Iran, Iraq and Kurdistan Region in focus on final day of MERI Forum

The representativesof Kurdistan’s five main political parties attended the last session of the MERI Forum. Photo: Rudaw.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iran-US relations, Iraq’s future and challenges facing the Kurdistan Region were in focus on the closing day of the annual MERI Forum 2015, hosted by the prestigious Erbil-based Middle East Research Institute. Iranian and US experts sparred in the opening debate of the day, titled “The Iran nuclear deal and its impact on regional dynamics.”

Alireza Miryousefi, director of Iran’s Center for Middle East Studies (IPIS), declared that the “United States has always been a part of the problem and not the solution” and called it an “imperialist” power.

Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institute in Washington responded that, if Iran insists on calling the US imperialist, then Washington will reply by labelling it “a sponsor of terrorism.”

At a panel discussion that followed, Iraqi transportation minister Baqir Jabir Al-Zubaidi, defence minister Khalid Yassin Al-Obeidi and Farhad Alaaldin, political advisor to the Iraqi president , debated “The Challenges of Keeping Iraq United.”

Iraq is facing crises from a war with the Islamic State group (ISIS), and threats of splitting into Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni portions.

The last panel discussion of the three-day forum brought together key speakers from Kurdistan and Iraq to address “Internal and External Crisis Facing Kurdistan: Challenges and Opportunities.”

The leaders of Kurdistan’s five main political parties attended the last session.

The panel discussed the current political and financial crises faced by the Kurdistan region, at a time when it is also dealing with a security crisis posed by the Islamic State group, or ISIS.

“Our first priority should be supporting our Peshmerga and unifying the Peshmerga,” said Roj Nuri Shaways, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Mohamad Faraj, leader of Islamic Union, called on Kurdish political parties to be united and resolve problems through dialogue.
“External crisis united us, but the internal crisis divides us,” he said.

Dozens of officials and scholars from throughout the world attended this year’s MERI Forum, which annually brings together key officials, academics and diplomats to debate the critical issues now facing Iraq, the Kurdistan region and the greater Middle East.

In all, MERI Forum 2015 hosted eight discussion panels, open debates and one unscheduled panel as Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani took the stage with Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu on Wednesday, to touch on relations with Ankara, the war with ISIS and economic ties between the two neighbors.

The forum also featured discussions on topics that included the future of oil-rich Kirkuk, over which Baghdad and Erbil both lay claim.

Other high profile participants included Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani and Stuart Jones, the US ambassador to Iraq
“Each session saw an audience of 300 to 350 people including experts, academics, ambassadors, local and foreign officials,” said MERI’s research assistant, Khogir Wirya.

Wirya said the attendees came from Middle Eastern countries such as Palestine, Jordan, Turkey and Iran. Russians, Americans and Europeans were also among attendees.

The conference aims to be an opportunity for decision makers and academies from Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the world, to exchange ideas on a range of economic, social and political issues.

Shivan Fazil, director of communications for MERI, said this year’s event exceeded expectations in terms of turnout and quality of the discussions.

“The forum is a unique opportunity for the public to voice their concerns,” he said. “We are thankful for their dedication, and we look forward to their feedback so we can improve next year. The forum will be an annual event.”