MERI Forum 2021 will seek to:

  • Provide a forum for dialogue and the exchange of visions between policymakers, academics, and decision makers.
  • Develop creative and constructive answers and offer recommendations for today’s most pressing policy issues, focusing on the prospects for legitimate stability in the Middle East.
  • Highlight areas for further research that can contribute to greater understanding of the challenges facing the Middle East, now and in the future.

Forum themes and sessions:

Making Iraq Work for All
The Iraqi politics remains dominated by complex and rapidly shifting dynamics. Intrastate fragmentation and a loss of social cohesion are reflected in the recent public demonstrations for better services across Iraq, as well as in ongoing debates about budget and oil negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad. Delicate internal dynamics have been further complicated by the regional power plays of international actors. In light of these various factors and the formation of a new government after the October 2021 general election, it behooves us to ask: Where is Iraq headed? In this forum, a group of prominent policy- and decision-makers will share pertinent insights and communicate their vision about how the nation can serve all Iraqis.

Iraq and its neighbours
The history of the Middle East has long been marked by turmoil and transition. While this region is no stranger to overlapping and intractable conflicts, recent dynamics have introduced new complexities and difficulties. Meanwhile, the Middle East as a whole remains vulnerable to the impacts of ongoing rivalries between major world powers.

Buffeted by competing regional and global powers, and littered with fragile and failing states, the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is fraught with militarisation, mass population displacement, and communal fragmentation. Is it time for a new order to emerge, one which might lead to greater stability and a more predictable future for Iraq’s reconstruction and recovery? What lies ahead for the region as a whole? Participants will examine how we can influence the next evolution to create an environment conducive to lasting peace.

State-Building in Iraq
Iraq adopted a democratic constitution in 2005. However, this nascent democracy, still in its proverbial infancy, has faced numerous challenges to state-building and nation-building projects. Successive crises and wars have hindered the process of democratisation, resulting in pervasive and lingering state fragility. When internationally-connected radical extremist groups emerged to exploit this fragility, domestic problems became global ones.

At present, despite domestic and regional challenges, the international communnity remain invested in building the pillars of democracy within Iraq: enhancing the capacity of state institutions, supporting the implementation of rule of law, and promoting the professionalisation of the security apparatus. However, profound reconstruction, recovery, and reconciliation needs remain, and pose significant obstacles for democratic growth. In this conference, we will engage with international partners and friends of Iraq to solicit their predictions for the future and map their ongoing role in moving the country forward.

The Role of the Banking Sector in the Economic Recovery
The on-going instability, protests and security challenges in Iraq are inextricably linked to the country’s decades-long financial and economic crises. Policy- and decision-makers in Iraq need to address the structural weaknesses of the financial system. Numerous international studies, including those conducted by the World Bank, have identified those gaps and provided roadmaps for Iraq’s recovery and prosperity. They all emphasise the need for a radical reform that requires top-down approach with the will and determination. Policy makers in Iraq (and the Kurdistan Region) must try to:

  • Reduce Iraq’s dependence on the oil sector, diversify its economy and minimise the dominant role of the public sector in the economy.
  • Modernise the underdeveloped financial system and financial infrastructure. They must develop prudent fiscal policies to support the private sector.
  • Modernise the banking sector and enhance the role of banks in energising the entire economy. They must address the prevailing climate of mistrust in the banking sector and reduce the country’s dependence on the cash economy.
  • Enact legislations to regulate the banking sector and enable private banks to drive a successful economy while controlling corruption in the sector.

At this conference, policymakers and private banking leaders will share visions for the future of Iraq’s financial system and banking sector reform.

Navigating Kurdistan Region of Iraq
The global and regional power dynamics at play within the Kurdistan Region are increasingly complex, intertwined, and volatile. These dynamics have had negative effects on state institutions and social systems within Iraq as a whole, and have facilitated an environment ripe for the proliferation of competing local actors.

As the federal apparatus has become increasingly fragile, the regional and local landscapes have splintered under the burgeoning weight of state and non-state actors, many of whom are internationally connected and capable of driving evolution independently. The confusion of multiplicity has made it very difficult for regional leaders to help their communities successfully weather turmoil and upheaval. In this conference, we will hear about these challenges from the KRI leaders directly.

Erbil-Baghdad Relations
Over the past decade and a half, the KRG’s share of the federal budget and oil revenue has been the most significant point of tension between Erbil and Baghdad. Each year, when the budgetary law is formulated and voted upon, a new crisis is initiated; the next is already brewing, as the budget law is currently under discussion.

An effective and sustainable resolution of this issue will require the two entities to interpret the constitution in a mutually agreeable way and to collectively legislate for permanent solutions. To date, however, no such resolution has been achieved. It is time for Erbil and Baghdad to practice total transparency in order to address this roadblock and move toward improved relations. Is it possible, in this conference, to distill the relevant issues, generate goodwill, and build confidence for this important process? We will be hearing from the ultimate governmental decision-makers in this regard.