A high level delegation this week met United States government officials, including the Vice President and Secretary of State, as well as foreign policy experts, think tanks, business leaders, non-governmental organisations, and the media to discuss the crisis sweeping Iraq.
Dr Fuad Hussein, Chief of Staff to President Masoud Barzani, and Minister Falah Mustafa, Head of the KRG Department of Foreign Relations, met Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry during their five-day visit to Washington which concluded on 4 July.
The focus of their discussions was the catastrophic progress of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) terrorist organisation across swathes of central Iraq and the threat it poses to Kurdistan, Iraq, as well as to neighbouring countries.
Meeting with Vice President Biden and the National Security Council
On Thursday afternoon, the delegation met with the National Security Council (NSC) to discuss the future of Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq. Tony Blinken, deputy NSC advisor to President Barack Obama, Phil Gordon, special assistant to the President and White House coordinator for the Middle East, and other members of the NSC team participated in the meeting. Vice President Biden joined the meeting later to convey President Obama’s message on the security situation in Iraq and to pledge continued support for the people of Kurdistan.
During the meeting the delegation and Vice President Biden discussed the latest political and security developments in Iraq following the advances of ISIS in Mosul and other areas in Iraq. Dr Hussein reiterated the Kurdistan Regional Government’s gratitude to the government and people of the United States for their sacrifices and continued support for Iraq. He also outlined the various stages in the political process over the past decade in Iraq and noted that Kurdistan’s allies had failed to adhere to the Constitution and implement subsequent agreements.
The Chief of Staff to President Barzani added that the Kurdistan Region has demonstrated great flexibility and has always been ready to address issues under contention, but the situation has recently deteriorated and there has been a collective failure to resolve them.
Vice President Biden focused on the urgency for Iraqis to rid the country of ISIS and other terrorist organisations. The Vice President added that the US administration is closely following events in Iraq and is concerned at the spread and strengthening of terrorism in Iraq. He also expressed his country’s support for a new, inclusive government in Baghdad which would represent all components of Iraqi society.
Meeting with Secretary of State Kerry
A day earlier, the delegation met Secretary of State Kerry at the State Department where both sides exchanged ideas on combating the rise of extremism in the region, strengthening KRG-US government cooperation, and the KRG leadership’s plans to secure the future of the Kurdistan Region in the new era following the collapse of the Iraqi security forces in the face of ISIS’s take-over of Mosul.
The delegation said that the KRG is looking to the United States for assistance and support in dealing with the humanitarian crisis and the rising number of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) who have fled to the region, as well as support in handling the security crisis following the expansion of ISIS.
In light of the continued instability in Iraq, the delegation discussed a range of possible options for Kurdistan’s future, including the possibility of a referendum on the exercise of the right to self-determination. Dr Hussein reiterated President Barzani’s message during the meeting with Secretary Kerry a week earlier in Erbil. “Any solution to the current crisis in Iraq ought to be on the basis of the new realities,” Dr Hussein said. “If there is still an opportunity for Shia and Sunnis to work together based on the new realities, then it would be much easier to confront the terrorists.”
During both meetings, Vice President Biden and Secretary Kerry said it was crucial that President Barzani continues his leadership role in the Iraqi political process and added that if there were progress politically, the United States would assist Iraq in its fight against terrorism. The Kurdistan delegation and senior US administration figures emphasised the need for a political solution prior to a military resolution of the crisis.
Meetings with other officials
Dr Hussein and Minister Bakir also met Assistant Secretary Anne C Richard, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, to discuss the humanitarian crisis and ways in which the United States can help to alleviate some of the pressure on the KRG’s already-stretched resources. The delegation said that internal sectarian tensions are dividing Iraq, while the crisis in Syria continues to feed instability in the region. As a result, the Kurdistan Region has received close to a million refugees and Iraqi IDPs fleeing violence. This has stretched the KRG’s resources, especially considering the federal government in Baghdad has not shared revenues with the Kurdistan Region for over six months.
Mrs Richard praised the Kurdish leadership for being receptive and generous to the needs of refugees and IDPs. “I have always appreciated the KRG’s openness to taking in such displaced people in the midst of chaos and people fleeing violence,” she said. The assistant secretary pledged support through US aid agencies and other international organisations operating in the Kurdistan Region.
During the visit, the delegation also met with members of congress, national security staff, as well as diplomats. Dr Hussein and Minister Mustafa spent some time meeting with Senator Blunt of Missouri to discuss the latest developments and to urge the senator to help overcome the challenges facing Kurdistan. The senator said he “intends to be helpful to the Kurdistan Region” during these challenging times. The delegation also carried out several public and roundtable discussions with foreign policy experts as well as interviews with various US and international media outlets.
Dr Hussein and Minister Mustafa were received at Washington’s Dulles Airport by Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Warrick from the Department of Homeland Security and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Anthony Godfrey from the State Department upon their arrival.