The inaugural Forum of the Middle East Research Institute (MERI Forum 2014) was held from 4-6 November 2014 at the Rotana Hotel in Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The Forum attracted over 350 people each day and was covered extensively by local news channels and the international media along with a live stream provided through the MERI website.
The event was significant as it was the first time that the State President and Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, combined with the current and former Prime Ministers from the KRG, sat down together to debate current political issues. They were also given the opportunity to answer questions from an audience comprising of politicians, diplomats, academics, students and the public.
Debating Complex Issues
It was the first time since ISIS advances in Iraq and Syria for policy- and decision-makers and academic experts to openly debate complex and sensitive issues. The panel discussions touched on a wide range of topics that have an impact on Iraq, Kurdistan and the region as a whole including the future of disputed territories in Iraq; the war on ISIS; re-engaging the Sunnis; the role of Turkey in the neighbourhood; the changing US-Iran relationship and its impact on the region; the new Middle East Order; dialogue and reconciliation in Iraq and the future of Baghdad-KRG relations.
The ultimate objective of MERI Forum was to provide a neutral and independent setting for stakeholders to promote peace, stability and prosperity in the wider Middle East throughdialogue and reconciliation. This process and culture, we believe, is pivotal in determining thelong-term stability of Iraq, the KRG and a building block for a shared future vision of the Middle East based on cooperative security. For too long, the region has been the preserve of wars, conflicts and crises which unfortunately continue to the present day, and have dented the socio-political and cultural fabric of regional states and societies.
Interestingly, the debate between Iraq’s Transport Minister, Baqir Jabr Al-Zubeidi, and the KRG Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources at the Forum, was followed last week by breakthroughs in negotiations over the KRG budget and aviation traffic to Sulaimani Airport. The Iraqi Prime Minister also responded to comments made by speakers at MERI Forum and encouraged his Oil Minister, Dr. Adil Abdul-Mahdi, to visit Erbil. The initial meeting between Erbil and Baghdad has resulted in an announcement that amendments will be made to Iraqi oil and gas laws and that more specialized powers will be given to provinces which have their own oil.
Furthermore, Salim Al-Jubouri floated the idea of a Council of Wise Men for Dialogue and Reconciliation in Iraq during his talk which elicited a favourable response from the President of Iraq, Fuad Masum. Salim Al-Jabouri proposed that Fuad Masum should preside over such a Council to which the President assented.
Organising the MERI Forum 2014, like all major events in Iraq, was not without its challenges, however, despite all challenges, the event received positive feedback and there have been calls to make it an annual event. We at MERI highly value formal and anonymous feedback from delegates and viewers, to help us improve future events. A link to a feedback form is available for those who are keen to offer comments, suggestions and constructive criticisms.
Finally, we are pleased to make the full transcripts and videos of all the Forum sessions available on our website and we hope you find the material useful for future use. We look forward to welcoming you to MERI Forum next year.