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Iraqi Kurdish government sworn in under son of former president

The new cabinet is sworn in amidst an ongoing conflict with the federal government in Baghdad over oil and Kurdish independence
Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, centre, taking the oath of office to the Kurdistan parliament on Wednesday (Twitter/@MasrourBarzani)

The parliament of Iraq’s Kurdish region approved a new cabinet headed by Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, son of the former president, on Wednesday.

Of the 111-member parliament, 88 granted a vote of confidence to 21 new ministers, with nine ministers affiliated to the Barzani-led Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

A former Peshmerga fighter, Barzani, 50, was elected as a senior leader of the KDP in 1998, then as chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) by his father, then-president Massoud Barzani.

He was appointed prime minister last month by his cousin Nechirvan Barzani, who was elected president of the region in May.

Masrour Barzani will also serve as the de facto minister of natural resources as the post remains unassigned.

The semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq held a controversial referendum on independence in October 2017 that was approved with a majority of votes.

The referendum was backed by the KDP and led to a military conflict with the Iraqi federal government, which rejected the result of the vote.

The Kurdish region lost large swathes of its territory and its crucial Kirkuk oil fields to the Iraqi government during the conflict, prompting Massoud Barzani to step down as president of the region in the aftermath of Kurdish losses.

One year later, the KDP won a majority of parliamentary seats in elections and has since been controlling key government posts.

The party’s rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), was awarded six ministers in the new cabinet.

One ministerial post has been awarded to a Christian, according to the region’s sectarian quota system.

The cabinet’s only Christian minister, Ano Jawhar Abdulmasih Abdoka, has been sworn in as minister of transportation and communications. During the ceremony, he used a Bible that was burned by Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Nineveh Plains, he told a Kurdish news website.

Seeking 'a stable relationship' with Baghdad

On Wednesday, the new prime minister said his priority would be to strengthen ties with the Baghdad government rather than work towards independence.

“Erbil and Baghdad both want security and prosperity, built on a foundation of mutual respect and cooperation,” he said addressing parliament.

“This will include securing our rightful share of government revenue by settling once and for all the distribution formula that determines the annual budget allocation for Kurdistan.”

In an interview with Reuters news agency on Wednesday, Barzani reiterated that he sought an improvement in relations with Baghdad.

"This [independence referendum] happened in the past and it's a reflection of the enduring aspiration of a nation," Barzani told Reuters.

"However, the focus of my government will be how to build a stronger relationship and partnership with Baghdad," he said, adding he would look to fix "those issues that were actually keeping us apart".

The post-referendum conflict has led to a year-long freeze in oil exports from the region, which controls Iraq’s only northern pipeline.

But the exports restarted in 2018 after the KRG agreed to send 250,000 barrels per day to Baghdad, while the federal authorities would pay outstanding salaries of civil servants.

Iraq’s federal government, however, has said the KRG has not fulfilled its commitment to send the oil to Baghdad.