Kurdistan emerging as influential player regionally and internationally




Cambridge, UK - (KRG.org) - Kurdistan Regional Government officials told a conference at the University of Cambridge of Kurdistan's emerging role as an influential player in Iraq and the Middle East and about its political and economic rise over the past decade.


Minister Falah Mustafa, the Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, and Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the KRG's High Representative to the UK, spoke at the two-day conference on Iraq: A Decade of New Governance, at the university's Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, last week.

The conference was opened by Faik Nerwayi, the Iraqi Ambassador to the UK. Other speakers included Iraqi MPs Sadiq Rikabi and Haider Abadi, Sinan Shabibi, the former governor of the Central Bank of Iraq, Dhia Mohsin Al-Hakim of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, academics and researchers Fanar Haddad, Haydar Al-Khoei and Faleh Jabar, women’s rights campaigner Hanaa Edwar, as well as other academics, financial and political experts and former British diplomats in Iraq Edward Chaplin, Sir William Patey and Noel Guckian.

Minister Mustafa, who spoke in a session about the KRG's diplomatic motivators, security and regional affairs, said, 'Our growing economy, stability and rich oil and gas resources mean that Kurdistan’s  presence is being felt, both internationally and regionally. These gains have not come easily. The Kurdistan Region has a tragic past and it is that past that shapes our decisions today.' He added that the people of Kurdistan take lessons from the past but don't live in it and are a forward-looking nation.

He outlined the two turning points in Kurdistan's recent history: 1991 when the Kurdish uprising took place and eventually Britain, the United States, Turkey and France implemented a no-fly-zone that enabled the Kurds to hold their first free elections and create a parliament and government; and 2003 when Iraq was liberated from the Baathist regime.

The minister described how the KRG has been proactive in communicating its message internationally by building bridges with its neighbours, engaging politically and promoting energy and trade diplomacy.

On regional affairs, Mr Mustafa said the KRG has an open-door policy because of its desire to shake off its past isolation and to ensure ‘the Kurds will never again be the forgotten victims of regional calculations and political events’.

He said that the Kurds had been key in the Iraqi Opposition in the 1990s, had played a significant role in the political process since 2003 and were committed to the constitution, federalism and democracy. However, there seemed to be an increasing lack of commitment to these principles among others in Iraq. 'Instead of partnership we see brinkmanship. Instead of dialogue we see the threat of military might. Instead of a commitment to the constitution, it is undermined. Our relationship with Baghdad is not what it should be,' he said.

The minister also addressed the KRG's relations with its neighbours, particularly with Turkey which is Kurdistan’s largest trade partner. He also highlighted the civil war in Syria with its humanitarian and political repercussions.

On security, Minister Mustafa said the Kurdistan Region has been peaceful and stable thanks to the diligence of the security services and the public and their cooperation with each other.

Ms Abdul Rahman, who spoke in a session on Iraq’s economy, outlined Kurdistan's economic transformation in the past 10 years.

She compared the economy today with that of 2003. Today’s retail and construction booms, international trade and communications stand in contrast with the isolation, hardship and lack of consumer choice that existed ten years ago.

The Region's budget has increased from a few hundred million dollars just before the liberation to about $12billion, she said, and the KRG has built an energy sector from nothing in the past several years and is likely to be a supplier to Europe and Turkey.

She outlined the KRG's policy of diversifying its economy by promoting a strong private sector, tourism, agriculture and industry. She said the KRG's investment law has successfully encouraged foreign direct investment as well as local input, and that the KRG promoted commercial ties with Britain, Europe, and the United States, as well as with countries closer to home.

Looking ahead, Ms Abdul Rahman said, 'No one likes to make economic forecasts, but I believe that Kurdistan's economy will continue to grow in the next decade and we will be firmly on the world energy map, supplying to Europe and Turkey.'

The two-day conference also had panels addressing the issues of national identity and sectarianism and citizenship and civil society. There were lively discussions and differences of opinion expressed during all the sessions which included speakers from the academia, government and diplomats.

Academics Toby Dodge of the London School of Economics, Rodney Wilson of Durham University and Louise Fawcett of the University of Oxford gave their views on Iraq’s economy and the regional impact of developments in the country over the past decade. Mark Dempsey of Brehon Advisory, a mediation and investment company, spoke about the governance of the central bank, and Hassan Dahan, of Bain al-Nahrain, an Iraqi financial services company, suggested that capital markets could be a path towards economic evolution.

Former central bank governor Mr Shabibi concluded the conference with a presentation on the central bank's policies since it was established in 2004 as an independent institution responsible to parliament. The conference was convened by Renad Mansour and Michael Clarke, researchers at the University of Cambridge.




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