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  • Author: Kristin Perry
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: The inclusion of women is critical to the success and sustainability of reconciliation efforts. To date, however, the government of Iraq has failed to prioritize women’s participation in its national reconciliation program. In the development of the second Iraqi National Action Plan (INAP), the federal government has an opportunity to rectify this legacy and restore the social contract with its female constituents. This policy brief examines current gender deficits throughout Iraq’s reconciliation process and offers relevant recommendations.
  • Topic: Women, Feminism, Reconciliation , Sustainability
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Turkey is in every way ideally placed to bridge the EU with its southern neighbours and together tackle their common challenges and myriad business opportunities. The question is, can they align priorities and policies to make the most of the opportunities? The answer is: not easily. Given the complexity of and uncertainty in Turkey and Iraq, as well as Syria’s security dynamics, sustained EU-Turkey convergence in all areas of common interest is unlikely in the foreseeable future. Although both Turkey and the EU have adopted multifaceted foreign policies vis-a-vis the Middle Eastern countries, yet they have converged only on specific issues, such as dealing with the Iran nuclear deal. Both sides consider the US withdrawal from the deal as a “matter of concern”, believing that maintaining the deal and keeping Iran engaged through diplomatic and economic means instead of sanctions or military threats is crucial even after the US withdrawal. Otherwise, Turkey and the EU diverge on the overall approach to the most troubled neighbours, namely Iraq and Syria, which have been sources of grave concern to all. Iraq continues to be a fragile country, struggling to keep its integrity. The country was at the brink of failure between 2014-2017 after the emergence of the so called Islamic State (IS), and further threatened by the Kurdish referendum for independence in 2017. Iraq was pulled back to survival, mainly by international assistance. Interestingly, in 2018 Iraq saw two transformative general elections, one for the Federal and the other for the Kurdistan Region’s Parliament. The outcome of these elections brought about a degree of change in the political landscape, a sense of optimism for future recovery and a clear promise for creating new business opportunities for international partners. However, in keeping with the past, the formation of government in both Baghdad and Erbil became protracted and problematic. These features indicate that the Iraqi leaders remain ill focused on the country’s priorities in terms of state-building and provision of services or addressing the root causes of its fragility. Turkey and the EU share the objectives of accessing Iraq’s market and energy supply, and prevent onward migration of the displaced populations. Of course, the EU is to a large extent dependent on Turkey to achieve its goals. Therefore, it would make sense for the two sides to converge and cooperate on these issues. However, Turkey’s foreign policies in the southern neighbourhood are driven primarily by its own domestic and border security considerations and – importantly – Turkey sees the economic, political and security issues as inextricable. While Iraq has lost its state monopoly over legitimate violence and is incapable of securing its borders, Turkey often takes matters into its own hands by invading or intervening in Iraq, both directly and indirectly (through proxies). Of course, the Iraqi government considers Turkey’s interventions as acts of aggression and violations of its borders, but is unwilling to take measures against them. For Iraq, Turkey is a regional power and an indispensable neighbour. It has control over part of Iraq’s oil exports, water supply and trade routes. The EU, on the other hand, considers Turkey’s interventions as acts of self-defence but frowns upon them as destabilising factors, adding to the fragility of Iraq. In Syria, the political landscape and security dynamics are very different from Iraq, but the EU-Turkish policies follow similar patterns. Syria remains a failed state with its regime struggling to secure survival and regain control over its territories. Meanwhile, Turkey has become increasingly interventionist in Syria via direct military invasion and through proxies, culminating in the occupation of a significant area west of Euphrates, and threatening to occupy the Eastern side too. Turkey has put extreme pressure on the USA for permission to remove the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) and its lead organisation (Democratic Union Party, PYD) from governing North East Syria (also referred to as Rojava). However, the EU and USA consider the SDF and PYD indispensable in the fight against IS and fear the Turkish interventions may have grave consequences. Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative and Vice-President of the European Commission recently emphasised that “Turkey is a key partner of the EU”, and that the EU expect the “Turkish authorities to refrain from any unilateral action likely to undermine the efforts of the Counter-IS Coalition”. Therefore, EU-Turkey divergence or even conflict with some EU Member States is possible over Syria.
  • Topic: Security, Regional Cooperation, Military Strategy, European Union, Islamic State, Political stability
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Asia, Syria
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen
  • Publication Date: 03-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: This month last year, the Kuwaiti government hosted a ‘Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq’. It was attended by the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, along with dozens of foreign ministers and large numbers of other government and business representatives. The timing was perfect for Iraq. The country had recently announced the military defeat of the Islamic State (IS) and was enjoying an unprecedented level of optimism and all-round international good will. Until then, Iraq had for a number of years been suffering from a severe economic crisis, precipitated largely by decades of poor management of state resources, never-ending wars and crises, and the drop in oil prices. Hence, the country needed help and, luckily for the Iraqis, its neighbours were willing to help because failure to address reconstruction needs would add to the country’s fragility and chronic instability.
  • Topic: United Nations, Military Strategy, Reconstruction, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad, Kurdistan
  • Author: Emma Hesselink
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Now that IS has been defeated, at least territorially, governments, donors and the international community are investing in Iraq’s state building programmes both at national and local levels. However, Nineveh governorate, which suffered greatest damage and requires greatest attention, has been the scene of a highly divided security landscape since its liberation from IS. The chronic divisions between different actors such as Peshmerga and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are only worsened by the presence of the Hashd al-Shaabi and other non-state actors in the Disputed Territories. This brief provides an analysis of the risks posed by Hashd in Nineveh and offers recommendations into regaining a grip on the situation.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Islamic State, State Building
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Author: Anne van der Wolff
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Many of the Islamic State associated women and children now live in camps inside Iraq and are denied identity cards, including birth and death certificates. These practices violate national and international laws and are likely to contribute to future radicalisation and renewed violent extremism. Iraq must develop clear policies in line with its democratic constitution.
  • Topic: Violent Extremism, Radicalization, Democracy, Islamic State, Identities
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Henrietta Johanssen
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: With Iraq’s displacement crisis, violence against women and girls has reached new levels of cruelty. However, with a forthcoming transition into stabilisation and the signed commitment to implement UNSCR 1325 for Women, Peace, and Security, both Iraq and Kurdistan Region now have the momentum to pave a new route to safeguarding and promoting women. This policy brief discusses the sexual and gender based violence in Iraq, and the centrality of ‘honour’ and ‘shame’, to tackling legal, structural, and communal barriers to women empowerment.
  • Topic: United Nations, Women, Gender Based Violence , Feminism, Sexual Violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: The latest tension between Iran and the United States has created an unhealthy debate among local actors in Iraq and the wider Middle East, reflecting minimal insight into Washington or Tehran’s policy environment. This in itself can be extremely detrimental to their own national agenda as well as the overall dynamics. The question here is: where is this US-Iran escalation leading and what policy would be best for the local players in Iraq (and elsewhere) to pursue?
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Imperialism, Regional Cooperation, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Tehran, Washington, D.C.
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen, Goran Zangana
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Chemicals are widely used in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region (KRI) for various civilian purposes. Terrorist organizations have demonstrated their intention, know-how and capacity to convert chemicals of civilian use to chemical weapons. Without an urgent and comprehensive policy response, the KRI can face significant breaches in chemical security with immeasurable risks to the population and the environment. This report follows a special MERI workshop on chemical security, where major challenges were identified and a number of policy recommendation made.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Chemical Weapons
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Federico Borsari
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Stabilisation and recovery in Iraq are intimately tied to the structural sustainability and accountability of the security apparatus across the country. The Kurdish Peshmerga forces are currently undergoing an ambitious process of modernisation and institutionalisation aimed at transforming them into an apolitical and professional entity, to the expected benefit of both Erbil and Baghdad. This policy brief examines the contours of this process against the backdrop of Iraq’s precarious security landscape and offers policy recommendations.
  • Topic: Security, Political structure, Institutionalism, Recovery
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Abdullah Yassen
  • Publication Date: 08-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Forced displacement from Syria has resulted in one of the largest refugee populations worldwide, and the most protracted displacement in the Middle East. In the presence of the complex security dynamics in the region, durable solutions are difficult and require careful considerations. Using a multi-site qualitative and participatory methods, this research examines: (a) the feasibility of voluntary repatriation, local integration, and resettlement in a third country for Syrian refugees. (b) the ‘State’ practice of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) in terms of refugee protection and its response to their entitlement to education, health care, employment, and residency. The report highlights certain flaws in the Syrian refugees’ predicament which the KRI government, international organisations and the international community urgently need to address to implement an effective solution to the crisis. The findings also show that the preferred durable solution for the majority of the Syrian refugees is onward migration and resettlement in third countries. Both local integration and voluntary repatriation were viewed as largely unworkable, since the KRI, as part of Iraq, is not signatory to the Refugee Convention, and current local legislations are inadequate to regulate asylum. Importantly, voluntary return to Syria is still impeded by security concerns and the lack of development in their regions of origin.
  • Topic: Migration, United Nations, Refugees, Displacement, Resettlement
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: This timely session was dedicated to a debate with the President of Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) to discuss central geo-political and domestic developments, including the protests and the crisis of governance in Baghdad; the Turkish invasion of Northern Syria (particularly Rojava); and finally, the effects of internal political fissures within the KRI.
  • Topic: Development, Governance, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Asia, Baghdad, Syria, Kurdistan
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Two years after the official ‘defeat’ of IS, Iraqi politics remain dominated by complex and rapidly shifting political dynamics. Intrastate fragmentation and a loss of social cohesion are reflected in the recent public demonstrations for better services across Iraq, as well as in ongoing debates about budget and oil negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad. International Correspondent, Jane Arraf, introduced this panel of government officials and journalists by setting the current scene in Baghdad, which is undergoing large-scale public protests by citizens with dwindling faith in their home country. The protest participants include women and families who have not received anything from the promise of the ‘new’ Iraq. Young people are among those most vulnerable in the current crisis.
  • Topic: Social Movement, Islamic State, Protests, Youth Movement
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad, Erbil
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: At the outset of this panel, Dlawer Ala’Aldeen invited the Prime Minister (PM) to share his vision and strategy for his 4-year term in office. Ala’Aldeen observed that Masrour Barzani’s cabinet is a coalition of different political parties, and that the internal coordination demonstrated during its first four months has provided good reason for hope. He stated that observers acknowledge the PM’s former track record of success, and have high expectations for what he will be able to accomplish in office.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Domestic politics
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Over the past decade and a half, the KRI’s share of the federal budget and oil revenue has been the most significant point of tension between Erbil and Baghdad. Each year, when the budgetary law is formulated and voted upon, a new crisis is initiated; the next is already brewing, as the budget law is currently under discussion. According to journalist Hiwa Osman, this bilateral relationship is also affected by ongoing neutralisation disagreements over the disputed territories, which are manifested in the positionalities of the Peshmerga, paramilitary, and federal security forces.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Budget
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad, Erbil
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: The 9th KRG Cabinet was formed in July of 2019. At its inception, the PM committed his new cabinet to a manifesto consisting of 52 critical reforms, designed to fulfill his pledge to improve services, enhance the rule of law, strengthen government institutions, and address chronic problems that have plagued Iraq for 100 years. All cabinet ministers were tasked, from the outset, with the mandate to prepare their respective ministries for the implementation of that manifesto. In his opening remarks, Dlawer Ala’Aldeen stated that, following the debate with the Prime Minister, who described his vision and strategies for the KRG Cabinet overall, this panel would dig deeper into the specific action plans of four key service-related ministries. These include the Ministries of Education, Health, Electricity, and Reconstruction & Housing. The Ministry of Planning, which plays a central role in the overall operation of the government and the expenditure of its budget, would be engaged as well.
  • Topic: Reconstruction, Health Care Policy, Reform, Budget
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: In her introduction, panel chairman Tanya Gilly highlighted that Middle East history has long been marked by turmoil and transition. While the region is no stranger to overlapping and intractable conflicts, she emphasized that recent dynamics have introduced new complexities. Buffeted by competing regional and global entities, and littered with fragile and failing states, the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East has become fraught with militarization, mass population displacement, and communal fragmentation. Gilly explained that this panel would focus on recent geopolitical developments in Northern Syria, and that panelists would be pressed to consider how they might influence the next evolution of the Middle East to create an environment conducive to lasting peace.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Peace
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: In his introduction, panel chairman Farhad Alaaldin explained that Iraq is in a state of crisis. The current socio-political situation, as reflected by demonstrations and protests across the various governorates, is both complicated and complex. He explained that this panel, featuring central players from the international community, would examine the contours of this crisis and solicit external perspectives.
  • Topic: Social Movement, Political stability, Protests, State Building
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Panel chairman Henriette Johansen explained that internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Nineveh Province experience multiple layers of barriers to their return, some of which are unarticulated or invisible in the milieu of societal concerns stemming from Nineveh’s history of violence and its ongoing challenges with security and public administration. Within Nineveh’s minority communities, historic legacies of socio-economic and political disenfranchisement, war, genocide, and foreign invasion have enervated the will to return. While 4.3 million IDPs have returned, 1.5 million still remain in displacement. Recent government measures, such as rapidly consolidating and closing IDP camps across Nineveh, have sent a new wave of IDPs into critical shelter and extreme living conditions. Expectation and hope for sustainable, voluntary return are diminishing, along with IDPs’ expectation that authorities will deliver on their promises. After protracted displacement, IDPs are feeling the push to integrate into their host communities or emigrate abroad. Johansen explained that, in the ensuing discussion, panelists would be solicited for any actions within their respective remits that could rectify this situation for their constituents. In his remarks, Nathanael Nizar Semaan praised the “great hope” that has sustained the Christian minority through a long history of injustice, difficulty, and persecution. Despite disappointing rates of return among the Christian community, he argued that his constituents feel rooted to their ancestral lands, and were among the first to attempt a return to their areas of origin in the Nineveh Plains following liberation. He highlighted the example of Qaraqosh, which has seen approximately 22,000 Christian returnees out of an original population of 50,000. Unfortunately, however, continued deficits in services, limited career opportunities, and a poor standard of living have rendered most returns unsustainable. Additionally, after years of persecution and inequality, governmental inaction in the face of political disputes and demographic change has enervated the confidence of Christian constituents in the federal government’s ability to provide safety and prosperity for their children. As a result, many have chosen to remain in the KRI or to migrate abroad. “Our country is bleeding. Many are leaving… it is very painful for us.” – Semaan He acknowledged that religious leaders have a responsibility to incentivize return and remind their constituents that they belong to Iraq, but noted that stymieing the flow of migration is impossible without sufficient political will, attention, and provision from the government. He urged the government to rectify its neglect of the disputed territories and provide practical solutions. “Our areas need to be given more,” he said. “Christians are like an olive tree that is cut and burned, but the root will appear and grow again. We are rooted to this ground, though we face different difficulties and […] persecution.” – Semaan Semaan stated that religious leaders have renewed their vows to serve their constituents. To support the implementation of Iraq’s National Action Plan (INAP) on UNSCR 1325, he emphasized the need for assistance and training from the international community, as the Church has very little experience rendering psychological treatment to women and children. He also urged the international community to expend significant effort in securing the inclusion of youth and providing opportunities for them to make positive contributions to Iraq’s reconstruction. He explained that, while the Church offers social activities, cultural events, and entertainment to engage with young people, it does not have the power to dissuade them from migration or offer them a prosperous life. “If we lose them,” he admitted, “we will vanish.” Finally, he highlighted the church’s involvement in housing reconstruction projects, and invited the partnership of engineers and economists to assist in the planning and strategizing process. Semaan concluded his remarks by encouraging a spirit of optimism. He emphasized that Christians consider all Iraqis their brothers, and noted that securing the lawful rights of the Christian minority need not come at the expense of other components. He promoted a vision of the future predicated on dignity and respect, and reassured listeners that “our common language will be the language of love.”
  • Topic: Migration, Refugees, Domestic politics, Displacement
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Sarah L. Edgecumbe
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: The contemporary displacement landscape in Iraq is both problematic and unique. The needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq are many, particularly as protracted displacement becomes entrenched as the norm rather than the exception. However, minorities originating from the so called ‘Disputed Territories’ and perceived Islamic State (IS)-affiliates represent two of the most vulnerable groups of IDPs in Iraq. Iraqi authorities currently have a real opportunity to set a positive precedent for IDP protection by formulating pragmatic durable solutions which incorporate non-discriminatory protection provisions, and which take a preventative approach to future displacement. This policy paper analyses the contemporary displacement context of Iraq, characterized as it is by securitization of Sunni IDPs and returnees, as well as ongoing conflict and coercion within the Disputed Territories. By examining current protection issues against Iraq’s 2008 National Policy on Displacement, this paper identifies protection gaps within Iraq’s response to displacement, before drawing on the African Union’s Kampala Convention in order to make recommendations for an updated version of the National Policy on Displacement. These recommendations will ensure that a 2020 National Policy on Displacement will be relevant to the contemporary protection needs of Iraq’s most vulnerable IDPs, whilst also acting to prevent further conflict and displacement.
  • Topic: Security, Migration, Religion, Refugees, Displacement
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Yasir Kuoti
  • Publication Date: 01-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Years after toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein in April 2003, corruption remains one of the top concerns of Iraqi citizens. It has, thus, become a tradition for Iraqi governments to champion a resolve for ridding the country of this endemic. The government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is no exception. In his press briefing on 23 November 2017, al-Abadi announced his intention to launch a crosscutting anti-corruption campaign, promising an ultimate “triumph over corruption as Iraq did with Daesh.” While laudable, such efforts will prove substantially difficult and would require a national program that upsets how major aspects of Iraqi politics have been practiced since 2003.
  • Topic: Corruption, Government, Domestic politics
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad