Sep 23, 2021
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Iraq ahead of elections

Iraqi authorities deliberately restrict the development of projects of Russian oil companies

As the October 10 parliamentary elections approach, there are growing calls in Iraqi society to boycott the vote. More and more Iraqis are coming to the conclusion that the authorities have lost their credibility and will not get any worse.

The UN mission in Iraq sharply intensified, and with the direct support of Washington, the United States provided two grants totaling $ 14.9 million. “To help prepare the elections”… US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield praised the charges: “UN Election Mission Advisers have worked hard to educate the Iraqi Supreme Independent Electoral Commission to make elections free and fair.”

More than 25 million Iraqi citizens have the right to vote, with a separate voting day on October 8 for some categories. These categories include security forces, prisoners sentenced to less than five years in prison, and Iraqi citizens living in camps for displaced persons. According to the CEC, 3244 candidates from 276 political entities are registered, 329 mandates of parliamentary deputies are at stake, which is to elect the next president and prime minister.

The government, headed by M. al-Kazimi, is taking active measures “to maintain stability”, assuring that “the vote will lay the foundation for the promised reforms.” Skeptics believe, however, that the main goal of government officials is to keep their posts. On September 16, the head of government announced that he would step up cooperation with the international community in recovering Iraqi assets stolen after 2003. “The cases of those who took Iraq’s funds outside the country will be considered within the framework of legal procedures.”, – he stressed, which led to a lot of stinging comments on social networks.

Another zigzag of the famous populist Muqtada al-Sadr caused no less criticism. In July, he stated: “In order to preserve what is left of the nation, and to save the nation, which was burned by corrupt officials and continues to burn, I inform you that I will not participate in the elections.”… On August 27, he changed his mind: he announced that he would take part in the October 10 elections, since the political parties (?) Had provided him with a document with a plan for radical reforms. After reviewing the plan, M. al-Sadr came to the conviction that these parties would meet the expectations of the Sadrist movement and called on his supporters to take part in the elections.

There is an increased interest in the Iraqi elections from outside. The Iraqi authorities tried to exploit this by organizing a one-day conference on August 28, loudly called a “reconciliation summit.” Syria was defiantly not invited to the meeting. The heads of France, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, the prime ministers of the UAE and Kuwait, the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia gathered in Baghdad. Not without representatives of the US and EU. On the eve of the meeting, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry noted that they were counting on strengthening economic cooperation, read: receiving assistance, but this was again not achieved. Kuwait’s decision to donate $ 1 million worth of medical equipment (including ventilators) and 7,100 food kits to distribute to those in need in nine Iraqi provinces is hardly an achievement.

As a result, the meeting turned into a pretentious presentation of the French president, or as they say in the West, one man show… Emmanuel Macron extended his visit by a day to hold separate meetings with the federal leadership in Baghdad, as well as in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomy. He visited Mosul and visited the French special forces units stationed in Iraq. And the main result was the conclusion of preliminary agreements between the oil and gas giant Total energy (former General, about 100 thousand employees in more than 130 countries) and the government of Iraq on the implementation of investment projects worth $ 27 billion. Four projects are reported for the development of oil fields, associated gas and the construction of solar power plants. Among the signed documents is a project to increase oil production at the Artaui field from 85 thousand to 210 thousand barrels per day, and it is worth stopping here.

The fact is that the Iraqi authorities are purposefully limiting the development of projects developed by Russian companies. The head of Lukoil V. Alekperov recently again complained that he was not only three times lowering the production target at the West Qurna-2 field agreed in 2010, but that work on the Yamama and Block-10 projects was also impeded. The Iraqi government categorically forbade Lukoil to sell its assets, and this after the company invested more than $ 8 billion and only recently reimbursed its expenses, that is, went to zero. As an experienced negotiator, V. Alekperov diplomatically noted: “We continue to negotiate with the Iraqi government on the economics of the West Qurna-2 project and find some understanding. Now I would not like to speak until the end of the negotiation process and on the eve of the elections in October “

The case for the Gazprom Neft company does not look the best. At a meeting of the Russian-Iraqi Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation on August 26, it was decided that Gazprom Neft and the Iraqi Oil Ministry “Will complete the procedure for approving the field development plan and continue discussing an additional agreement to the service contract of the Badra project”… At the same time, the Russian company is still awaiting the implementation of the decision of the Iraqi side from 2018 to accelerate the reimbursement of costs for the construction of the gas plant ($ 579 million) by increasing the compensation base. At the end of 2019, the deputy head of Gazprom Neft, Vadim Yakovlev, reported that the company was awaiting permission from the Iraqi authorities for additional drilling at Badr. Today, due to restrictions, oil production at this field is “stabilized” at 75 thousand barrels per second, and gas production decreased in 2020 compared to 2019 by 27.3% – to 0.16 billion cubic meters. m.

One of the main issues remains the status of US and NATO troops in Iraq. On September 9, General Kenneth Mackenzie, Commander of the United States’ Central Command, visited Baghdad. During his meeting with Prime Minister M. al-Kazimi, “Ways of closer cooperation between the parties”… Mackenzie confirmed that the transition from a combat mission to an advisory mission would be completed by January 1, and at the same time it was confirmed that the presence of a foreign military contingent was justified by an invitation from the Iraqi government. There are now over 2,500 American troops in Iraq; the procedure for transferring troops to “non-combat” status is planned to be developed in the course of further consultations. At the same time, Badr Ziadi, a member of the parliamentary committee on defense and security, said that the United States would move its heavy weapons and military equipment to bases in the Gulf countries, but the American Air Force would continue operations against the Islamic State * banned in Russia at the request of the Iraqi government. The remaining US military in Iraq will be responsible for planning operations, intelligence and training for Iraqi forces. A lot of specialists will be needed – on August 31, Baghdad announced the government’s decision to make military service compulsory.

The discussed reduction of the American military presence could not remain unnoticed by IS * militants and other anti-government forces: the number of terrorist attacks has increased. On the evening of August 21, a column of “people’s militia” was attacked in the outskirts of Baghdad; the lead vehicle was blown up by a roadside land mine, after which sniper fire was opened (four people were killed, including the deputy commander of the 12th brigade of the “militia”). On August 27, an American base near the port of Umm Qasr came under rocket fire, there were no casualties, but it is noteworthy that this object is a secret base of the special operations forces of the US Armed Forces, which has not been previously reported. On September 4, army units were attacked twice in Kirkuk province, killing 15 soldiers. On September 12, a base used by the US and coalition forces in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, was attacked using two explosive-loaded UAVs.

Under pressure from different sides, Prime Minister M. al-Kazimi is obliged to take into account the position of Iran. On September 12, he visited Tehran at the head of a large delegation and held working meetings with President Ibrahim Raisi, and negotiations were held between the ministers of the two countries. In addition to issues of economic cooperation (for example, the implementation of a project to build a railway from Iran to Basra), other issues were also discussed; special attention was paid to the upcoming commemoration of Imam Hussein, who died in the 7th century – a significant event for Shiites. The event is known as Arbain and according to the lunar calendar it starts this year on September 28th. Millions of Shiites consider it their duty to visit on this date the Iraqi Karbala, where the tomb of Imam Hussein is located; it is preferable to overcome the path on foot, and the bulk of the pilgrims move from Iran. M. al-Kazimi announced the abolition of the visa regime for Iranian citizens and “Promised to maximize the number of pilgrims so that more could come to Iraq for the Arba’in ceremony”

Shiites on the way to Karbala on the occasion of Arba'in day

Shiites on the way to Karbala on the occasion of Arba’in day

President Raisi favorably assessed this decision and emphasized: “We are on the eve of Arba’in and … the preservation of pilgrims is a very important issue.”

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