Below are the panels and a short description of their general theme.
Session 1: The Economic Crisis; Lessons learnt?
For the last two years, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) has been facing a dire macro-economic and financial environment. Both the public and private sectors are under huge stress. According to the World Bank, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s debt is estimated at around 17 billion dollars. Furthermore, around 3500 projects of public investment have been frozen for at least one year, while the projected operational budget deficit of the KRG for 2016 will range between 1-2 billion dollars. Similarly, the private sector, especially construction and real estate, have lost their dynamism as a result of dropping consumption. It is estimated that consumption per capita has contracted by 14% in 2014 and 24% in 2015. So far, the KRG has been trying to balance its budget through measures of fiscal consolidation equivalent to 37% of GDP. The KRG economy is still experiencing a great degree of uncertainty. Accordingly, this panel will focus on the current state of the KRI’s economy. It will further discuss what the lessons from the economic crisis and its response to it are and how the public and private sectors can contribute to the KRI’s economic prosperity.
Session 2: The Kurdish opposition parties in Iran: aspirations amid fragmentation
The purpose of this panel is to discuss the state of affairs among Iran’s Kurdish parties and to weigh their aspirations against their political fragmentation in this new political climate, and against Iran’s recent internal political developments. Iran’s Kurdish parties have been unable to present a single common roadmap on resolving the Kurdish issue in Iran and differ greatly on the way forward. An example of this disagreement is over the resumption of armed activities by the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, or calls for negotiation with Tehran. The key interconnected questions this panel will address are whether or not the aspirations of Iran’s Kurdish parties are realistic considering their lack of unity and common vision? What are the aspirations of these parties and what have they done to unify their aims for future negotiations? Do their aspirations match their political organisation in terms of unity?
Session 3: Reconciliation after IS: improving relationships and reconnecting communities
Iraq, in particular the North, is home to a rich tapestry of demographics: Sunni and Shia Arabs, Turkmen, Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, Kaka’i, Sabian-Mandaeans, Faili Kurds and more. Inter-community relations have been severely affected by years of sectarian violence and ethnic strife, and most recently, the take-over of large parts of the country by the Islamic State (IS). The unprecedented and barbaric levels of violence unleashed on anyone not adhering to their extremist ideology, including many Sunni Arabs, has given rise to severe new grievances leaving scars which will be borne by victims for decades to come. The panelists will address the following questions: how to recover from this collective trauma and work towards peaceful coexistence? How to rebuild trust between communities and instil relations with tolerance, mutual respect and cooperation so as to create an enabling environment for stability and safe return for the thousands of displaced families? Can we turn this black page in Iraq’s history books, or will the military defeat of IS merely usher in a new chapter of bloodshed?
Session 4: Liberating Mosul: Political and Security Solutions
The Islamic State (IS) has been controlling Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, since 10 June 2014 and great damage, both physical and societal, has been caused by their occupation. Therefore, the approach to the post-liberation dynamics has to be multifaceted and has to extend beyond a military solution to include a framework that addresses governance, security, reconciliation and reconstruction. Moreover, the factors that led to the rise of IS, including Sunni marginalisation and the wider governance system, need to be addressed in order to prevent the return of radical entities representing Sunni grievances. The panellists will address these different elements with the aim of giving a comprehensive outlook on the post-IS future of Mosul and the impact this may have on wider Iraqi politics.
Session 5: Governing Iraq
The defeat of the Islamic State (IS) does not necessarily imply a transformation to a peaceful and prosperous Iraq but it could be a step in the right direction. What happens after IS, however, depends on the will of the Iraqi political actors and whether they have the political maturity to take this opportunity to reform the systems of governance. Good governance is desperately needed in Iraq so that all the rival ethnonationalisms can be involved in the political process. The politics of domination that has led to groups seeking non-political means of representation needs to change to a more inclusive form of governance. The reform package and decentralisation promised by the Prime Minister have yet to be implemented. The country also faces outstanding issues between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad. These are in addition to other problems such as corruption, lack of security and public services, among others. Iraq and the Iraqis therefore face multiple challenges which largely stem from the issue of governance. The panellists will address the question of how to govern Iraq after the defeat of IS in a democratic and transparent manner, serving Iraq’s population in the best possible way? This includes examining the wider political system, including the federalist elements, and analysing the changes that need to be made.
Session 6: EU approaches to conflict and crisis management in Iraq and the Middle East: Good intentions, mixed results
This panel will present ongoing research conducted in the European Union Horizon 2020 project (EUNPACK). The main question is how and to what extent the EU crisis response has been designed to enable responses that are sensitive to the political and social context in the different crisis areas? The project takes a comprehensive approach that covers the whole crisis cycle, the full EU toolbox, and the EU ability to respond to different types of crisis in different regions. This allows analyses of the EU approach, how it is implemented and how EU crisis-management policies can be improved. The panel will focus on EU involvement and support to state-building, good governance and the rule of law, as well as the fight against IS and humanitarian assistance. Moreover, the EU’s political and economic dealings with non-state and sub-state actors such as the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) will be assessed.
Sessions 7 and 8: Global and Regional Power Dynamics: Conflict and Collaboration
The regional powers in the Middle East are vying for power, backed by various international actors. With multiple conflicts in the region, the push and pull from these actors, particularly Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia has a significant impact on the reality on the ground. Iran, fresh from its nuclear agreement, is engaging in multiple conflicts – including in Iraq, Syria and Yemen – through establishing local alliances and it has close ties to both Russia and the Assad regime in Syria. Turkey, on the other hand, is engaging in conflict in its neighbours’ territories, both directly and through alliances, while also being at conflict within its own borders. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has been directly engaged in the war in Yemen and various other actors are engaged in conflict in the region. When these diverging regional paths are met by equally contradictory international strategies for the region, mainly through the competition between the US and Russia, the potential for extended conflict is a real possibility. The key questions that this panel will address will be that with these multiple, often incompatible, plans for the region how is the future likely to unfold and what role can these international and regional actors have in stabilising, or further exacerbating, conflict in the region?
Session 9 & 10: Local Power Dynamics in Kurdistan: Visions for the Future
The Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) currently has no active parliament and there is no sign of an agreement being reached for its reactivation. The major political parties who had forged a coalition government in 2014 are now at a deadlock with no sign of a breakthrough to resolve their differences. There is also a significant financial crisis with mounting debts in the KRI and with delayed or underpaid civil salaries beginning to cause unrest. At the same time, there are considerable security challenges and humanitarian issues stemming from having the Islamic State on the KRI’s doorstep. With these multiple challenges the Kurdistan Regional Government faces a significant task in order to prevent a complete breakdown of the system. The panellists will discuss the issues preventing them from coming together and reaching an agreement and will suggest ways to circumvent this.