaked at 14.3 per cent of economic output in 2016, the report said. “Higher oil prices since mid-2017 have reversed the deterioration in the government's fiscal position and boosted Iraq's foreign exchange reserves (including gold) to more than $58 billion at the end of September 2018,” the report said. Iraq is projected to swing to its first fiscal surplus this year since 2012 compared with 1.6 per cent of GDP deficit in 2017. “We expect a small fiscal surplus of around 0.4 per cent of GDP in 2018, though larger than planned spending increases during 2018 have prevented a more significant fiscal improvement,” Moody’s said. Iraq relies on oil income for about 80 per cent of government revenue, a figure that peaked at 94 per cent in 2014 and remains one of the highest in the region. Public sector salaries and pensions represented about 50 per cent of total government expenditure or 20 per cent of GDP in 2016. “While higher oil prices improve the government's fiscal performance, they also increase the risk of complacency on reforms aimed at decreasing vulnerability of Iraq's fiscal position to declines in oil prices,” Moody's said. “Public sector compensation has been the fastest-growing expenditure item in the government's budget. The ministries of education, defence and interior are the largest employers.”

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