U.S. Consul General Joins AUIS Town Hall Discussion of the Path Ahead for Iraq, Kurdistan Region
Contributes U.S. policy perspective on complex political and economic challenges
November 28, 2017 (Sulaimani, KRG-Iraq): The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) hosted the United States Consul General in Erbil, Mr. Ken Gross, in a panel discussion titled “Charting a Path Forward for the Kurdistan Region and Iraq” to discuss U.S and Iraq relations and policies after the Kurdistan Region referendum. The panel, organized by AUIS’s Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS), included AUIS professors Dr. Alan Noory, Dr. Akeel Abbas, and Dr. Barin Kayaoglu, moderated by IRIS Director Christine van den Toorn.
During the discussion, Consul General Ken Gross summarized U.S. policy toward Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, emphasizing the U.S. commitment to a unified Iraq and a strong Kurdistan Regional Government. Mr. Gross also described the U.S. position on the September 25 referendum, noting that the topic had been raised in discussions with the Kurds over the past several years. When the referendum emerged as an imminent possibility, the U.S. urged against it and proposed alternatives that would have included facilitating negotiations with Baghdad on outstanding issues. However, these alternatives were not accepted.
Mr. Gross stated that the main question posed by the referendum for most international stakeholders was not whether it was democratic, but rather whether it was legal under the constitution of a sovereign state. If the goal of the referendum had only been to survey Kurdish views of independence, reactions by the international community, including regional neighbors, may have been different. Instead, the goal was perceived to have been a foundation for independence of the Kurdistan Region and some disputed areas, which posed significant constitutional and political risks.
Dr. Noory, a frequent commentator on Iraqi and Kurdistan Region politics, expressed concerns that the Kurdish leadership was not in fact charting a new path forward. He described the Kurdish leadership as unwilling to make a deal with Baghdad and to commit to a democratic Iraq, noting that to date they have not even been able to invest in democratic institutions closer to home.
Dr. Abbas, on the other hand, explained that the emergence of ISIS and consequent collapse of the Iraqi army and dissolution of the Shia victimhood narrative created a greater sense of responsibility and pragmatism among the Shia Iraqi populace. In the Kurdistan Region, however, this realization of the collapse of the power sharing agreement in Baghdad has not yet taken place. Likewise, the victimhood narrative, shared in a different form by the Kurdish population and political elite, has not yet dissolved in the Kurdistan Region. Both realities will pose obstacles to constructive outcomes in the future..
Dr. Kayaoglu offered an explanation of Turkish policy toward the Kurdistan Region and Iraq, explaining that Turkish policy in general is unpredictable. From 2014 to early 2016, Turkey claimed it would not be part of the conversation about whether the KRG should hold an independence referendum. However, after the referendum was announced, it encouraged a united Iraq, and even supported the Federal government’s reassertion of control over disputed territories.
After the panel addressed questions from the audience, Ms. van den Toorn summarized panelists’ comments in the context of the theme of the event, “Charting a Path Forward,” noting that the “Fall of Mosul” and “Fall of Kirkuk” mean that things cannot go back to the way they were before. While at different stages, there are signs in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region that leadership will be held accountable, and that populations can mobilize to this end. In terms of relations between the KRG and Federal government, while the U.S. supports dialogue, it is not clear whether Erbil and Baghdad can agree to conditions under which those negotiations would begin. Similarly, while the U.S. supports a strong KRG within a Federal united Iraq, is not clear as of yet whether the Kurds are willing to accept such a future.
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