The September 25 referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan brought a chilling reaction from Iraq's central government. Baghdad disputed the legitimacy of the process, but especially rejected Erbil's claim on Kirkuk and other disputed territories implied by staging the vote there. Following days of military action that resulted in deaths and the retaking of Kirkuk by Iraqi national forces, the KRG has proposed to freeze the referendum results and seeks negotiations about the contentious issues. The United States, which opposed the referendum despite its reliance on Kurdish fighters combating ISIS, must now address the deepened rift between Erbil and Baghdad.
To consider the path out of this crisis, the Middle East Institute (MEI) hosted Shaswar Abdulwahid (New Generation Movement), Peter Shea (U.S. Department of State), and Amberin Zaman (Al-Monitor). MEI’s director for Turkish Studies, Gonul Tol, moderated the discussion on how Baghdad and Erbil can move forward with each other and with the United States, Turkey, and Iran, and on how U.S. policy can effectively manage the dynamics between the players.
Shaswar Abdulwahid is president of the New Generation Movement, an initiative to advance Iraqi-Kurdish civil society and advocate political and economic reform. He is the founder and CEO of Nalia Media, an independent media company in Iraq. Shaswar led the start-up of Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) in 2010, creating an alternative voice to government news channels. His Nalia Training Center initiative works to form the next generation of Kurdish journalists, providing critical capacity-building, cross-platform media experience, and civil rights training. Headquartered in Sulemani in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Nalia operates in Erbil, Baghdad, Brussels, London, Paris, and Washington, D.C.
Peter Shea is a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service and currently director of the Department of State’s Office of Iraq Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Prior to joining State’s Iraq team, Shea served as deputy political counselor in Amman, Jordan and as a political officer in Cairo, Egypt. During an earlier Washington assignment, he was the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs’ NATO-Afghanistan action officer. Shea's first two overseas posts were as consular officer in Moscow and as special assistant to the ambassador in Baghdad. Prior to joining the State Department, Shea was a senior national security consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton. He has an M.A. in national security studies from Georgetown University and a B.A. in international studies and political science from The American University.
Amberin Zaman is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has covered Turkey, the Kurds, and Armenia for The Washington Post, The Daily Telegraph, The Los Angeles Times and the Voice of America. She served as The Economist's Turkey correspondent between 1999 and 2016. She was a columnist for the liberal daily Taraf and the mainstream daily Haberturk before switching to the independent Turkish online news portal Diken in 2015.
Gonul Tol (moderator) is the director for Turkish studies at MEI and an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies. She taught previously as an adjunct professor at the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University. Following three years of field research in Germany and the Netherlands, she wrote her dissertation on the radicalization of the Turkish Islamist movement Milli Gorus in Western Europe. She has taught courses on Islamist movements in Western Europe, Turkey, world politics, and the Middle East.