IRAQ AND ITS NEIGHBORS: TOWARD A NEW REGIONAL ORDER
On March 6 and 7, 2019, the Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS) at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) hosted its sixth annual Sulaimani Forum, “Iraq and Its Neighbors: Toward a New Regional Order.” The Forum’s theme highlighted the inter-connections between Iraq and regional countries as well as Europe and the United States. In addition to journalists and think tank analysts from around the world, luminaries included then President of the Republic Dr. Barham Salih, former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and US Assistant Secretary of State (CSO) Denise Natali. The Forum was widely covered in international media and generated nearly 70 million media impressions.
BEYOND DAESH: ENDING THE CYCLE OF CONFLICT TOWARD DURABLE SOLUTION
With Iraqi, Kurdish and international security forces on the verge of defeating DAESH in western Mosul, the fifth annual Sulaimani Forum addressed the fundamental issues that breed extremism and conflict in Iraq and across the Middle East, and discussed durable solutions to move beyond radicalism. The Forum also considered the short-term security and humanitarian sector challenges facing Iraq, including the plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs) that have fled fighting in Iraq over the past two-and-a-half years.
Discussing and debating the pressing short- and long-term challenges was a prestigious and diverse group of government leaders, international experts and respected commentators. The 2017 Sulaimani Forum was delighted to welcome H.E. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who delivered the keynote address and graciously participated in an illuminating one-on-one interview with Mushreq Abbas (NRT Arabic). Other leaders, including current and former ministers and senior officials from the federal government of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the United States, the European Union (EU), the Republic of Turkey, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Republic of Egypt, and the Republic of Lebanon, as well as from the diplomatic community in Iraq, were present. Guests and participants also included representatives from the world of academia and research, led by Francis Fukuyama of Stanford University. Other organizations in attendance numbered the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the Wilson Center, New America, the United States Institute for Peace (USIP), the European Council on Foreign Relations, the Strategic Studies Center (Moscow, Russia), the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). Correspondents from CNN, BBC, POLITICO, Economist, New Yorker, NPR, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Al Monitor, Christian Science Monitor, The Philadelphia Enquirer, as well as all major Iraqi and Kurdish outlets also attended.
UPHEAVAL AND TRANSFORMATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST: CONFRENTING ISIS AND BEYOND
The fourth annual Sulaimani Forum, titled “Upheaval and Transformation in the Middle East: Confronting ISIS and Beyond,” convened on the 28th anniversary of the Halabja massacre in 1988 and on the centennial of the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916. The past century has been one of transformation and tumult, as citizens of the region have struggled to establish economic, political and judicial systems in their respective countries. In recent years, these struggles have come to a head both peacefully and violently with the Arab Spring and the onslaught of ISIS, forcing states to consider, more seriously than ever, how to chart a path forward. Prominent scholars, government officials, political leaders, and journalists from around the world came together at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani to discuss the war against ISIS, regional dynamics, the economic crisis and challenges for reform, extremism in the region, and the possibilities of breakups and alliances emerging from the turmoil and disorder. The Forum's full proceedings are available here.
Participants included high-level officials from the central government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Prime Minister of the KRG HE Nechirvan Barzani gave the inaugural address, while the Foreign Affairs Minister of Iraq Ibrahim Al-Jaafari delivered the keynote speech. The National Security Advisor to the Iraqi Government Faleh Fayadh, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Brett McGurk, Peshmerga Commander Jaafar Mustafa, and the Governor of Ninewa Noefel Humadi Sultan spoke on the first panel, focusing on different forces involved in the military operations against ISIS.
Analysts from various think tanks and study centers were also present, most notably, Mina Al-Oraibi, a Yale World Fellow; Kenneth Pollack, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution; Sir John Jenkins, Executive Director of IISS Middle East and former British diplomat who served as Ambassador to several countries, including Syria and Saudi Arabia; Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, President of the Middle East Institute in Washington; Laith Kubba, Senior Director for Middle East & North Africa, National Endowment for Democracy; Joseph Bahout, visiting Fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Amberin Zaman, Fellow at the Wilson Center. They took part in discussions on efforts to rebuild and ways to combat sectarian divisions in the midst of proxy wars. World Bank’s Iraq Director Sibel Kulaksiz, the Google think tank Jigsaw Director Yasmin Green, Hudson Fellow Institute Nibras Kazimi, and Senior Fellow at Woodrow Wilson Center Robin Wright contributed to the panel discussions on extremism and turmoil in the region.
FERTILE CRESCENT IN TURMOIL: CHALLANGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
On March 11th and 12th, 2015, the Institute of Regional and and International Studies (IRIS) at the American Univerity of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) hosted its third annual Sulaimani Forum, titled "The Fertile Crescent in Turmoil: Challenges and Opportunities".
The forum, convened prominent scholars, policy makers, business leaders, government officials and journalists from around the world to discuss complex and pressing issues in the region. We built on the success of two previous forums that saw the participation of the foreign ministers of Iraq and Turkey, and were joined by General David H. Petraeus this year, in addition to a number of other distinguished guests and officials. The Forum convened at a pivotal time, amidst upheaval not seen before in the modern history of the Middle East. Focusing on Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, panels examined causes and explored solutions for the profound challenges facing the region through dialogue about the realigning geopolitical alliances, energy, combatting Daesh, humanitarian issues, and intra-Kurdish affairs.
The theme of the Forum, “Fertile Crescent in Turmoil,” reflects the upheaval and uncertainty – caused by the rise of ISIS, the drop in oil prices and geopolitical tensions – that have affected the Middle East over the past year. Diverse panels tackled both the humanitarian and political sides of the crisis surrounding the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), internal Iraqi politics – particularly regarding oil and finances – regional transitions, and the new levels of Kurdish cooperation in the region. Discussing the changing situations within Iraq, participants noted the historic, external and internal dynamics that created the environment in which ISIS, also known by its Arabic acronyms DAESH, was able to flourish. Though historically the Fertile Crescent has been diverse and tolerant, nationalism and lack of economic opportunity, basic freedoms of expression and minority rights created tensions between different religious groups and ethnicities.
NAVIGATING CHALLENGES IN THE MIDDLE EAST
The 2nd Annual Sulaimani Forum, "Navigating Challenges in the Middle East", was held on the 4th and 5th of March 2014. Influential public leaders and distinguished experts convened to discuss geopolitical dynamics in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey, as well as critical regional issues including the water crisis, oil and gas, ethno-sectarianism, and the realities of investment and economic growth.
Prominent government officials from Iraq and abroad attended, including Foreign Minister of the Republic of Iraq Hoshyar Zebari; Foreign Minister of Turkey Ahmet Davutoğlu; National Security Advisor of Iraq Falah al-Fayyadh; Former Speaker of the Iraqi National Assembly Hajim Al-Hassani; Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government Nechirvan Idris Barzani; Former Vice President of Iraq Adil Abd Al Mehdi; Brett McGurk of the U.S. Department of State; and representative of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Sadeghi. Participants in the Forum also included prominent journalists such as BBC World anchor Pooneh Ghoddoosi, author and analyst Robin Wright, and former war correspondent and Al Monitor columnist Cengiz Çandar. Renowned experts on the panels included Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, Fanar Haddad of the National University of Singapore, Charles Tripp of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Kirk Sowell of Inside Iraqi Politics, and Fabrice Balanche of Universite de Lyon 2. Influential businesspersons participated as well, including Faruk Mustafa Rasool of Faruk Group Holding, Shwan Taha of Rabee Securities, Philip Khoury of Impera Capital, and Esra Pelitozu of Selco Finance and Industrial Group.
THE CHANGING POLITICS OF THE MIDDLE EAST
The Inaugural Sulaimani Forum, "The Changing Geopolitics of the Middle East" was held on the 12th and 13th of March 2013.
The first ever Sulaimani Forum featured distinguished international scholars, journalists, and government officials such as Hoshyar Zebari, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Iraq; Zalmay Khalilzad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations; and Max Rodenbeck, Chief Middle East Correspondent for The Economist. Participants considered broad issues such as the social and economic repercussions of energy policies; the emerging role of women leaders; and the global effects of the wave of unrest and change that swept the region in the wake of multiple and historic Arab uprisings. They also explored the particular cases of Iraq, its neighbors, and the Kurdish issue, along with the diverse geopolitical implications for the Middle East and beyond.
The Forum was a unique and groundbreaking gathering considering not only its timing but its location, as pointed out by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in his opening speech. While most experts gather in Washington and London to analyze happenings of the Middle East, this conference appropriately took place in the region where the actual events were taking place, not to mention in the midst of ongoing protests in various parts of Iraq, and in a city called the cultural capital of Kurdistan where some say a brief ‘Kurdish Spring’ took place in the winter of 2011. In his address, Barham Salih mentioned that he hoped the stability that allows for the conference to take place in the Kurdistan Region will spread throughout the Middle East: “I hope Kurdistan, beyond being just a success story for Kurds, can also offer a model, a catalyst for change and reform in our region.” The purpose of the Sulaimani Forum is to encourage this change and reform through better relationships, exchange, and dialogue. “Kurdish interest,” Salih concluded, “lies in being connected with our neighbors, connected with the rest of the world.”
In 2006, the Board of Trustees of American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) set out to establish an institution dedicated to offering a truly comprehensive liberal arts education, based on the American model, for the benefit of Kurdistan, Iraq, and the wider region. This new university opened its doors in 2007 with the determination to provide an alternative to the “lecture-memorize-repeat” model of education so prevalent elsewhere in Iraq and the Middle East. A broad-based education rooted in the American liberal arts tradition as well as skills development is achieved at the University through teaching excellence, quality scholarship, and caring student services.
During the university’s first year, forty-five students from across Iraq were admitted to the undergraduate class; simultaneously, the University launched an MBA program for professional students to study business and leadership at the graduate level. The University has grown significantly in the ensuing years. AUIS now offers undergraduate degree programs in 23 different programs. These programs, taught in English by international faculty members, are designed to encourage critical thinking and lifelong learning, and have a lasting impact not only on our students’ futures but also on the future of the entire region. The more than 1,400 students at AUIS represent the region’s diverse ethnic and religious landscape as the University continues to be the destination of choice for top students from all over the Kurdistan region, Iraq, and beyond. The student body is therefore composed of Kurdish and Arab Iraqis, Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, Christians and Yezidis, and more.
The Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS) is an independent policy research organization based in Iraq at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS). Working across multiple regions, IRIS’ network of researchers, analysts and civil society leaders spans the country’s 19 provinces. The Institute’s publications inform Iraqi and international policymakers, aid workers, journalists, and academics about the most complex challenges facing Iraq and the wider Middle East region. IRIS convenes events throughout the year, including the annual Sulaimani Forum, to disseminate research findings and to promote dialogue among a broad range of stakeholders. Importantly, IRIS believes that the best research must always go hand in hand with advocacy and action. To that end, the Institute uses its research insights to build more effective political and civil society organizations. On an annual basis, IRIS recruits, trains and equips young leaders from across the country through programs such as the Iraq Leadership Fellowship (ILF).
IRIS partners with donor agencies, universities and foundations across the world who share the Institute’s belief that policymaking should be grounded in rigorous research and local expertise. International research partners include Chatham House, the Global Public Policy Institute, the Cligendael Institute, and the London School of Economics Middle East Centre. Partners in the aid and humanitarian sector have included the European Union Delegation in Iraq, the International Organization for Migration, and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq.
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The city of Sulaimani, or Al-Sulaymaniyah as known in Arabic and some formal correspondence, was founded by prince Ibrahim from the Baban tribe, known locally as Ibrahim Pasha Baban, in 1784. The story goes that Ibrahim Pasha was out hunting in the area when he ended up in the Sharazour plain, where the city is located now. He immediately fell in love with the spot and decided to build a city there, and named the city after his father, Sulaiman Pasha Baban. Unlike other cities in the region that grew from villages, Sulaimani was founded and established as a city from day one.
Sulaimani is located northeast of Iraq and has historically functioned as a hub for trading between Iraq and Iran. It has often influenced political and military movements of the two countries as a result of its strategic location.
The city has produced many famous Kurdish poets such as Nali, Mawlawi, Piramerd, Bekas, and most recently Sherko Bekas. The importance of that legacy is reflected in its main streets and avenues, which are named for these writers.
The scenery and beauty of the city have inspired many artists and poets throughout history. It is surrounded by beautiful, long ranges of mountains that add unique natural scenery to the region, especially during the winter when the mountains are covered in snow. It is a tourism destination for visitors from inside and outside the country. In addition to the destinations that the city offers, it is close to many other famous tourist destinations in the area such as Dukan, Ahmawa, and Zewe.