Transatlantic Leadership Network Hosts Inaugural Conference at U.S. Capitol
Chairman of the Board of the Transatlantic Leadership Network (TLN) Michael Haltzel welcomed attendees and announced the launch of the Transatlantic Leadership Network at its inaugural conference, “The Impact of Elections in MENA and the Western Balkans” on November 13 at the U.S. Capitol. Dr. Haltzel’s full remarks can be read here.
“It is our belief that practitioners of international relations must reorient themselves to the dynamics of a rapidly changing world. Issues nearly unknown only a few decades ago must now assume central importance in national policy. My colleagues and I at TLN recognize that there are many challenges to healthy and productive relations between the United States and Europe and the MENA region. We hope and anticipate that the Transatlantic Leadership Network will be able to play a meaningful and positive role in shaping and reorienting American foreign policy to be more amenable to these changing dynamics,” said Michael Haltzel during his opening remarks.
Amanda Bennett, Director of Voice of America, the largest U.S. international broadcaster, delivered opening remarks. Bennett spoke on the importance of freedom of the press, and VOA’s role in supporting fair and independent media across the world. She congratulated the formation of the Transatlantic Leadership Network, stating that the organization comes at a necessary moment.
What’s Next for Bosnia and Herzegovina?
Daniel Serwer, a professor at Johns Hopkins University SAIS and senior fellow at the Transatlantic Leadership Network, moderated the first panel, titled “What’s Next for Bosnia and Herzegovina: Is the Reform Agenda Still Alive?” Panelists included Jasmin Mahmuzić, Director of the Banking Agency of the Federation of BiH, Dalibor Miloš, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Aluminij, Eric Carlson, Senior Advisor for BiH at the U.S. State Department, and Gretchen Birkle, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia at USAID.
Gretchen Birkle emphasized the importance of economic development in BiH, and the role of USAID. She said, “USAID supports small and medium enterprises in BIH, and the adoption of legal frameworks in accordance with the European Union. USAID will support the development of the private sector in BiH, and foster competitiveness in the energy sector, where BiH has great potential for export, especially in electricity.” Birkle also expressed hope that the news authorities will craft a plan that addresses education and economic development in the first 100 days. Read more here.
Mahmuzić asserted that most results from the Reform Agenda occurred during the first year of implementation, and not much progress has been made in the business environment and public sector reform since. Nevertheless, he expects GDP growth at 3.1% in 2018 and 3.6% in 2019. “We don’t have time to waste and new documents or agenda need to be implemented as soon as possible. We have to address issues with faster economic growth, combat youth unemployment, and take systemic action against corruption,” stated Mahmuzić, “With the help of our partners, and especially USAID, the IMF and World Bank, we have developed a framework to further support the development of the banking system and maintaining stability. There is a crisis action plan for individual institutions and the system as a whole.”
Dalibor Miloš noted that progress in BiH has a long way to go, compared to international standards. “Our problems can be classified into four broad categories: emigration, the economic situation, political issues and the rule of law. Regardless of some of the successes of the reform agenda, the situation is very difficult. The reason why is because political issues are prevailing instead of the fight against corruption and economic progress. All three peoples [Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs] still feel threatened. Unless all three nations feel secure, progress will not be made in other areas,” Miloš said. Milos called on parliament to amend the electoral law as demanded by the Constitutional Court. Bosnia and Herzegovina needs legitimate representatives at all levels of government. He concluded, “The time has come to fulfill the promises made in Dayton.”
Eric Carlson said that a strong and transparent democracy depends on the transparency of elections. He expressed concern about the alleged irregularities during the recent elections in BiH. “The formation of power is a prerequisite for resolving the burning issues, including the issue of electoral law,” Carlson stated. In addition to changing the framework of elections, Carlson called for the representatives elected on October 7 to form a government in a timely manner; he also asserted that the next government should prioritize efforts in the rule of law and anti-corruption, jobs and growth, and improved public services.
Recent Elections in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan
The second panel, “Prospect for Progress in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan: New Governments for Baghdad and Erbil,” focused on topics such as corruption, the role of PMUs and the Hashd al Shaabi, the question of the city of Kirkuk, and reflections on the October 2017 referendum. Panelists included Mohamad Jawad Al Quraishy, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the Republic of Iraq; Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, Kurdistan Regional Government Representative to the United States; Bilal Wahab, Nathan and Esther K. Wagner Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Daniel Benaim, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress; and Amy Austin Holmes, Fellow, Middle East Program, Wilson Center, and Visiting Scholar, Weatherhead Center, Harvard University.
“There is some optimism in Iraq these days and we should encourage it. The key for the governments in Baghdad and Erbil is to seriously tackle issue of corruption. The world knows of billions of dollars that disappeared during Al-Maliki government and beyond. Putting end to widespread corruption is a precondition to mobilize investment and rebuild the country. These messages were loudly heard at the Kuwait donor conference earlier this year where Iraq received only fraction (one-third) of financial commitment needed to rebuild various areas. I am also encouraged by the appointment of several experts in the government in Baghdad. It is a good sign things may start to change for the better. I also view growing relevance of Muqtada Al-Sadr as a positive sign for the people of Iraq. Continuously, he has been a supporter of transparent and expert government and this is what Iraq indeed needs” said Sasha Toperich, Senior Executive Vice President at the Transatlantic Leadership Network (TLN), who moderated afternoon panels.
Speaking on the climate in wake of the Iraqi Kurdistan elections, Daniel Benaim commented, “This was a cataclysmic and difficult time. I had sensed a palpable sense of relief. This was a different year, a different moment, a different time, a different chance to do something better. The question is what you make of that moment. In the first instance in the wake of these elections, I saw a political consolidation boil down to these two power bases. Kurdish people found themselves more entrenched in the wake of this election than they were before it. ‘As one Kurdish scholar said to me, when you see the Hasdh al Shaabi in Kirkuk, you cling to your Kurdism.’” Benaim further commented that, though a politically unpopular thing to do, there is a need to shrink the Kurdish public sector. He further noted that the KDP and PUK show signs of cooperation in the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister’s offices, which may be a place for the United States to lean in in defining this new moment in provide both moral, technical and financial support as well.
Bilal Wahab also commented on the KDP-PUK relationship: “The KDP-PUK rivalry is deep. Part of it is also a generational divide. We have a new generation of Kurdish leaders that deal with some old issues without the sensibilities of the older generation. The issues are smaller, but the tensions are higher because of younger people. We have a duopoly. We have two political parties with two peshmerga. The peshmerga of the two political parties refuse to be in control of the Minister of the peshmerga of the government dominated by these two political parties. I’m not saying that they don’t fight for Kurdistan; they do fight for Kurdistan. But where does the loyalty lie to the government or to the parties? That is the question.”
“It is worth pointing out that there are problems with the duopoly,” argued Amy Austin Holmes, “but it is also a form of political competition and that is what democracy is all about: having a form of competition between different political parties. There are many other parts of the Middle East and parts of the world where you do not have this kind of political competition. The fact that you have political competition is in and of itself a good thing. We have been advocating for integration of the KDP and PUK Peshmerga for years. If they had in fact been truly integrated, the events of October of last year would not have played out in the way they did. There is a lot of tension and uncertainty and different versions about what happened after the referendum and the backlash. I suggest there be an independent commission of experts for an inquiry on what happened in October. This could also help to resolve the issue of the Hashd al Shaabi, if we had a better idea of what exactly happened in Kirkuk.”
Al Quraishy provided Baghdad’s position on the Kirkuk question: “Kirkuk is a historic problem. Kirkuk needs to be addressed in a wise manner. This [question] belongs to the Kirkuk people. There are many solutions, but we need good will from each party. We cannot implement our position on the Turkmen or the Kurds or the Arabs—we need to sit together and get back to the Constitution so this issue can be solved.”
The role and future of the Hashd al Shaabi was brought up by all panelists. Wahab asserted that PMUs are functionally needed for security in Iraq. What Iraqi security forces lack is the kind of security apparatus like federal police that can then hold a territory. PMUs therefore assume the role of being able to be quickly deployed from one place to another to hold and maintain a territory. “Regarding the future of the PMUs, there is no good model. The Peshmerga is not a good model for PMUs, as Peshmerga may be first loyal to the KDP and PUK, then Kurdistan. This should not be the future of the PMUs. Corruption is also a key issue with the future of PMUs, such as with the rewarding of ministry positions to soldiers. Formalizing the Iraqi security forces is necessary.”
Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman stated, “Hashd al Shaabi was created at that moment of urgent need in 2014 when ISIS attacked and Iraqi forces were unable to hold them back. Many young Iraqi men joined Hashd al Shaabi for the right reason: to defend their country. But there are questions over some elements of the Hashd, about their role today. If Hashd al Shaabi is now going to be a long-term structure within the Iraqi system, then why don’t we deal with this head on? Why don’t we pass a law that recognizes the heroic role some of the Hashd played against ISIS but also recognize that they need to be demobilized or join the regular army, and take instructions through the normal command structure.”
Mohamad Jawad Al Quraishy stated, “There is no danger to Iraqis from the Hashd al Shaabi. It came at a very critical time. Daesh was in Fallujah, 40 km from Baghdad. There was a collapse in our military structure, and that is why hashd al shaabi was created. Now, the threat is there because Daesh is still close to the border, in Syria. We need this structure. We don’t feel that it is any danger for Iraq. Hashd al Shaabi is under the command of the Prime Minister and is following his instruction. They defend Iraq and they are ready to defend Iraq. As soon as there is no other threat for the Iraqi people, then these people could simply join the Iraqi military forces as individuals.”
Regarding corruption, Rahman stated, “Iraq is not the only country that has corruption, nor is Kurdistan the only region that has corruption, but I think everyone internationally agrees that corruption takes a very long time to deal with. There has to be a very long-term commitment by the political leadership and parties that they will implement anti-corruption measures and will stick with them, not just for the next 4 years, but for the foreseeable future. In Kurdistan, we have embarked on various reforms that will improve transparency, for example, we have hired Deloitte to audit all of Kurdistan’s oil contracts, productions, sales, everything, and the information be made public. This has already started to take place. I would like to see that in Baghdad as well. Other reforms include modernising the public procurement system, introducing a biometric system to digitise payroll and end duplication among recipients, and reforming the Ministry of Peshmerga. Ultimately, we need political will in Kurdistan and in Baghdad that the political leaders are committed beyond the next 4 years to be able to eliminate corruption.”
Quraishy also commented on corruption: “When the prime minister pushed to appoint technocrats and independent ministers, he targeted this issue. Up to now, this ministry has been appointed to one of the parties. now they are independent. They don’t have a party behind them. I think it is very important that Muqtada al-Sadr is pushing for that. We need to strengthen our institutions. This is very important. We need to be backed from the international community.”
Investment and Humanitarian Aid in Iraqi Kurdistan
The final panel, “Investment as a Means to Strengthen Democracy and Stability in Fragile Countries,” was moderated by Sasha Toperich and featured David Tafuri, President of the U.S. – Kurdistan Business Council, Martha Boneta, Senior Adviser to America First Policies, and Delovan Barwari, Country Representative of the Barzani Charity Foundation. See the full panel recorded by Kurdistan 24 here.
David Tafuri discussed the challenges and opportunities for investment in the Kurdistan region. Tafuri identified four key challenges: the geographic remoteness of the Kurdistan region; the risk-aversion of U.S. companies toward frontier markets; mistaken expectation between the U.S. and Kurdistan; and legal restrictions that make it harder for U.S. companies to do business, such as the FCPA and ITAR laws. He called for increased U.S. government support for doing business in Kurdistan, for creative ways to obtain capital so companies can invest in the region, and for the creation of a type of anti-bribery law to put all companies on equal footing. “We have an obligation to help the Kurdistan region be successful,” stated Tafuri, “more needs to be done. There needs to be a strong presence and strong engagement by the U.S. The fundamentals for Kurdistan to be a prosperous region are there. I am very optimistic about the chances for the economy and foreign investment to support the democracy in Kurdistan.”
Martha Boneta recounted areas in which the current administration is providing aid and opportunity in the Kurdistan region. She cited microbanking as an example of the way the U.S. has combined humanitarian support with refueling economic development. “Iraq must work to do away with corruption and to strengthen its own democratic institutions if it wishes to sustain investment in reconstruction.” Delovan Barwari discussed the humanitarian crisis and what should be done to provide assistance and support for internally-displaced persons (IDP). Approximately 8.7 million Iraqis need some type of support, and as of August 2018, there are 1.5 million displaced people across 105 districts in Iraq. “Speaking as a former refugee, the best form of humanitarian aid is to give people the confidence to return to their places of origin. That requires a sense of security and political and economic stability.”
Transatlantic Leadership Network