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university challenge
iraqi, turkish politicians show true colours at academic forum

Special Correspondent
A number of political VIPs attended a forum hosted by the American University of Iraq this week. Those assembled were overjoyed at the Turkish foreign minister’s use of Kurdish language – restricted in…
6.03.2014  |  Sulaymaniyah
Foreign Ministers of Iraq and Turkey, Hoshyar Zebari (R) and Ahmet Davutoglu.
Foreign Ministers of Iraq and Turkey, Hoshyar Zebari (R) and Ahmet Davutoglu.

Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, used the Kurdish language in a forum organized in al-Sulaymaniyah by the American University of Iraq, al-Sulaymaniyah. His Kurdish words drew the attention of the audience but the use of the forum by the different parties to express their views on the future of Iraq and the Kurdistan region has raised lots of controversy.

On March 4 and 5, the American University of Iraq in Sulaymaniyah, held its second annual forum; the topic was Navigating Challenges in the Middle East and there were a number of noteworthy speakers in attendance including Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Nerchivan Barzani, Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari and the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu.

Many things were said and much was debated. However for many who were present, one of the most exciting things that happened was Davutoglu welcoming guests in Kurdish. That a high ranking Turkish official stood with the Iraqi Kurdish flag behind him and spoke in Kurdish, in one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s biggest cities, was memorable. After all, up until relatively recently, the use of Kurdish was restricted in Turkey. Yet here was the Turkish foreign minister himself telling the assembled crowd that his Kurdish words came “from my heart to your heart”. Davutoglu’s comments draw huge applause.

Many who were present believe this is all down to the new closeness between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, and in particular, an economic closeness brought about by the growing value of trade and business as well as a new oil pipeline.

But at the same time as the Iraqi Kurdish and the Turkish were feeling the warmth, senior Iraqi politicians from Baghdad had a different message.

Iraq’s Minister of Higher Education, Ali al-Adeeb, also gave a speech – but his was not so friendly. He told the audience – including Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish politicians – that Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence was causing the rest of the country a lot of problems and that many Arab Iraqis felt there should be other solutions.

Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Barzani was quick to respond. He said that Iraqi Kurdistan was continuously being threatened by Baghdad about this but that the idea of giving up the region’s independence was now unfeasible.

“And we are very worried about the use of our people’s welfare as a bargaining chip,” Barzani said, referring to what has been described as an “economic blockade” by Baghdad.

Those who attended the different sessions at the conference thought that it had given each party an opportunity to be quite explicit about their intentions and desires. It also exposed yet again the complexity of disagreements between them.

As the country\'s former vice president Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite Muslim politician and leading member of Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, put it to reporters on the sidelines of the conference: “Solutions to these problems need to be found. Unfortunately personalities have played a big role in complicating things.”

“The American University of Iraq will continue to host these kinds of meetings,” the spokesperson for the university, Bazar Ali Boscani, told NIQASH. “We believe it is important to gather decision makers in Iraq here so that current affairs can be discussed publicly, with the participation of the students and media.”