US in the Middle East: A Perspective From Kurdistan with Mr. Qubad Talabani


After a two-years hiatus, the Kurdish Political Studies Program (KPSP) was pleased to organize a well-attended on-campus event on Wednesday, November 17. The speaker was Mr. Qubad Talabani, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq who provided unique perspectives about the challenges and opportunities the KRG is facing as well the Kurdish-American relations and the U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

Mr. Talabani argued that stability is the primary goal for the KRG after a period of economic and political crises. As a sub-sovereign entity with its own parliament and security forces, the KRG is still heavily constrained in many different realms including banking, air travel, and international representation. In the light of these constrains, Talabani suggested that they aim to provide the best services to the public they can and remain in a strong position in Iraq.

The KRG economy has been over reliant on oil and natural gas resources. Declines in the prices of these commodities as well as the rise of ISIS and conflict with Baghdad have resulted in a fiscal crisis in early 2014. The government had difficulties in paying salaries of its around 1.2 million civil servants. At the same time, reducing the size of public sector remains an acute challenge. Talabani explained that diversifying from oil is not as easy as it sounds as oil take the focus from other areas. Moreover, KRG has only limited tools under its disposal to deal with economic crises given its lack of sovereignty. Pursuing a policy of austerity is politically not always feasible in the face of populist challenges.

Talabani offered his perspectives about the U.S. role in the Middle East. The U.S. occupation of Iraq in 2003 is called a liberation in Kurdistan and Kurdish people remain supportive of the continued U.S. involvement in the region. While the U.S. is not a global police force, it has a responsibility given its superpower status. If it disengages from the region, other actors will be more influential at significant detriment to American interests.

Talabani also reflected about the ongoing migrant and refugee crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border. While Kurds have a long history of fleeing persecution by hostile states, some people who are stranded in the border zone are actually from KRG. Talabani argued that the ongoing economic crises including high levels of unemployment and security issues lead to the current situation. In response to a question about internal Kurdish divisions, Talabani lamented “the Kurds, what the world did not do to them, they did to themselves.” At the same time, Kurdish parties received significant support in the most recent Iraqi elections and could play a critical role in the formation of the new government as long as they could develop a unified stance.


In the Q&A session, a student commented that the U.S. abandoned the Kurds several times in the past. Talabani presented a more positive depiction of the American-Kurdish relations and argued that the U.S. came to the assistance of the Kurds when it mattered most. He also suggested that only in the U.S. and few other democratic countries, ordinary citizens could have a notable effect on policymaking by engaging their representatives. He encouraged the audience to be involved such efforts.


Written by Léa Faure, MA student at SPSIA.

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