The article below originally appeared in Rudaw on November 6th, 2015.
U.S.-Kurdish Relations, and challenges facing the Kurdistan Region of Iraq were the focus of the closing day of the annual MERI Forum 2015, hosted by the prestigious Erbil-based Middle East Research Institute (MERI).
‘Crisis Facing Kurdistan’
The last panel discussion of the three-day forum brought together key speakers from Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan to address “Internal and External Crisis Facing Kurdistan: Challenges and Opportunities.” Among the panelists were the leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan’s five main political parties.
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.
Annual Forum on Kurdish and Regional Issues
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 of Iraq 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 U.S. 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.
Exchange of Ideas
The conference aims to be an opportunity for decision makers and academics from Iraq, from 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.”[To read the original article, visit Rudaw]