November 21, 2018 / 6:52 PM / 24 days ago

Iraq to unify customs procedures with Kurdistan, PM says

BAGHDAD, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Iraq will unify customs procedures in all of its border areas, including within semi-autonomous Kurdistan, the prime minister said on Wednesday, signalling a further thaw in ties between Baghdad and Erbil after a resumption of Kirkuk oil flows.

The decision will be implemented after the federal government in Baghdad reaches an agreement on the move with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi told a news conference.

He said the unified procedures would make it easier to transport imported goods and commodities.

Currently, the KRG independently imposes and collects custom tariffs on imported goods in border areas it controls, which Baghdad considers illegal.

Baghdad in turn imposes more tariffs of its own on commodities coming in from Kurdish-controlled border areas and the double customs have been seen as a burden by traders.

Abdel Mahdi said he would meet Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, who is set to visit Baghdad, on Thursday. Barzani resigned as the region’s president following a failed bid for independence but remains the leader of its largest party.

Barzani, still one of the most influential Kurdish politicians in Iraq, has not visited Baghdad since before the referendum, which took place in September 2017.

“I will meet Barzani tomorrow on relations between Erbil and Baghdad to discuss key issues that will strengthen relations between Erbil and Baghdad. We want to help the region and its citizens,” Abdul Mahdi said.

“I don’t think we’ll discuss oil ... It’s a shame that the pumping of oil from Kirkuk stopped especially when these fields boost our federal revenues,” he added.

Iraq on Friday restarted exports of Kirkuk oil, halted a year ago due to a standoff with Erbil following the referendum.

Exports had been on hold since Iraqi government forces retook Kirkuk from Kurdish authorities in 2017. The Kurds had taken control of Kirkuk and its oilfields after Islamic State militants drove the Iraqi army out in 2014, and Kurdish forces, in turn, ejected the militants.

Flows resumed at a modest level of around 50,000-60,000 barrels per day (bpd) compared with a peak of 300,000 bpd seen last year.

Abdul Mahdi said he would go to parliament next week to get his full cabinet approved. Lawmakers had only confirmed 14 out of the 22 ministers he initially presented but granted his government confidence, allowing him to become prime minister.

“Next week, Monday or Tuesday, we’ll go to parliament and present what we see as the right candidates to complete the cabinet. We take responsibility for whoever is selected.” (Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein, Editing by William Maclean)

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