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On the first of June 2016, the World Affairs Council-Washington, DC had the honor of hosting His Excellency Lukman Faily, Ambassador of Iraq to the United States to discuss his three year posting in Washington. This was his last public on-the-record appearance as Ambassador in Washington.  Prior to his posting in DC, Ambassador Faily served as Iraq’s Ambassador to Japan, he actively opposed Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, led the Iraqi exile community in the United Kingdom, and he continues to aid organizations focused on the Iraqi diaspora. The event was held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC and covered by domestic and international media, including live coverage by C-SPAN and C-SPAN Radio.

WAC-DC President & CEO Tony Culley-Foster opened the event by providing context to the audience – comprised of the Council’s members, students, young professionals and former members of Congress –  of Iraq’s historic conflicts. He explained the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which just passed its 100th anniversary, which established artificial borders in the Middle East, effectively creating Iraq. Tony Culley-Foster asserted that the US and Iraq are allies, and the lives lost in the country since 2003 are a strong symbol of this alliance.

The Ambassador opened his remarks by reflecting upon when he first arrived in DC three years ago. He noted that the Washington-based rhetoric about Iraq and the Middle East was not deep enough for the American public to truly understand the problems facing the Middle East. The Ambassador said the ‘drivers’ of the conflict must be understood in order to maintain productive discussion. He explained that it was the duty of world leaders to manage the multifaceted nature of conflict, citing nuclear, resources, cyber security, displacement, and terrorism as global challenges. The demography and geography of Iraq, he claimed, made the state prone to conflict, as evidenced by history; however, he was emphatic that these were regional and global issues. The Arab Spring, for example, crossed state boundaries and was evidence of the social contract between the people and the government being “fractured.” He insisted that inactivity was not a response to this grievance and new agreements were needed within the region and the state, as it seems to be the epicenter of conflict. The Ambassador also addressed the controversial issue of partitioning his country, nothing that no Iraqi wants a 100% pure Sunni, Shia or Kurdish Iraq. “Iraqis coexisted together long before Saddam Hussein,” he said.

The Ambassador spoke in depth about the threat of ISIS, or Daesh, suggesting that terrorism was a phenomenon arising from individuals attempt to link their position with history. Other countries must be willing to invest in finding the roots of their motivation, he claimed, as a policy of containment has been historically proven as ineffective. He warned that the US is at a crossroads in the foreign policy approach and the next president will have to decide which path to maintain. It must also be determined how the US administration will interact with the people of Iraq, as well as the government. The current situation is a zero-sum game due to a lack of open discussion between countries; and he asserted that Daesh closed that space needed to facilitate open discussion in politics.

The Ambassador also discussed Mary Kaldor’s New Wars Thesis (2011) and implied that to stem Daesh’s new mode of violent non-state warfare, international cooperation is required. He encouraged the audience to look at the root causes of conflict, be positive, and look to contain the damages, while observing that some cannot be reversed. These damages he referred to included communities that have been broken by conflict. He continued to say that the US and Iraq have many similarities, not only that they are fighting a war together, but that they share “blood, sweat, and resources.” At the end of his last public appearance,  he said his hope was that his lasting impact would be to have made the US-Iraq relationship more predictable in the future.

Jessica Ashooh, Deputy Director of the Middle East Strategy Task Force at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East served as discussant.