This month some of the country's most senior politicians met in Iraqi Kurdistan for a free and frank exchange of views. Debate was controversial and centred on some of the toughest topics Iraq faces today.
A picture of a panel at the Sulaymaniyah Forum, as featured on local televison.
The third annual Sulaymaniyah Forum saw frank and honest exchanges of views and information between Iraqi Arab and Kurdish politicians yet again. Last year's event was also marked by its open exchange.
The Forum, hosted annually by the American University of Iraq in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, was held on March 11 and 12 this year and once again saw a number of important visitors to the semi-autonomous region. This included Iraq's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Minister of Finance, Hoshyar Zebari, Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Salim al-Jibouri, the President of Iraqi Kurdistan's Parliament, Yusuf Mohammed Sadiq, and Iraqi Kurdistan’s Minister of Finance and Economy, Rebaz Mohammad Hamalan, among others.
Grievances were aired freely. Standing on the podium next to the Iraqi Foreign Minister, al-Jaafari, Iraqi Kurdish politician Mohammed Sadiq told the crowd that although the Kurdish people were not consulted when the nation of Iraq was created, that the Kurdish were in Iraq to stay. “But differences between the people should be respected,” he said to applause.
The two day event included a wide variety of panel discussions and seminars, including plenty on how to confront the threat posed to Iraq by the extremist group known as the Islamic State. But for local audiences, one of the most interesting topics was on how unified Iraq really was – and whether it could remain so.
Mohammed al-Haj Mahmoud, the Secretary General of the Kurdistan Socialist Party, addressed the forum for 15 minutes. “Iraq is not safe country,” said the man, whose son was killed in fighting against the extremists earlier in 2015. “Those who believe Iraq is a united country are most probably looking at it from the sky. But if those people tried to travel by land from Erbil to Mosul, and from there to Baghdad, they will realize this country has three different governments.”
Al-Haj Mahmoud has made similar statements before – and he also repeated his criticism of the Iraqi government, saying that they were happy to pay fighters who were with the Shiite Muslim militias fighting the Islamic State group but they wouldn't send any money to pay the Kurdish fighters battling the same enemy, known as the Peshmerga.
The ongoing financial problems between Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdish regional authorities were also a popular subject for debate and discussion. Speeches held by Zebari and Hamalan attracted much interest.
The forum was enthusiastically followed by young Iraqi Kurdish people too and they often posted reports and speeches on Facebook, which they tend to use as a news forum, like those in the West use Twitter. Various video clips of speeches were praised on social media for their frankness; the youth of Iraqi Kurdistan were pleased to hear their own politicians forgoing diplomacy and expressing to Iraqi politicians how those in the semi-autonomous region really feel.
Local commentators on social media believe that the kind of frankness that the Sulaymaniyah Forum brings is much needed in Iraq today. When the politicians return to their jobs, they will go back to their political courtesies, leaving the real issues unresolved, they believe.
“It was a very good meeting and the discussions were open and frank,” said Iraq's Speaker of Parliament, al-Jibouri. “If it had not been the right time and the right place, discussions would not have been that open. These qualities are very important.”