Forum Themes

MERI Forum 2019 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
Two years after the defeat of ISIS, the theater of 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, one year after the formation of the new government, it behooves us to ask: Where is Iraq headed? In this panel, a group of prominent policy- and decision-makers will share pertinent insights and communicate their vision about how the nation can serve all Iraqis.

The Middle East in a Crystal Ball: Trajectories and Predictions
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 militarization, 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 in this panel will examine how we can influence the next evolution to create an environment conducive to lasting peace.

Beyond Barriers: Contours and Complexities of IDP Return
This year, MERI conducted research for USIP regarding the barriers to IDP return. IDPs from Nineveh experience multiple layers of barriers, some of which are unarticulated, invisible in the context of existing societal concerns stemming from Nineveh’s history of violence and displacement. While 4.3 million IDPs have returned, 1.5 million remain in displacement. Recent government measures, including extensive security screenings and camp closures across Nineveh, have sent a new wave of IDPs into critical shelter. Such measures reveal an expectation of return that could have devastating consequences, particularly considering the new geo-political developments in neighbouring Syria. Participants on this panel will discuss the return needs of IDPs, and how local, national and geo-political dynamics affect this objective.

Navigating Kurdistan Region through Evolving Global and Regional Power Dynamics
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 session, we will hear about these challenges from the President of the Kurdistan Region directly. President Barzani will share his perspective on current dynamics, as well as his plans to navigate those dynamics.

Women in Positions of Leadership: Opportunities for Empowerment
The best indicator of a nation’s overall security and stability is not its GDP, nor the strength of its democracy, but gender equality. Women’s meaningful inclusion in government institutions and civil society organizations is, therefore, a critical component of successful state-building. While the Kurdistan Regional Government has made significant progress on this objective in recent years, there is still much work to be done. Participants on this panel will describe women’s contemporary experiences in navigating governmental and civil society sectors within Iraq and the KRI. Women in leadership positions will also examine opportunities within their remit to transform these structures, shape policy, and forge new pathways to advance women’s empowerment and equality.

International Support for 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 democratization, resulting in pervasive and lingering state fragility. When internationally-connected radical extremist groups emerged to exploit this fragility, domestic problems became global ones. Iraq was able to survive the ISIS onslaught and its aftermath largely as a result of robust international partnerships. At present, despite domestic and regional challenges, the EU, UN, and others 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 session, 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.

Erbil-Baghdad Relations: Addressing the Root Causes of Conflict
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 session, 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.

The New KRG Cabinet: Visions and Strategies for the Next Four Years
The 9th KRG Cabinet was formed in July of 2019, and has already served its first 100 days in power. At its inception, the PM committed his new cabinet to a manifesto consisting of 52 critical reforms, designed to fulfill his pledge to improve services, enhance the rule of law, strengthen government institutions, and address chronic problems that have plagued Iraq for 100 years. All cabinet ministers were tasked, from the outset, with the mandate to prepare their respective ministries for the implementation of that manifesto, and the translation of its 52 points into a 4-year action plan. In this session, we will hear from cabinet members in service-oriented ministries. Participants will detail their visions, strategies, and plans for their remaining time in office.