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MERI Team Briefs Senior Officials and Think Tank Community in Washington D.C.

During a recent trip to Washington D.C., a delegation of Middle East Research Institute (MERI) staff were hosted by a number of U.S. think-tanks at series of roundtable events. MERI also engaged with State Department officials, members of Congress, and representatives of the Kurdish community. These meetings offered opportunities to highlight the Institute’s projects which were designed to contribute to peace, stability, nation building, human rights and democratisation in the region, and provide political briefings regarding Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. (View the photo gallery here).

“The US must ensure that Kurdistan is in peace with itself and become the best regional partner committed to the values of liberty and democracy.”

MERI was hosted by the Brookings Institution at a roundtable event entitled “The Future of Kurdistan” where our researchers briefed a wide array of academics and experts on their projects, providing special focus on our recent Kirkuk and Minority Council reports, respectively. The discussion quickly turned to exploring ways that the U.S. could constructively engage in the Middle East, given that the region is facing multiple, simultaneous crises. Staff from MERI identified a number of creative options that the U.S. could pursue in order to play a positive role to ensure stability and help to shape a new Middle East. Particular emphasis was put on constructive engagement with the decicion makers, with the view of promoting good governance, rule-of-law and human rights. The US must ensure that Kurdistan is in peace with itself and become the best regional partner committed to the values of liberty and democracy.

Since the inauguration of the current Iraqi government, public expectation was high for significant reforms in the governance system and progress toward nation-building, achieving peace and winning the war against ISIS. Iraq has now reached a critical point of possible no-return. Change is now extremely difficult if not impossible to achieve. Iraq is currently facing a series of seemingly endless political, economic, social and security crises. These inter-related crises are a formidable challenge to the Iraqi authorities and each one of them is colossal in its own right. Kurdistan, on the other hand, does not suffer the same problems as Baghdad. Although progress on stability, democracy and rule-of-law stalled over the past few months, progress over the years has been increasingly apparent.  Kurdistan is considered the most credible partner to the West in the fight against radical extremism, and the only fighting force on the ground that was able to limit the advances of ISIS and liberate significant swathes of land including major towns and villages.

“The current political crisis in Kurdistan has the potential to weaken the anti-ISIS coalition and distract the KRG from this mission.”

The MERI delegation were then hosted by the United State Institute for Peace for an event entitled “Iraq’s Turmoil: Trends and Analysis from the Ground” where much of the discussion focused on the Kurdistan Region’s internal political issues. Recent financial and security crises have been compounded by a disagreement over the Kurdistan Region’s presidency, which has widened the gap between rival political parties who are coalition partners in a national unity government. MERI staff highlighted the grave consequences that could arise from leaving these political problems to fester. Calls were also made for the U.S. to improve the way that it engages in the political process in the Kurdistan Region and for a more nuanced U.S. foreign policy in the wider Middle East. Video of the panel can be seen below, Courtesy: USIP.

The MERI delegation’s last major public event was held at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Here much of the discussion focused on the fight against ISIS and the role of the Kurds in this battle. While the Kurds have so far proved to be credible and loyal partners to the U.S. on the ground, the current political crisis in Kurdistan has the potential to weaken the anti-ISIS coalition and distract the KRG from this mission. The role of Iran, Russian and the International Coalition was also discussed, not only in relation to Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, but Syria as well. These complex geopolitical issues were the core interest of an esteemed audience of academics and policymakers. Staff from MERI discussed in detail, the implications that the actions of international actors can have on-the-ground across the Middle East.

“Chaos and violence serve no purpose. Political parties should remain focused on the ISIS war as there is no time for distraction.”

The MERI delegation was also received at the KRG Representation in the U.S., in which Professor Dlawer Ala’Aldeen addressed Kurdish community leaders who were gravely concerned about the negative impact internal political crisis could have on domestic and foreign affairs. He stated that current failures are equally shared between all 5 major parties. “Chaos and violence serve no purpose. Political parties should remain focused on the ISIS war as there is no time for distraction,” he warned. Adding that it is our collective responsibility to prevent escalation and enable wisdom and common sense to prevail.  Professor Ala’Aldeen reminded the audience that the Kurdish community can play a very constructive role in lobbying for the Kurdistan Region in the U.S. and abroad.

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