Themes & Overall Framework

In Iraq Forum, prominent policy-makers, academics, opinion leaders and international diplomats will communicate visions and insights on a number of pertinent issues that constitute policy priority areas for Iraq.

Iraqi politics was, and remains, dominated by complex and rapidly evolving dynamics. The loss of social cohesion in Iraq is reflected in low voter turnout, public demonstrations for better services, population displacement, and the ongoing threat of violent extremism. Discussions on the budget, oil negotiations, and the future of the disputed territories continue between Erbil and Baghdad. It is time for Iraqi policymakers to address not only pressing and acute problems, but also structural weaknesses in the system of governance that have added to other drivers of the country’s fragility. Iraqi policymakers can take full advantage of available opportunities and international support to strengthen state institutions, good governance, and prospects for stability and prosperity in the country.

This inaugural Iraq Forum comes just over six months after the inauguration of the government of Prime Minister MS Al-Sudani. There are expectations and understandable pressure on his Cabinet to tackle the multi-layered challenges that Iraq has been facing for some time. The Prime Minister published a detailed manifesto (Government Programme) to systematically address these challenges, which range from security and stabilisation of Iraq, to engaging neighbours and the international community, encouraging inward investment, reforming the finance system, diversifying the economy by reducing Iraq’s dependence on the oil sector, and improving public services, including the healthcare and education sectors. These topics will be debated in terms of barriers for progress and strategies for solutions.

Tackling Corruption & Reforming the Financial System
It is no secret that the financial system of Iraq does not meet the challenges or aspirations of the Iraqis or the international partners. Last year’s ‘Heist of the Century’ and the latest volatility in the value of the Iraqi Dinar, exposed the structural and functional weaknesses in Iraq’s financial system that allowed Iraq’s precious revenues being siphoned from the state coffers. Clearly, corruption, in all its forms, has become deep rooted and institutionalised in Iraq. Fortunately, the new Government of Iraq has pledged to make tackling corruption and reforming the financial system among its top priorities. In this panel, experts and policy makers look back at the past six months experience, provide an overview of the challenges and communicate visions for reforming the entire financial system, including the banking sector.

Iraq’s Energy Sector: Key Challenges & Future Strategies
As one the world’s largest oil producers, Iraq has the world’s fifth largest proven petroleum reserves, but only a fraction of these are in development. Iraq’s energy sector is heavily based upon oil, and revenues from crude oil export accounts for over two-thirds of the country’s GDP. Interestingly, the country’s significant gas reserves and other renewable energy sources remain under utilised. The necessary infrastructure for the latter energy sources is lacking, and that for the oil industry require modernisation. This provides great opportunities for international partners and investors to take advantage of this need, however, the onus is on the Iraqi policy makers to attract and facilitate such investment. To date, Iraq does not have a hydrocarbon law, as mandated by the Constitution. This has created issues between central and peripheral governments. In this panel, policy makers and experts will critically appraise the energy sector and how to make it fit for the future.

Transforming Iraq’s Economy: Investment & Diversification
Despite being its great natural and human resources, Iraq has remained a rentier state, dependent on oil export as the primary source of revenue. Other sectors such as the manufacturing, agricultural and tourism industries, among others, remain in their infancy. The private sector has not been fully regulated or empowered to lead Iraq into growth and prosperity. Furthermore, rampant corruption, red tape and complex bureaucracy in state institutions has prevented the completion of projects and increases the reluctance of international companies to participate in reconstruction. Iraq needs a long-term economic vision and strategy, to be translated later into a cross-sector and cross-ministries road map, and divided into milestones. It is necessary to identify, and sustain, what makes Iraq unique in its industrial and agricultural economy, especially in areas where Iraq can compete with other countries in the region. In this panel, policy makers and experts will debate the structural challenges and solutions for diversifying the economy, incentivising the private

International Partnership: More Cooperation & Less Competition
The Iraqi Prime Minister has often reiterated that Iraq wants to engage the international community and have a balanced relation with its neighbours and global actors, based on national interests. This aim, in the current world, is not easy to achieve. Fortunately, Iraq has enjoyed a sustained engagement and partnership with many global actors on issues, ranging from the fight against terrorism, capacity-building, trade and economic support. Iraq needs to rebuild its military capacity, revive its energy sector, rebuild its infrastructure, face climate change and provide better public services. In this panel, we shall hear form Iraqi and international diplomats and foreign policy experts on the national strategies of Iraq and its international partners on making the most of the available good will and business opportunities.

Iraq in the Neighbourhood: For Zero-Problem Relations
Iraq has several important neighbours with diverse political, natural, demographic and cultural dynamics. However, engagement between these neighbours have never been straight forward, and ranged from harmonious partnerships to rivalries, conflicts and wars. Policies and practices adopted by Iraq’s neighbours have had direct impacts on the country’s stability Iraq, and vice versa. Despite the relative calm and bilateral diplomatic relations, tensions remain on the security, political and environmental fronts. That said, there are great potentials for mutually rewarding trade, economic, energy, tourism and cultural relations between them all. Iraq can be a bridge or a hub for the region as a whole. The Prime Minister of Iraq has expressed its keen interest in, and made efforts for, engaging the neighbours and improving relations based on mutual interests and good neighbourly co-existence. In this panel, policy makers and experts from the neighbourhood will discuss the current regional dynamics and propose ways of confidence-building and improving relations.

Iraq’s Water & Environment: Time to Act & Avert a Catastrophe
Iraq is increasingly water stressed, and is among the World’s worst affect by global warming. Raised environmental temperatures, reduced rainfall and evaporation of lake waters have significantly impacted the agricultural sector and caused a prolonged drought in many parts of Iraq. The situation has been worsened by the reduced water flow from both Turkey and Iran, due to their construction of large numbers of dams or diversion of river streams which were naturally flowing downstream into Iraq. Water scarcity has already caused poverty, migration and urbanisation of rural populations as well as rising unemployment, socio-political tensions and increasing militarisation in urban areas. It is paramount for the government to adopt an overarching strategy for water management, prevention of water pollution and negotiating increased water flow with the country’s neighbours. In this panel, policy makers and experts discuss the challenges facing the government for tackling climate change and water management.

Centre-Periphery Relations & Local Government Empowerment
Devolution of power and decentralisation were among the core values and principles that the 2005 Constitution was built on. However, with time, the centralisation tendencies have dominated the culture of governance in Baghdad and created too many political barriers for federalisation or the devolution of power to the provinces. Provincial governors invariably demand greater financial and administrative powers that would enable them to invest in their province’s infrastructure, construction and quality public services. On the other hand, the current checks and balances at the local government level, including the roles played by the Provincial and District Councils, have been inadequate. Poor delivery and rampant corruption remain among the main barriers for progress. In this panel, policy makers and experts will debate how Baghdad can empower the provinces and how local governments can play leadership roles in bringing about stability and prosperity in their governorates.

Integration of Iraqi Security Forces: In Theory and Practice
Iraq’s security sector and its armed forces have been allowed to evolve naturally, without design and outside the Constitution’s framework. Too many armed state and non-state actors have been growing exponentially and posing a major challenge to the state’s ability to monopolise violence. The ISIS onslaught in 2014 and recent attacks from neighbouring countries have exposed the major weaknesses in Iraq’s security sector and its armed forces. Reforming the security sector is now an urgent priority, and require administrative and operational restructuring, modernisation and capacity-building. Fortunately, Iraq has benefitted from the support of a number of international partners, who have offered operational support and capacity building assistance. The new Government in Baghdad has indicated its commitment to reform the sector and bring the forces under a unified command and control. This panel of policy makers and experts outline their visions and practical steps for the security sector reform and restructuring the armed forces.

Health & Education: Time for Radical Reforms
Iraqis take pride in the fact that the country’s healthcare and education systems used to be the best in the Middle East and among the best in the world. However, both systems have deteriorated over the past few decades, with the quality service, professional training and available infrastructure being among the lowest in the region. Despite available talents and disproportionate amount of private and public expenditures, the system continued to be a drain on resources. Corruption, poor management and lack of modern quality assurance and accreditation systems are major barriers for progress. This panel will debate these barriers and propose pathways to their recovery.