Iraq Forum opening remarks

Good morning all, and welcome to the Iraq Forum

This is the first of a sequence of Iraq Forums that we shall organise in the future, hence the term Inaugural. Our aim is to create a unique platform in Baghdad for national and international stakeholders to share their visions, debate strategies, and offer bold and necessary policy recommendations designed to tackle the country’s major challenges. This Forum comes just over six months after the inauguration of the federal government, and is therefore an opportune time to look back and assess its progress so far.

Over the next two days, speakers and guests will be asked to consider a wide range of policy priorities and reform initiatives in the country’s political, security, and financial systems, as well as the management of our energy and water supplies, and the current delivery of public services for all Iraqis.

This time last year, Iraq was in the midst of a post-election deadlock, which would later become the longest political impasse since the introduction of its 2005 constitution. Today, the formation of the present government has ushered an optimistic and ambitious atmosphere, with a renewed and welcome focus on how the country is governed, and the ways its institutions can be strengthened.

As it prepares to implement a new budget, the government is keenly alert to the pressing need to tackle corruption and diversify the economy, considering ways to enhance the country’s security, optimise Erbil-Baghdad relations, and engage with the international community for help across these matters. In other words, we are now sensing a degree of normality once more, with eyes on the right issues, undistracted by internal conflict and urgent political crises.

But it is no secret that Iraq, as a state and a governing system, suffers from significant structural and functional weaknesses. These stem largely from a lack of state- and nation-building efforts in the post-2003 years, and our collective failure to fully implement the constitution and deliver for our people. These failures became all too obvious during the numerous political, security and financial crises in recent years that, at times, brought the country to a standstill.

As a result, Iraq has become weaker both internally, as a state, and externally, as a member of the international community. It is time to reverse this trend. In order to put our country on the right path towards functionality and sovereignty, seeking to efficiently serve its people, we must tackle the problems we face now head-on, with confidence, under strong and fair leadership.

Iraq is a rich country, blessed with great natural and human resources. It also enjoys an unprecedented level of international support. There is no inherent reason for it to fail. While a weak and unstable Iraq can destabilise the entire region and beyond, as we have seen, a fully functional and engaged Iraq can and should play a leading role nationally, regionally, and internationally.

A number of urgent questions and fundamental issues will therefore be debated during this forum, and we are glad to be joined by so many high-level Iraqi leaders and international partners and diplomats, along with prominent policy-makers, academics, journalists, and strategic thinkers. If anyone can brainstorm these issues and provide practical recommendations to policy- and decision-makers, it is those in this room. Despite the challenges and cynicism, let us not underestimate the impact of our debates over the next two days in pushing this government to make progress.

It is my hope that this Forum provokes serious, open, and relevant debates, and I would encourage you to seize the opportunity for critical analysis, helping us all better understand complex issues and construct policy recommendations. We began this work yesterday, with two excellent workshops and a policy debate, discussing progress made by the current government, the challenges they face, the international support they enjoy and the the United States strategy in Iraq and the wider region.

This morning’s panels will focus on the crucial issues of tackling corruption and reforming the financial system, and the need to invest in our energy infrastructure and diversify Iraq’s economy. In the afternoon, we will debate the major issue of state-building, both looking at the role of the international community and, after lunch, in the eyes of some of the country’s political leaders.
Tomorrow, our panels will cover the multitude of environmental challenges facing the country including the issue of water management, and the government’s urgent need for strategies to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, Iraq’s relations with its neighbours, the integration of Iraqi security forces, the need to protect Iraq’s multi-cultural identity and maintain humanitarian support and solutions, a focus on improving Baghdad-Erbil relations, and defining Iraq’s immediate priorities with the country’s prime minister.
We are set for excellent discussions, but before that, we must refer to and acknowledge the contribution of the many people and institutions who brought this Forum to success.
I thank you all for attending and playing an active role in the Forum.
I thank our speakers who have been generous with their precious time, knowledge and experiences, especially those who have travelled significant lengths to be here.
Special thanks to the sponsors of the Iraq Forum, including the Platinum Sponsors: The KAR Group for Cement, Qaiwan Group and Crescent Petroleum, and the silver sponsors, BP and Konrad Adenaur Stiftung.
I thank UTV, the event’s media sponsors, for their efforts and for providing the right of broadcast free of charge to every outlet. I thank their crew inside and outside the hall, and the other media outlets and journalists for covering the debates of this Forum.
I thank the translators and the Al-Aliaa event organisers for their work inside the hall.
I thank the office of the Prime Minister for providing assistance through their protocol and security teams.
I thank my colleagues at MERI and our partners Al-Nahrain Centre for Strategic Studies for their hard work.
I thank our group of young volunteers who have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to make this conference flow.
I thank Rotana Babylon Hotel for hosting us and our guests.
I thank the police and security services for proving the security.

I wish you all a productive, enjoyable, and thought-provoking conference.

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