- Lebanon in Crisis? The Impact of the Hariri Resignation and the Saudi-Iranian Cold War | Monday, November 13 | 11:00 – 12:00 pm | Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (event held by phone) | Register Here | The resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri is threatening again to plunge Lebanon into political and economic crisis or worse. A number of developments, including longstanding but growing tensions between Iran and Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia may well presage a deteriorating regional situation that could draw Lebanon as well as Israel into the fray. Join us BY PHONE as three veteran observers of Lebanese and regional politics analyze these developments and others as we enter yet another period of potential turbulence in Middle Eastern politics. Jane Harman of the Wilson Center will deliver opening remarks, after which Aaron David Miller will moderate a conversation featuring Hanin Ghaddar of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Paul Salem of the Middle East Institute, and Bassel F. Salloukh of the Lebanese American University.
- Religion and Foreign Policy: Exploring the Legacy of “Mixed Blessings” | Monday, November 13 | 2:00 – 3:00 pm | Center for Strategic and International Studies | Register Here | Please join the Human Rights Initiative (HRI) and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs for a discussion marking the 10th anniversary of CSIS’s groundbreaking report, “Mixed Blessings: U.S. Government Engagement with Religion in Conflict-Prone Settings“. This report analyzed how religion affects international affairs, including through the faith and religious beliefs of politicians and elites; the belief structures that underlie national and international views; and the impact of religious organizations. At this event, Shaun Casey, former director of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs, will interview Liora Danan, lead author of Mixed Blessings and former chief of staff for the Office of Religion and Global Affairs, to discuss the report’s goals and relevance in diplomacy today. Following their interview, Shannon N. Green, director and senior fellow of HRI, will moderate an expert panel to assess the impact of religion on foreign policy over the decade since the report’s release. Panelists include Rebecca Linder Blachly of Episcopal Church and Eric Patterson of Georgetown University.
- 2017 Transatlantic Economic Forum – Day 1 | Monday, November 13 | 8:30 am – 5:30 pm | Center for Transatlantic Relations (held at SAIS Kenney Auditorium) | Register Here | The 5th annual Transatlantic Economic Forum will bring together government and business community leaders from 20 countries of the larger Mediterranean, including the Gulf and the Middle East, and is organized in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The first day will consist of four panels and three keynote addresses. The first panel, titled “Doing Business in Maghreb,” will include Mahieddine Taleb of Sonatrach (Algeria), Adel Mohsen Chaabane of AmCham (Tunisia), Mustafa Sanalla of the National Oil Corporation (Libya), Omar Mohanna of the Suez Cement Group of Companies (Egypt), and Asmaa El Mkhentar of the Ministry of Industry, Trade, Investment and Digital Economy (Morocco). Greg Lebedev of CIPE and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will moderate. The second panel, “Doing Business in The Balkans,” will consist of a conversation between Mujo Selimovic of the CTR-SAIS Mediterranean Basin Initiative Corporate Advisory Board and moderator Michael Haltzel, a CTR – SAIS Senior Fellow. The panel “Security and Military Cooperation: Safeguarding the Mediterranean part 1” will feature Mitar Klikovac of the Embassy of Montenegro to the United States, Dragan Galić of the Embassy of Serbia to the United States, and Khaled Shawky and Ayman Aldesouky Youssef of the Embassy of Egypt to the United States. Hans Binnendijk of CTR – SAIS will moderate. The final panel of the day, “Security and Military Cooperation: Safeguarding the Mediterranean part 2” will include Michael Barbero of the United States Army, Fahrudin Radoncic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ambassador of Croatia in the United States Pjer Simunovic, Michael MacQueen of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and moderator Don Jensen of CTR – SAIS.
- Sectarianism and Conflict in the Middle East | Tuesday, November 14 | 9:00 am – 12:15 pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Register Here | What’s driving the spread of Sunni-Shia identity politics in today’s Middle East? How is sectarianism contributing to the region’s instability and conflicts? The authors of a new edited volume, Beyond Sunni and Shia: The Roots of Sectarianism in a Changing Middle East, will discuss how geopolitics, governance, media, and other factors are fueling sectarianism. This event will consist of two panels. The first, titled, “Regional Cases and Geopolitical Sources of Sectarianism: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and Syria” will feature Cole Bunzel of Princeton University, Fanar Hadad of the National University of Singapore, Afshon Ostovar, of the Naval Postgraduate School, and Heiko Wimmen of the International Crisis Group. The second panel, moderated by Marc Lynch of Carnegie’s Middle East Program and titled “Domestic and Institutional Sources of Sectarianism: Governance, Political Economy, Clerics, and Social Media” will include Joseph Bahout of Carnegie’s Middle East Program, Justin Gengler of Qatar University, Alexander Henley of the University of Oxford, and Alexandra Siegel of New York University.
- Afghanistan 2017: A Survey of Public Perceptions | Tuesday, November 14 | 10:00 – 11:30 am | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | The recent escalation of attacks in Kabul underscores the crucial questions of security, economic stability and reconciliation that still confront President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah, despite the significant progress Afghanistan has made. Those questions and other pressing issues facing the country are the subject of the Asia Foundation’s 2017 Survey of the Afghan People. Join the U.S. Institute of Peace on Tuesday, November 14, for the foundation’s presentation of the findings and a discussion of the trends in citizens’ views over time. Speakers will include Dr. Tabasum Akseer of the Asia Foundation, Ambassador Daniel F. Feldman of Akin Gump, Dr. Zach Warren of The Asia Foundation, and Mr. Scott Worden of the U.S. Institute of Peace.
- 2017 Transatlantic Economic Forum – Day 2 | Tuesday, November 14 | 8:30 am – 6:45 pm | Center for Transatlantic Relations (held at SAIS Kenney Auditorium) | Register Here | The second day of the Transatlantic Economic Forum will consist of five panels. The first, “Working Through Reforms: What’s Next?” will feature Marinko Cavara, President of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bruce Berton, OSCE Ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Dejan Vanjek, Foreign Policy advisor to Dragan Covic, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Daniel Serwer of CTR – SAIS will moderate. “Diversifying Economies: The Private Sector As The Key To Building Prosperity” will include panelists Dalibor Milos of Aluminij d.d. (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Ali Haddad of ETRHB Haddad Group (Algeria), Hisham Fahmy of AmCham Egypt, Inc., and moderator Andras Simonyi of CTR – SAIS. Participating in the panel “Macedonia: Turning New Page” will be Kocho Angjushev, Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, Lilica Kitanovska of Voice of America, and Edward Joseph of CTR – SAIS. The fourth panel, titled “The Gulf Countries: Strengthening Transatlantic Cooperation,” will include participants Omar A. Bahlaiwa of the Committee for International Trade (Saudi Arabia), Bilal Sabouni of the American Business Council in Dubai (UAE), and moderator Khush Choksy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Mehdi Bendimerad of the Algerian Business Association, Jasmin Mahmuzic of the Banking Agency of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and moderator Steve Lutes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will participate in the final panel, “Regional and Transatlantic Cooperation: A Key To Growth and Prosperity.”
- 71st Annual Conference: Conflicts, Costs, and Policy Pathways | Wednesday, November 15 | 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | Middle East Institute (held at The Capital Hilton) | Register Here | The Middle East Institute’s (MEI) 71st Annual Conference will convene innovative leaders, foreign policy practitioners, and analysts from the Middle East and the United States to explain the challenges and opportunities facing the region and assess current policies. The conference will feature four expert discussions that will delve into U.S. Middle East priorities, paths for resolving the region’s civil wars, the humanitarian outlook in countries plagued by conflict, and the growing impact of women’s activism. Amb. (ret.) Wendy J. Chamberlin of MEI will deliver opening remarks. Participants will include Gen. (ret.) John Allen of The Brookings Institution, Fawziah Bakr al-Bakr of Al Jazeera, Wafa Ben Hassine of Access Now, Amb. (ret.) Gerald Feierstein of MEI, Amb. (ret.) Robert Ford of the Middle East Institute, Philip Gordon of the Council on Foreign Relations, Simon Henshaw of the U.S. Department of State, Mary Louise Kelly of NPR, Hind Aboud Kabawat of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee, Michael Klosson of Save the Children, Nancy Lindborg of USIP, Clare Lockhart of the Institute for State Effectiveness, Rania A. Al‐Mashat of the International Monetary Fund, Hideki Matsunaga of the World Bank, Paul Salem of the Middle East Institute, Randa Slim of MEI and Johns Hopkins SAIS, Nafeesa Syeed of Bloomberg News, Jonathan Winer of the Middle East Institute, and Juan Zarate of the Financial Integrity Network.
- Water Security in the Middle East – Source of Tension or Avenue for Peace? | Wednesday, November 15 | 9:00 – 11:00 am | Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars | Register Here | In the Middle East, water scarcity is a source of tension. But some innovative leaders in the region have approached better water management as a shared priority that transcends borders and politics—and that could even serve as a potential platform for peace. For more than 20 years, EcoPeace Middle East has worked across the Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli borders to promote practical solutions to transboundary water scarcity and pollution. Join us for a unique conversation with EcoPeace’s three co-directors—representing Jordan, Palestine, and Israel—who will share their experiences using water diplomacy to improve livelihoods, create healthy interdependencies, and enhance regional stability. The discussion will also identify opportunities for progress on water issues within the peace process and the important role of the United States in fostering regional water security and stability. Speakers include Sherri Goodman, Former U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Roger-Mark De Souza of the Wilson Center, Aaron Salzberg of the U.S. Department of State, and Gidon Bromberg, Nada Majdalani, and Yana Abu Taleb of EcoPeace Middle East.
- Deconflicting in Syria: Turkey’s Idlib Operation | Wednesday, November 15 | 2:30 – 4:00 pm | Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research (SETA) | Register Here | In early October, Turkey deployed its forces to establish a presence in Syria’s Idlib province. The deployment aims to establish a de-conflict zone in Idlib as part of a deal reached at negotiations in Astana between Turkey, Russia, and Iran. In addition to limiting conflict between the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army in Idlib and the Assad regime, Turkey has also characterized the operation as an effort to prevent further expansion by the PYD in northern Syria. The US has remained skeptical about the Astana process, particularly over Iran’s involvement as a guarantor. While the US said that it would not provide tangible support for Turkey’s operation in Idlib, the Department of Defense said that the US supports Turkey’s efforts to secure its borders against terror groups such as Al Qaeda. At the same time, the US continues to partner with the PYD in northern Syria, a long-standing point of contention in the US-Turkey relationship. Please join the SETA Foundation at Washington DC for a timely discussion on this crucial issue in the Syrian conflict and what Turkey’s operation in Idlib means for US-Turkey relations. Panelists include Luke Coffey of The Heritage Foundation, Kadir Ustun of The SETA Foundation, and Nidal Betare of People Demand Change. Kilic Kanat of the SETA Foundation will moderate.
- 2017 Transatlantic Economic Forum – Day 3 | Wednesday, November 15 | 10:00 am – 6:45 pm | Center for Transatlantic Relations (held at SAIS Kenney Auditorium) | Register Here | The final day of the Transatlantic Economic Forum will consist of three panels and will end with the CTR SAIS 2017 Mediterranean Basin Award Ceremony. The first panel, “Turkey and Transatlantic Relations Book launch,” will include panelists Donald Jensen of CTR – SAIS, Kilic Bugra Kanat of the SETA Foundation, Jennifer Miel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Serdar Altay of ISPAT. Aylin Unver Noi of CTR – SAIS will moderate. The second panel, titled “Bosnia and Herzegovina: Towards It’s European Future,” will feature Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, Head of the EU Delegation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Goran Mirascic of The World Bank Group, Valentin Inzko of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mak Kamenica of USAID, and Michael Haltzel of CTR – SAIS. Panelists participating in the final event, “Algeria and Transatlantic Relations Book Launch,” include Ismael Chikhoune of the US – Algeria Business Council, Jeremy Berndt of the Department of State, Mehdi Bendimerad of System Panneaux Sandwichs, and moderator Samy Boukaila of CTR – SAIS.
- Education for Displaced Syrians: Innovative Solutions to a Complex Challenge | Thursday, November 16 | 12:00 – 2:00 pm | Marvin Center, George Washington University | Register Here | Join George Washington University’s No Lost Generation chapter for an engaging discussion on innovative approaches to education for displaced Syrian communities, from after school programs in Turkey to international networks that connect Syrian students with higher education opportunities.This event has been made possible with support from Turkish Heritage Organization. Speakers include Lina Sergie Attar of the Karam Foundation, Katherine Miller of the Institute for International Education, George Batah of Syrian Youth Empowerment, and Dr. Jessica Anderson of George Washington and Georgetown Universities.
- Democratic Deterioration at Home and Abroad | Monday, November 6 | 12:15 – 2:00 pm | New America | Register Here | For the past several decades, our working assumption has been that once firmly established, liberal democracy represents the best and final answer to authoritarianism and the surest guarantor of liberty and equality. Today, however, that assumption is being seriously challenged. Where liberal democracy has taken root, we now see it in retreat in attacks on the press, the judiciary, and on voting rights – the essence of democratic organization. As the United States contends with these challenges, arguably for the first time, what can we learn from other countries that have experienced similar democratic downturns? What were the warning signs and could this deterioration have been stemmed? Are the combination of legal constraints and non-legal norms that undergird our constitutional system enough to keep our democracy on solid footing? What safeguards are currently in place to prevent further deterioration of our democratic values and institutions, and what additional precautions should we consider? In other words, how worried should we be? Join New America, The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School for a discussion about the future of democracy at home and abroad. Speakers include Sheri Berman of Columbia University, Aziz Huq of The University of Chicago Law School, Norman J. Ornstein of The Atlantic and The American Enterprise Institute, and Arturo Valenzuela of Georgetown University. Amanda Taub of The New York Times will moderate.
- How Do You Solve a Problem Like North Korea? | Monday, November 6 | 9:00 am – 12:00 pm | Cato Institute | Register Here | What are the implications of North Korea’s recent gains in nuclear and missile capabilities for the future of U.S. strategy toward North Korea? What is the state of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technologies? What are the prospects of diplomatic negotiations with Pyongyang? Should the United States pursue a different strategy toward North Korea in light of Pyongyang’s improving nuclear capabilities, perhaps including revising its alliance with South Korea? The Cato Institute will host two panels and a keynote address by former governor Bill Richardson to examine these critical questions. The first panel, titled “ Pyongyang’s Capabilities and US Policy,” will include Joshua Pollack of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Suzanne DiMaggio of New America, and Joe Cirincione of Ploughshares Fund, and will be moderated by Eric Gomez of the Cato Institute. The second panel, “New Approaches to Solving the North Korea Problem,” will feature Michael Auslin of the Hoover Institution, Rajan Menon of the City College of New York, and Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute. John Glaser of the Cato Institute will moderate.
- Re-energizing Nuclear Security | Tuesday, November 7 | 5:00 – 6:30 pm | Stimson Center | Register Here | The nuclear industry is experiencing many dynamic changes. Economic challenges are forcing premature reactor shutdowns in some countries such as the US, while Russia and China are making lucrative deals in energy-starved developing countries. A general expansion in all aspects of nuclear development, such as next-gen reactor technologies, is clouded by an evolving security landscape including emerging cyber vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, nuclear security is out of the spotlight since the end of the Nuclear Security Summit series. What is the future of nuclear development and how can industry, civil society, and international organizations facilitate the outstanding Security Summit commitments? The event will feature Leslie Ireland of the Stimson Center, Maria G. Korsnick of the Nuclear Energy Institute, John Barrett of the Canadian Nuclear Association, and Frank Saunders of Bruce Power. The Stimson Center’s Debra Decker will moderate.
- Iraqi Vice President Al-Nujaifi on His Nation’s Post-ISIS Future | Tuesday, November 7 | 11:00 am – 12:00 pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | Osama al-Nujaifi is one of Iraq’s three vice presidents. Hailing from Mosul, a city recaptured this year from the ISIS extremist group, he is secretary general of the United for Iraq Party, and the leader of the Sunni political coalition Muttahidoon. Vice President al-Nujaifi’s address at USIP will be his only public appearance during his visit to Washington.As one of Iraq’s most prominent leaders and a former speaker of Parliament, Vice President al-Nujaifi has been a key player in Iraqi politics for more than a decade. With Iraq’s leaders confronting the fallout from the Kurdistan region’s independence referendum and the Iraqi army’s retaking of key oil fields from the Kurds, questions about governance after ISIS and the quickly approaching provincial and national elections in 2018 take on even more urgency. Vice President al-Nujaifi will discuss the future of Iraq’s democracy and the federalist system adopted after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Ambassador Bill Taylor of the USIP will moderate the discussion.
- After the Referendum: What Path Forward for Iraq’s Kurds? | Tuesday, November 7 | 3:00 – 4:30 pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | The September 25 referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan brought a chilling reaction from Iraq’s central government. Baghdad disputed the legitimacy of the process, but especially rejected Erbil’s claim on Kirkuk and other disputed territories implied by staging the vote there. Following days of military action that resulted in deaths and the retaking of Kirkuk by Iraqi national forces, the KRG has proposed to freeze the referendum results and seeks negotiations about the contentious issues. The United States, which opposed the referendum despite its reliance on Kurdish fighters combating ISIS, must now address the deepened rift between Erbil and Baghdad. To consider the path out of this crisis, the Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to host Shaswar Abdulwahid (New Generation Movement), Peter Shea (U.S. Department of State), and Amberin Zaman (Al-Monitor). MEI’s director for Turkish Studies, Gonul Tol, will moderate the discussion on how Baghdad and Erbil can move forward with each other and with the United States, Turkey, and Iran, and on how U.S. policy can effectively manage the dynamics between the players.
- The Civilian Elements of the New U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan | Wednesday, November 8 | 3:00 pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | Despite an overwhelming response to the United States’ new military strategy for Afghanistan announced by President Trump in August 2017, the non-military components of the strategy have received scant attention. As part of its ambitious reform and self-reliance agenda, the Afghan government has made considerable progress towards improving the capacity of civilian management, leadership, human resources, as well as in addressing formal corruption. But challenges remain. Please join the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center for a panel discussion of the civilian elements of the new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan, including the reform process, internal politics, economics, and how the Afghan government plans to deliver on its pledges. Panelists include Ahmad Nader Nadery, the Chairman of Civil Service Commission of Afghanistan, Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution, and Ambassador James B. Cunningham of the Atlantic Council. Javid Ahmad of the Atlantic Council will moderate.
- A Strategy for a Brighter Future in Libya: Redefining America’s Role | Wednesday, November 8 | 2:30 – 3:50 pm | American Enterprise Institute | Register Here | Recent terrorist attacks in Berlin and Manchester trace back to Libya, where ISIS relocated operatives from Syria and Iraq. Libya’s ongoing civil war, coupled with weak governance and law enforcement, creates the perfect crucible for ISIS and al Qaeda to extend their operations. How can these groups in Libya be defeated? What can be done to stabilize the country and address humanitarian concerns? Is American leadership essential to combating this threat? Please join AEI for the release of “A Strategy for Success in Libya” by Emily Estelle and a panel discussion on a US strategy to rebuild Libya. Panelists include Emily Estelle of AEI and Karim Mezran of the Atlantic Council. Katherine Zimmerman of AEI will moderate.
- Turkey, Europe, and the U.S.: New Challenges and Changing Dynamics | Thursday, November 9 | 10:00 – 11:30 am | Brookings Institution | Register Here | As a Muslim-majority country pursuing EU membership, closer cooperation with trans-Atlantic partners, and a domestic agenda based on securing individual freedoms and strengthening the rule of law, Turkey was deemed a model partner and economic success story. Today, Turkey projects a different image—rolling back democracy, rule of law, individual freedoms, and the separation of powers. The EU accession process, trans-Atlantic commitments, and shared values are in jeopardy. Yet, this is not an isolated incident—it follows an international trend that has seen the emergence of “strongmen leaders,” whose illiberal actions and rhetoric are punctuated by populism and anti-globalism. The EU and the United States are not exempt from elements of this trend. The global economic crisis, terrorism, and migration are closely interrelated with these tendencies. This state of affairs is starkly different from what was envisioned at the end of the Cold War. So, what happened? Can this common challenge be addressed? On November 9, the Center on the United States and Europe (CUSE) will host a panel discussion on this recent drift toward authoritarianism, populism, and religious nationalism, and what the West can do to reverse this trend. Kemal Kirişci, Brookings TÜSİAD senior fellow, will moderate the discussion featuring Brookings scholars Amanda Sloat and Alina Polyakova, and Hakan Yılmaz, professor of political science at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. Brookings Vice President for Foreign Policy Bruce Jones and TÜSİAD CEO Bahadır Kaleağası will offer introductory remarks.
Kurdistan’s President Barzani is refusing to continue in the presidency after November 1. He is stepping aside in the wake of last month’s independence referendum that triggered the loss to Baghdad of a large part of the so-called “disputed territories,” including Kirkuk, as well as opposition from Turkey, Iran, the US, the European Union, and Russia. Barzani’s letter to the Speaker of Kurdistan’s parliament is ambiguous on next steps:
You should therefore meet at your earliest convenience to ensure there is no legal vacuum in the execution of the duties and powers of the president of the Region and resolve this subject.
Barzani, who has clung to power years after his mandate expired, is throwing in the towel, at least for now.
His ambiguity about what happens next stands in stark contrast to the relevant provisions of the Kurdistan Regional constitution:
i) In the case of the resignation, demise, or permanent disability of the President of the Kurdistan Region, a successor shall be elected in the same manner.
ii) When the position of the President of the Kurdistan Region becomes vacant, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Assembly shall assume responsibilities of the President until such time as a new President is elected.
iii) When the President of the Kurdistan Region is absent or on leave, the Regional Prime Minister shall assume the responsibilities of the President in an acting capacity.
My guess is he wants the Regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, his nephew, to assume the responsibilities, rather than the Speaker, who comes from an opposition party. I suppose the ambiguity might help Nechirvan to argue that the President is absent or on leave, rather than resigned.
In any event, Barzani is doing the right thing to take responsibility for the loss of territory and step aside. The question is what happens next?
Hopefully the ceasefire negotiated two days ago between the Kurdish peshmerga and the Iraqi security forces can be extended further. While Baghdad has not yet retaken all of the “disputed areas,” it has the critical ones, except for the border posts inside Iraqi Kurdistan. It is negotiating with Erbil under US auspices for control of a key border post at Fish Khabur.
Once the situation has stabilized, with Iraqi security forces and peshmerga clear about their respective areas of control, it will be time for a serious dialogue on key issues: how the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan will be fixed and control over oil and oil revenues. Independence is off the table for now, but Kurdistan has a very large measure of autonomy within Iraq and will want to ensure that continues. Unambiguous borders and certainty about oil and money would be a big boost to Erbil’s ability to govern itself effectively.
Within Kurdistan, Barzani and his PDK party are still strong. Their main rivals in the Talabani-affiliated PUK have weakened significantly in recent years, with defections to smaller political groups that have failed to gain sufficient weight to challenge the PDK. The loss of Kirkuk and other territory will no doubt have repercussions in the PDK, but it is not yet clear what they might be. Though called political parties, these groups are in part based on family and tribe. Those affiliations don’t change easily, especially if the tribal chieftain is still active.
Barzani underlined in his letter to the Speaker that he would indeed remain an active peshmerga, which is presumably a way of saying he will continue to command his family’s significant forces in Kurdistan. The PDK is blaming the loss of Kirkuk on surrender by PUK peshmerga. Civil wars have been fought over less, including in Kurdistan. It happened before and could happen again.
Hard to tell what comes next, but the president who held on in office without a mandate is unlikely to buckle completely now. Barzani is out, but not down.
Last week at the Middle East Institute, Tim Eaton of Chatham House defined “war economies” simply as an economy during wartime, including but not exclusive to the parts of the economy that directly fuel conflict. Eaton was joined by fellow Chatham House experts Lina Khatib and Renad Mansour on October 19 in a panel on “Wartime Economies in the Middle East: A Look into Libya, Syria, and Iraq.” The Middle East Institute’s Paul Salem moderated.
Eaton provided an overview of the economic situation in Libya, identifying four modalities: individuals with goods to sell, those who generate rent money, those who prey on state revenue, and those who receive salaries from external backers. Concerning those who sell goods, one of the main avenues for such activity has long been the smuggling of subsidized products, an industry which persists post-revolution. Criminalized trade, especially in drugs, has also been a major source of revenue, generating $400-$500 million per year. Additionally, since 2013, the movement of people has been included in this category. The biggest industry, however, is still oil and fuel smuggling, which generates about $2.5 billion.
Rents are another avenue for certain individuals, the money coming from the establishment of checkpoints and the control of territory. This has led to extortion through blockades imposed on roads and oil fields, with such blockades costing the state over $160 billion in the East alone. The state has also been experiencing losses due to those who are able to “prey upon state revenue.” Since 97% of revenue comes from oil and gas trade, Eaton considered this a critical area from which revenue has been taken. These losses have also been augmented due to the discrepancy between the US dollar to Libyan dinar exchange rate both in the official sector, where it is 1.4 dinars, and in the black market, where it is 8 dinars. Those with the means to buy products at the official rate and sell them in the black market have seen major profits.
Eaton emphasized that all actors in Libya have been benefiting from the conflict, finding ways to take advantage of the country’s situation. Since armed groups have been able to obtain salaries as a result of the conflict, this has encouraged them to maintain the status quo. There is little incentive to find a solution to the conflict or undergo a political process. On a state level, economic difficulties, as well as “administrative chaos” and questions of legitimacy, have hindered the functioning of the three most important state institutions: the National Oil Company, the Central Bank, and the Libyan Investment Authority.
Mansour focused on the effect of economic factors on the survival and functioning of ISIS in Iraq. The international community has tried military and political solutions. The one solution most overlooked has been the economic solution. The key concept here, according to Mansour, is that organizations and individuals are opportunistic: they go where jobs and money are available, such as ISIS. In looking for ways to defeat ISIS, creating alternatives that would allow potential members to survive economically is important. ISIS has three key sources of revenue: trade (goods, oil, antiquities, etc.), fees (through taxation, rents, and licenses), and state resources. Looking to the future, ISIS is now investing in “legitimate industries” such as hotels, pharmaceuticals, and currency exchanges, to maintain their economic power and facilitate a future revival. In response, Iraqi state institutions and international actors have been working on limiting ISIS’s influence. Their flaw, according to Mansour, has been that none of these actors are working together.
Khatib gave an overview of the war economy in Syria, grouping the different areas of the country into three categories: areas under the control of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, areas besieged by the regime, and areas under regime control. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham has been following a similar model to that of ISIS in that they have been investing in formal industries while also setting up private companies to maintain the group’s economic independence. They have also been benefiting from their control of water and electricity in Idlib, collecting charges from residents. There has also been much trade activity between such rebel-held areas and regime areas, which has encouraged both sides to maintain the status quo, much like the situation in Libya.
Besieged areas have also witnessed trade activities, primarily through tunnels operated by middlemen. The government has been manipulating the formal exchange rate, making the rate inside besieged areas higher than elsewhere and consequently accumulating more revenue.
Regime-held areas have experienced much change. Since 2011, the state budget has decreased from $18 to $4 billion, with half now coming from external actors supporting the regime, and inflation has increased by 700%. To evade sanctions, the regime has set up front companies in loyalists’ names. For example, the Syrian Council for Metal and Steel set up in 2015 has contracts with its international partners Iran and Russia. Iran has militias and business-people working for it in the country. Khatib noted that the extent of outside interference has begun to worry the regime, and that true reconstruction, particularly including a return of refugees is not a goal of the state.
A key takeaway from the speakers’ overviews of the topic and the ensuing discussion is that economic alternatives to the present situation–which presents many economic incentives–must be found. The importance of political processes will not surpass the importance of economic security for citizens and state institutions alike. So long as the current situation is more profitable than any alternatives, it will persist.
Therefore, in order to fulfill our responsibilities and obligations towards the people of Kurdistan and Iraq, we propose the following to the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi and world public opinion:
1. An immediate ceasefire and halt to all military operations in the Kurdistan Region.2. Freeze the results of the referendum conducted in Iraqi Kurdistan.3. Start an open dialogue between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraqi Federal Government on the basis of the Constitution.
I talked yesterday with some young, DC-based Kurds after yesterday’s Middle East Institute conference on Iraq here at SAIS. They are fried. The retaking of Kirkuk and other “disputed territories” by Baghdad has made them feel humiliated and furious. The split between President Barzani’s PDK and the PUK, whose peshmerga did not resist the Iraqi security forces, surprised and horrified them. The battle for Kirkuk may be lost, but they are expecting the war to continue.
I hope not. President Barzani miscalculated in holding the referendum. He thought it would consolidate his political hold on Kurdistan and lead to a negotiation with Baghdad, not a military push. He also miscalculated the international reaction, which has been almost universally negative. Only Israel has supported the referendum and an independent Kurdistan, which condemns the effort in most Middle Eastern eyes. Tehran and Ankara have vigorously opposed the referendum. Washington and Moscow have done likewise.
Going to war with Baghdad would be another colossal miscalculation on Barzani’s part. He wisely is indicating that he won’t do that. The reconstituted Iraqi security forces appear more than adequate to overpower the peshmerga, at least until they retreat into the mountains. But it would also be unwise for Baghdad to push its forces past the constitutional borders of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which is foolishly what former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is urging. That would trigger an insurgency, throwing Iraq into even more chaos than it is suffering already in the aftermath of the successful campaign against ISIS. Iraq needs reconstruction and reconciliation, not a new rebellion.
Kurds are not going to give up the autonomy they won in Iraq’s 2005 constitution. Even in the disputed territories retaken by the Iraqi security forces governance may be extraordinarily difficult unless the KRG’s civilian authorities are allowed to return. Wisdom now lies with calming the situation, maintaining law and order as best can be done with local forces, and enabling both Baghdad and Erbil to go back to the negotiating table without losing face. Humiliation, especially on the basis of identity, is a powerful motive for violence and irredentism. A Kurdish rebellion in Iraq would be supported by Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iran. That’s the last thing Iraq needs now.
At yesterday’s conference, both Iraqi Ambassador Yasseen and Iranian Princeton professor Mousavian supported resolution of the disputed territories based on the Iraqi constitution. That is obviously easier said than done, since it has not in fact gotten done in 12 years. But it is still the best solution on offer: local referenda allowing the populations in different communities to decide whether they want to join the KRG or not. What has made that difficult is deciding who should be able to vote, because Arabization during the Saddam Hussein dictatorship and population movements since the American invasion could determine the outcome.
That is a soluble problem. Elections in territories that have been demographically engineered have become common in recent decades in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Some combination of voter registration (outside the US usually done via the census) and absentee voting can be worked out. The main thing is to negotiate a compromise and proceed with it. That is true as well for other issues dividing Erbil and Baghdad, especially oil revenues and who can export oil with or without someone else’s permission. These are soluble problems that should no longer be allowed to fester. And Haider al Abadi is the most sympathetic prime minister the Kurds can hope to deal with in Baghdad. Making some deals with him before next year’s elections would be smart politics.
Iraq needs to settle its internal issues so that it can begin to play its proper role in helping the region to overcome more than a decade of war. American diplomacy should stand ready to help. It is time to cut deals.