MERI Forum 2023 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:

Stabilisation: Navigating Iraq’s multi-layered crises
This year’s MERI Forum coincides with major national and international developments that are likely to shape Iraq’s future. Amidst numerous political, security, economic and environmental crises that have plagued the globe, Iraq is one of the worst affected. The Iraqi politics remains dominated by complex and rapidly shifting dynamics. Provincial elections are likely to charge the atmosphere even further.

The Forum also coincides with the first anniversary fo the inauguration of MS Al-Sudani’s government and several months after the Parliament’s endorsement of Iraq’s first 3-year budget. The people of Iraq expect improvement of services, more employment opportunities, diversification of the economy and greater investment in the country’s infrastructure. The question is now “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 International Partners
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.

Despite domestic and regional challenges, the international community continued to invest in supporting the 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, the Iraqi leaders’ failure to make the most of the available support  pose significant obstacles for progress. 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.

Beyond Barriers: Contours and Complexities of IDP Return
MERI has over the years conducted research on the barriers to internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) 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 millions of IDPs have returned, over hundreds of thousands, particularly Yezidis and Christians, remain in displacement. At this Forum, Participants will discuss the return needs of IDPs, and how local, national and geo-political dynamics affect this objective.

Iraq’s Economy
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 economic 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.

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.