MERI Forum 2021: Theme and Framework
A Stable Iraq for a Stable Middle East
This year’s Forum comes two weeks after the Iraqi general elections. In a positive and optimistic atmosphere, there are vibrant political activities ongoing to form a new government in Baghdad. It also comes two years after the eruption of Tishreen protest of expression of grievances against previous governments. And two years after emergence of the first case of Covid-19 which was followed by an unprecedented global pandemic. In the year 2020, the global social and economic gates were locked, but political activities and rivalry of interests did not slowdown in any part of the world, especially in the Middle East.
The Covid pandemic constituted a major blow to the world economy, but those countries that have strong governing and economic systems with functional governments were able to recover before the rest and never lost their lead position. Many of these used the pandemic as an opportunity to reform their economic and health systems.
Iraq was not one of these countries. To date, it has not benefited much from the crisis. On the contrary, its weaknesses became more exposed. Currently, the weaknesses in the state institutions, the governing structure, implementation of the Constitution, state of security and provision of public services have reached levels of weakness that in themselves have become independent drivers of instability.
In a research project, we at MERI carried out an extensive study on the structural and functional weaknesses of the governing system, which we published back in June this year and it is made available for you here in this conference. In this report we have proposed policy recommendations on how to strengthen the state institutions in order to inherently strengthen the State and its governing system.
Iraq is a very important country for its neighbours and the international community. A functional, prosperous and stable Iraq can contribute significantly to keeping the balance of power, helping neighbours and promoting international investment in the region. On the other hand, state fragility and instability in Iraq will pave the way for instability in the entire Middle East, for violent extremism, the spread of terrorism, increase in displaced populations and missing on economic and trade opportunities. Therefore, it is in the interest of Iraqi people, the neighbouring countries and the rest of the World to make sure Iraq is stable.
However, stability in Iraq does not come about automatically or naturally. In fact, when left to nature, Iraq will continue its current path to turmoil. Rescuing Iraq requires visions, strategies and well-designed roadmaps. To date, amidst regional and global powers, Iraq has become a theatre for power rivalries and competing interests, and in the process, Iraq has become a regular victim not a player.
The regional and global power rivalry has been on-going for hundreds of years. However, today this rivalry has become a destructive mill that has come to disintegrate those countries that were inherently weak. Many states in our neighbourhood have now failed or became so fragile that they have lost their ability to make their own decisions. Iraq is one of these countries and the elected leaders must face this fact and it is their responsibility to reverse the downward trend.
The regional powers also must realise that Iraq’s stability is important for their own national security, therefore they need to revise their policies and start treating Iraq as an indispensable partner not a source of security threat. They must think about finding a new balance of power and forge a new regional Order, such that they are not the only winners. Instead, every community in the region should be beneficiaries and feel their sovereignty. A balance that can promote stability, peaceful co-existence, business and growth.
The responsibility of stabilising Iraq lays primarily with the Iraqi leaders, but they need regional and international support. In fact, none of the global, regional or local powers can achieve stability or forge a new Middle East Order without the full cooperation of all local as well as international stakeholders. Therefore, these stakeholders’ agreement on common visions and stability roadmaps need serious debate between policy makers and political leaders, in an academic and impartial environment. And these are made available at MERI Forum.
Ladies and gentlemen, our objective and our hope is for you to take advantage of this opportunity over the next two days to frankly and openly, and in a self critical manner, engage in a policy debate. Appraise the recent experiences and discuss the future manifesto as to how to push the nation- and statebuilding processes, for Iraq to be institutionalised, how the Iraqi Constitution could be turned into a roadmap to sovereignty. As such, dear guests, this year’s panels at MERI Forum have been put together based on these frameworks and contexts, to debate the urgent and fundamental issues, to offer clarity to people and to ensure the leaders visions for solutions are exchanged.
The First Panel addresses the new post-election landscape and the challenges of creating a functional and successful government that makes the Iraqi people the number one winners.
The Second Panel is with participation of Iraq’s international partners, those who consider stability and state-building in Iraq as a priority and have supported Iraq for years. They have accumulated a lot of experience with us and know which are the barriers for progress and for helping Iraq succeed, and know what are the opportunities that come by.
The third panel is to debate the challenges and opportunities that Iraq and Kurdistan Region face in a complex neighbourhood. We will hear from the top leaders on how they view the local, regional and global power dynamics and what their vision is to make sure Iraq and Kurdistan Region are stable despite the heavy rivalry between the competing powers around us.
In its research and publications, our Institute pays a special importance to understanding the policies of the regional power, including Turkey and Iran, and the global powers including the US, Russia and European countries. In the fourth and fifth panels, the policies of these countries will be articulated by their own diplomatic representatives in Iraq and debated with you all. MERI believes that it is important of the people of this region to understand the visions and policies of these powers and urge them to engage in constructive dialogue between them with the objective of achieving stability and forging a new balance in the Middle East, taking the current reality and complex power dynamics into consideration.
The sixth panel is dedicated to the issue of political unity of the political parties of the Kurdistan Region, both at home and in Baghdad. How the parties who have representatives at the Federal government and Parliament make sure their impact together is greater than the sum of their individual members. How they can make sure that those issues and strategic agendas that are considered important by the people of Kurdistan Region are turned into priorities in Baghdad, and during partnership with other representatives from the rest of Iraq they become more effective and constructive and their voices better heard.
Panel Seventh looks at the state of the banking sector, which is an important driver for revitalising the economy. In fact, the banks can become the backbone of a diversified economy. We will hear from the bank leaders and financial policy makers on how they can reform this sector in a manner that the people and the small, medium and large business elite can have confidence in the banking institutions.
Panel Eight is for us to hear about the KRG plans and policies for the future of the Region’s governance and economy and see how everyone can help in making the KRG a success.
We have always said, and here say it again. This type of Forums have great importance and major impacts. Every attendant here, from their different positions, can influence the decision-making process. With your initiatives, one can pave the way for stabilisation in the region, enhancing the rule-of-law and establishing good governance. We must institutionalise the process of dialogue, problem-solving and peaceful co-existence. Forums like this will always add to the incentives and can be of help.
Finally, I must acknowledge and thank all those people and bodies who helped in the successful delivery of this Forum for the great benefit of our people, land and country. There are many people I should thank, but special thanks go to my colleagues at MERI and the team of volunteers for their hard work day and night.
I thank all those speakers who agreed to take part and thank you all for attending.
I thank the Protocol teams at the Council of Ministers and the Presidency of Kurdistan Region for logistic help and facilitating the external guest’s transfer.
I thank the police and Asayish for providing security. Very special thanks to the MERI Forum Sponsors, including:
- The Media sponsors, particularly the Rudaw Media Network and all their staff who have worked faithfully and selflessly with us from the outset. I thank the Iraqi Media Network for their partnership and for broadcasting and publishing the Forum deliberations for the Arabic Speaking audience.
- I thank the Academic sponsors who awarded us academic assistance awards which helps us organise such Forum and carry out our research. In particular, I thank German Konrad Adenaur Stiftung and the Academic Assistance Award part of the US Embassy in Baghdad.
- I thank the industrial sponsors from the private sector, including the Falcon Group and Empire World, the League of Iraqi Private Banks, the Regional Trade Bank and Cihan Bank. Finally I thank Rotana Hotel for hosting us and offering special discounts on meals and hires.