This week, USIP held a public discussion with Ambassador Brett McGurk and Iraq’s Foreign Minister Dr. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who is also the former prime minister. I was extremely interested to hear how Iraq has persevered after the horrific attack before Eid. Our event was the Foreign Minister’s only public appearance on this trip, though he has a full schedule of talks with government agencies. Needless to say, security was intense. As the speakers arrived, the auditorium was packed. Every chair had a headset for simultaneous translations: English on Channel 1 and Arabic on Channel 2.
USIP’s President offered a few opening remarks to outline the Institute’s history and mission. “Peace is practical,” she said. “And peace is possible.”
Next, Ambassador McGurk discussed the importance of looking to the future. As Iraq’s military becomes increasingly more professional and confident, the country takes back land from ISIS. Still, every military activity is accompanied by a detailed plan for stabilization. The military must decide who will provide services, like emergency food and medical care, after a town is liberated. The Ambassador used Dikrit as an example. In 2014, 1,700 young people were executed in Dikrit on one bloody June afternoon. Now, the town has been reclaimed by the Iraqi military and the government is hoping to incentive people to move back. However, as the Foreign Minister pointed out in his speech, you cannot tell people to resume their life in a place with no schools and no hospitals.
The Foreign Minister discussed how Iraqi tribes and ethnicities are banding together. “The rights of Kurds are a priority for me,” he said (translated). “Our government reflects the cohesion of our cultures. Kurds, Arabs, others are all equal.” He also spoke about Iraq’s diplomatic ties with its neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Clearly, the government is working to maintain friendly relationships. But the talk of diplomacy felt removed from the reality that Iraq people face. To give us perspective, Ambassador McGurk asked us to imagine our lingering fear if our churches, supermarkets, parks, and mosques were targets to suicide bombers. We have victories, but, as always, the struggle for peace is on-going.