The below transcript is from the second panel of MEI's 72nd Annual Conference, held on November 8, 2018 at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel in Washington, D.C.

Panel Summary

As the region’s civil wars continue to destabilize economies and devastate the local populations, how can a political process be established to end these conflicts?  What are the crucial steps to ending the civil wars that plague the region? What are the roles of governments and international actors in pursuing a solution?


  • Amin Awad
    Director for the Middle East and North Africa Bureau, UNHCR

  • Ambassador (ret.) Gerald Feierstein
    Director of Government Relations, Policy, and Programs, MEI

  • Ambassador (ret.) Ramzy Ezzeldine Ramzy
    Deputy special envoy for Syria, United Nations

  • Randa Slim
    Senior fellow and director for Conflict Resolution and the Track II Dialogues Program, MEI

  • Ishaan Tharoor, moderator
    Foreign affairs reporter, The Washington Post




Paul Salem: [00:00:00] I'm honored to introduce the moderator of this panel. A friend and a copious prolific writer and thinker Mr. Ishaan Tharoor. Ishaan writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post and does so from a fascinating and wide aperture taking in issues of history geopolitics and culture. He previously was a senior editor and correspondent at Time magazine based first in Hong Kong and later in New York. He will introduce the fellow panelists. But I thank you Ishaan for being with us and the floor is yours.

Ishaan Tharoor: [00:00:34] Thank you so much Paul and lovely to be here this morning. Good to see you all. And thanks again for the Middle East Institute for giving me the honor of moderating such a distinguished panel. The title of the panel is pathways to ending civil wars which of course is a very easy and manageable topic. I think that the previous session this morning set us up quite nicely for our discussion today. I'm sure everyone here in the room is very familiar with the contours of what we're discussing. In Syria, we've entered the eighth year of a truly miserable war one that has generated unprecedented refugee crisis and crisis for those internally displaced. Crises that have roiled global politics as a whole. In Yemen you've seen the conflict drag on there that has potential potential of creating the world's worst famine in modern history and throughout the region from Iraq to Lebanon and elsewhere you're seeing the perils posed by old fashioned geopolitics rivalries between powers in the region the inadequacy of democratic consolidation in the region and the failure of governments to adequately represent their people deliver good governance and uphold the rule of law across the region. So let's let's start untangling the Gordian knot of off of the Middle East. As I said we an incredibly distinguished panel here to my immediate right is Mr. Amin Awad, the direct–the UNHCR director for the Middle East and North Africa bureau. He's had a distinguished career for 25 years with the UN's refugee agency covering an incredible geography of conflict crisis and reconstruction in Sri Lanka Pakistan Yemen Tajikistan Macedonia northern Iraq the Jordanian border Kenya Somalia and elsewhere. The full bios are worth reading and they're, I think they're in your programs. To Mr. Awad's right of course is Randa Slim the senior fellow and director for conflict resolution and track two dialogues at the Middle East Institute. Randa is also a non-resident fellow at Johns Hopkins University and she's written numerous essays and books and studies on conflict management post-conflict peacebuilding and Middle East politics. To my left is Ambassador Ramzy Ramzy. He's the UN's deputy special envoy to Syria. He has before taking this post in 2014, he had a four decade career with the Egyptian foreign ministry spanning various posts and ambassadorial placements. And to his left is of course Ambassador Jerry Firestein whom I'm sure is well known to many of you in the room. Jerry is the director of government relations and policy and programs at MCI. He's a distinguished U.S. diplomat who for the purpose of our discussion especially was also the Obama administration's ambassador in Yemen from 2013–2016. No, forgive me, from 2010 to 2013 and then he was in the State Department thereafter. Apologies for that. So there is a lot to cover and a whole complicated array of topics to get into. So I think what we'll do is we'll start with Mr. Awad to set the scene for us about the situation facing refugees and IDPs in the Middle East. Prospects going forward we're seeing attempts from certain governments to kickstart resettlement programs with the return of refugees in Syria. So please, Mr. Awad please set the scene for us in terms of what's happening there. The state of the refugee problem and the possible solutions going forward.

Amin Awad: [00:04:35] Good morning and thank you. Thank you Mr. Tharoor. And I'm very grateful to the Middle East Institute for being here again to participate in this very very fascinating discussion on the Middle East the issues of our time of our generation. I guess just in framing the issues there are about 6 to 8 million people displaced around the world as we speak today. Displacement we're tracking displacement globally of internally displaced but also of refugees who cross international borders. If we look if we take 2017 alone we have noticed that there are about forty four thousand four hundred people leaving their homes almost everyday. That is one thousand eight hundred and fifty every hour and that's about 31 people leaving their home every minute every minute of every day of every week. That is that is why we have to act. This is a huge number the biggest number of displacement in our time. Unfortunately 40 percent of that number just to frame the Middle East challenges 40 percent of that number is in the Middle East either generated by wars in the Middle East and other disasters or transitting through the Middle East or the Middle East was their destination. But there are 40 percent of the 68 million people that I mentioned are in the Middle East. The Middle East makes about 5 percent of the total world population. But yet we have about 40 percent of those who are displaced and that's mainly, the big items or the big numbers you'll find in Syria in Iraq in Yemen in Libya but also in the neighboring countries where refugees fled. In Jordan Lebanon Turkey Iraq and Egypt for example if you look at the if we look at the Syria caseload and there are another six point two million people inside Syria. Of course these conflicts do wreak havoc as far as the development the economies of these countries the education research technology science food security and the overall advancement of this nation. I think some of them because of war and because of displacements especially displacement of generation that are very productive age that left but also because of lack of education opportunities. We have millions of Syrian refugees and internally displaced person who lost seven years. If I give you one example a child who was 6 or 7 years old at the beginning of the war today that child is 13 years old did not have education. There are children who are 12 or 13 at the beginning of the war today they're 18 and they lost that very important six years of their life and they are graduating to the world with no junior high or high school degrees. That is the reality of today and that will of course impair the development of that country and if there is impairment of development and there is displacement and restlessness and an empty future that also provide an opportunity and breeding ground for radicalization and war. So one have to really pay very important questions to those but also when we talk about it then that means efforts for finding peaceful resolutions but durable solutions for the return of refugees and IDPs to their homes is also a contribution to stabilization. If people do not go back home and integrate in a proper manner, again we'll have a cycle of war a cycle of displacement and disparity and they may contribute to insecurity. Now let me just go back to Syria the six the five point five almost six million people who were in the region. It did shock the world when almost one million of those people in 2014 2015 walked literally walked into Europe crossing the Mediterranean and then into the Balkans and down to and up to northern Europe that was a I call the great march. And literally if you asked as we did we took we took we took assessment and surveys to see why these refugees left their countries of asylum is the only country and beyond. And was basically the lack of education opportunities for their children. These are coming from a country that had before ninety three percent of literacy rate. It was killing the parents to see their children sitting sitting with them in the same tent not going to school. They picked up the children and started walking. Of course there are other reasons financial problem. The deterioration of the living conditions their waiting outside for a peaceful solution to return home became longer. At the time it was three or four years today, seven or eight years. So it is a global security discourse when you have such a movement when you have 6 or 7 million people in the middle of the world if you like, the Middle East is the middle of the world and as demonstrated by the walk the march into Europe. So this gives an emphasis to the need for a durable solution and peaceful solution rapidly. We were better at finding solutions in the nineties I would say if we look at the wars during the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union. But in the 2000s we are not near there. The average displacement now from our statistics continues for 17 years 17 years of average. That means also the efforts of the world. This kills the drive and the opportunities to really find solutions did deteriorate and below really standards. Maybe I'll stop here and come back to some of these issues. Thank you.

Ishaan Tharoor: [00:10:17] Sure. Thank you. Ambassador Ramzy you of course have been part of a very well publicized well-documented fitful process led by the U.N.. Over the past couple of years, your putative boss is stepping down this month from his post. The Syrian conflict is not over. It's reaching a certain phase perhaps in the conflict but tell us a bit about the nature of the peace process right now where it goes from here. After Staffan de Mistura leaves and what your feelings are and what your thoughts are about the future of a successful peace process what that would look like.

Ambassador Ramzy Ramzy: [00:11:00] Thank you. Let me say at the outset how grateful I am for the Middle East Institute to have invited me here today. And it's an honor to participate participate in its annual conference. You bring me back to a city that has a special place in my heart. Having lived here years ago for an extended period of time yes I mean whenever we speak about Syria and how to end the conflict I am always reminded by what Jean Monnet said or gave advice when he said in order to solve an intractable problem or what seem, what seemingly appears to be an intractable problem you have to change the context. Well I think the problem in Syria is that the context has ever ever been changing and the question is whether these changes will make a political outcome more likely or less likely. Let me use a metaphor from a sailor that you know the tacking and jiving yacht of the U.N. political process must adapt to the winds and waves and to do that you need to have a steady star charter handy and this star chart is resolution 22.54 until further notice. But it is inevitably adopted by all players to the changing context. Now let me go very quickly to 22 54 which is I think very important like I said this is the chart that we, that is guiding our work now. It reflects aU.S. Russian agreement with the following elements. The respect for the unity sovereignty independence and territorial integrity of Syria. Second a nationwide applied cease fire but combating listed terrorist groups. Third increase humanitarian access. Four, confidence building measures particularly on detainees. Fifth a U.N. sponsored inter Syrian negotiations which revolved around three important elements. One was a credible all inclusive non-sectarian governance. Second a schedule and a process for a new constitution and third, U.N. supervised elections with all Syrians including those in the diaspora participating. Now the context in which 22 54 came into being is noteworthy. It was a time when there was an activeU.S. Russian Federation diplomatic channel and we all remember the relationship between Secretary Lavrov and Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov and what it was able to produce 22 54 the ISSG and many other things. At the time also there was uncertainty about how the military consastation will evolve. Frontlines were extensive and that put pressure on the government and emboldened the armed opposition. Terrorism was on the rise. Best exemplified by Daesh ISIS and Nusra they were expanding at the time. Iran was the main external supporter of the government of Syria. The Arab countries in the Gulf Turkey the United States and European countries were actively supporting the armed opposition. So in short what you had was military confrontation between the government and the Syrian opposition. But in the background there were external actors. Now the situation has changed. We're talking about 2015 and now we're 2018 to see how the context changed. Now you have the emergence of what is obvious I think to everybody of zones of influence and the presence of five external actors. You have the Syrian government that controls most of the Syrian territory with the support of Russia and Iran. You have Turkish presence in Idlib in the Euphrates shield and the olive branch which is northwest Syria. You have a U.N.–U.S. presence east of the Euphrates supporting the SDF and in Tanf in the southern part of Syria. You have Israeli actions in Syrian airspace and you have Daesh ISIL in territorial retreat and you have an opposition that is largely confined to Idlib and appears to have no capacity or ambition to achieve its goals militarily but continues to retain political support from Europe the United States and the Gulf countries. Idlib, which has been in the news for a long time now, is rather calm for the time being because nobody wants to trigger a massive humanitarian crisis there. Now how is this military situation reflected politically? You have a government that feels the military situation is emerging to its advantage and therefore is more confident. You have a Russia that feels its influence increasing and important and it's game changing military intervention has been critical in shaping the economic political and military landscape and has emerged as a key broker and I think that is quite important. And it has been reflected in Astana process the Sochi conference where it was able to bring two very important players external players Turkey and Iran into an arrangement that has had its effects. Good or bad up to debate on the situation on the ground in Syria. You also have the United States certain key Arab countries and Europe hope to balance the Astana players and also hold the keys of reconstruction pending political movement. And then you have an attempt to bridge between the Astana three and the small group which I refer to either which is contains countries from Europe and the United States and some Arab countries which tries to bridge the gap between these between the Astana three and the small group. And that is best exemplified by the summit that took place just a few days ago in Istanbul in which Turkey Germany Russia and France participated. So in some ways these features clarify the situation but the means by which they emerge were volatile and whether they make a political solution more or less likely is something on which minds differ. But they are what they are. Let me first observe for many it is a miracle that the United Nations has managed in this highly fluid environment to conduct any type of political process. And let me just describe what its key features have been and that will allow me to tell you where we could be heading. First it should not be seen as talks about talks. They were not negotiations in the sense of formal give and take. The political will and mutual acceptance of the other as a real interlocutor were not really there nor were there real zones of possible agreement. Second nevertheless the talks process managed to identify an agenda of baskets of issues and 12 points that could paint the future of a future Syria and guide the substantive work of the political process. This groundwork remains in play now gradually given the shifting context gradually the constitutional reform was front loaded as an entry point to the broader 22.54 issues. Something the U.S. and Russia agreed upon last year in Da Nang and was manifest in the Russian led Sochi meeting that the U.N. attended on the understanding that the process would then revert to the UN brokering with everyone's help and this was a genuine attempt to move beyond the talks about talks to a more concrete exercise. Now, in 2018 unfortunately the constitutional process did not progress very much. There has been some progress but not enough. And efforts have returned to the battlefield and disputes continued over the participation and terms of constitutional committee as well as the role of the United Nations itself. Now at this stage the U.N. is in a moment of verification and assessment of the feasibility of establishing a credible and legitimate constitutional committee. The U.N. is in the last phase of that effort before moving on–before the moving on of the current special envoy and the handover to the new special envoy. I don't venture to predict the outcome you will understand that I cannot go much further at this stage. But let me go back to context. The feasibility of a political process whether constructed via a constitutional committee or via other means will in my mind depend on answers to the following questions. First, will the Russian Federation desire to drive the political agenda and the desire of the United States to signal that this can not be the exclusive province of Russia produce A: a new understanding that they need to work together, B: a stalemated situation in which there is testing of will and staying power, and will that then reflect itself in the Security Council as well which has all too often been divided on Syria? The bottom line the role of the US which is strongly engaging including on the political process is critical and we welcome that. So that and also the role of Russia is critical as other countries. Second how will Turkey secure its southern border? And how will its diplomatic posture develop as between the United States and Russia given both its concern regarding the Kurds and its support for the opposition vis a vis the Syrian government? The third question, will the government of Syria be responsive to change believing that it is the best way to preserve its gains? Or will it bunker down? Fourth does the Western attempt to condition reconstruction on political process act as an incentive to move forward? Fifth, will the opposition particularly if there is a political process does emerge play its cards with discipline and realism? And sixth, how will the tensions over Iran including of course the Iran deal and Israel and also vis a vis the Arab Gulf play out in the Syrian environment? I see some potential but I also see a real potential for gaps to be too wide. Let's see. I'm happy to be drawn into a conversation on these but not too extensively. I have just two more points if you'll... Let me just close with one other point. the U.N. mediation on Syria must embody and reflect the fact that the Syrian people's grievances and fears, and fears, and they're both very true and very very strong, are many and at the same time they're not all in the same direction. That some pre-date the conflict and others has been exacerbated by it. That the dialogue over Syria's future must be inclusive and that the preservation of Syria as a state its sovereignty unity and territorial integrity is critical. Let's hope that we can verify positively and move ahead with establishing a constitutional committee and build in that the kind of dialogue around it the kind of safe calm and neutral environment that would begin the long road from this horrific conflict to a new situation. However frustrating that effort no one yet has come with a better alternative that would give legitimacy and ingredients required to put the Syrian state and the Syrian people on a sustainable path to the future where the Syrians are able to independently and democratically determine their own destiny. And however challenging the situation is I can assure you the U.N. will do everything possible to maintain a credible political process. Thank you.

Ishaan Tharoor: [00:25:35] Thank you Ambassador Ramsey. We will draw you into a bit of a conversation in a moment. But let me go to Ambassador Feierstein first. Looking at Yemen, a similar U.N. process stalled recently because of the apparent lack of good faith of the actors involved. We're seeing a situation right now where there is a very bitter struggle over a key strategic port in the country that has bogged down and in many ways this is a conflict that I'm sure folks here in this city would love to see end quickly. You've seen Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, security of defense Mattis come out and push for some kind of draw down of the conflict as soon as possible. Where we at and what are the prospects for any kind of meaningful process of political reconciliation?

Ambassador Gerald Feierstein: [00:26:40] Thanks and again also let me welcome this opportunity to speak to this group today. I thought it would be useful and the conversation that we're involved in on this panel is ending civil wars. I think that's appropriate. I just wanted to make a couple of quick points about what the Yemen conflict isn't so that it's easier to talk about what it is. First of all the Yemen conflict is not a war between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Secondly it is not a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Third, it is not particularly a sectarian conflict. What it is is a civil war which has a life that extends well before the current round of fighting. In fact that many of the issues that or the the core issues that precipitated this conflict really stretch back to the 1960s. They deal with the political and economic marginalization and disenfranchisement of large sectors of the Yemeni population. They deal with many of the sectional issues the North-South issues the issues of the north of the North as the Yemenis call the border area with Saudi Arabia and their unhappiness with the way they have been dealt with by the central government in Sana'a for decades. And what we have seen are these periodic eruptions of violence that have unsettled the country and created this kind of conflict situation that we find ourselves in today. And so we are in a situation now where as I think the first panel discussed at some length we have not only a war that has gone on for over three years in fact depending on how you look at it, and one of the points that I think is important is that there is a general view that the conflict in Yemen started in March of 2015 when the Saudi led coalition intervened. But in fact the conflict actually started about six months before that in September of 2014 when the Houthis with Ali Abdullah Salah attacked Sana'a and basically undermined the legitimate government that the international community along with the Yemeni people themselves had had supported. As you said in your question is on the the international community has relied on the United Nations to try to resolve this issue and I think the core point here is that we shouldn't be looking for a resolution of the U.N.–of the Yemen civil war. I don't think that we're in any position right now to address all of these longstanding issues that have divided the Yemeni people at this time. I think that we need to look at this in kind of bite sized pieces and address first the most immediate–the most immediate conflict which is the war between the government with the Saudi led coalition and the Houthis and their allies if any are left. As you as you mentioned, Martin Griffiths who is currently the U.N. special envoy did try to convene the parties to conversations in Geneva in September. That didn't work. We understand that he is likely to try again to convene the parties perhaps this month in some other location. I think that you know Secretary Pompeo Secretary Mattis have expressed support for that effort. I do think that there needs to be more senior level U.S. sustained engagement in order to try to do effective to provide effective support for the Martin Griffiths effort. I think that also we should be looking at other organizations like the Friends of Yemen which has been helpful in the past in bringing rounds of conflict to an end to try to get them more involved again in providing some context and a framework for supporting the U.N. But I do think at the end of the day that the U.N. is the only credible convening authority for any kind of negotiated resolution of the Yemen conflict. The United States can't do it. The other international partners can't do it. Only the United Nations can do it. Now there was some conversation in the first panel about the city of Hodeidah You mentioned that also in your opening comments. I think that that is a difficult issue. I think you know as our friend Ken Pollack observed there are good strategic reasons why the coalition might see capturing the port city of Hodeidah would be would be an important and important initiative. And in fact when this when this campaign started earlier this year in the spring the the Coalition indicated that they were doing this with the cooperation and the understanding of the United Nations of Martin Griffiths who agreed with them that the capture of Hodeidah by the coalition the defeat of the Houthis there would in fact be an important step towards forcing the Houthis to return to the negotiating table and perhaps to be more more flexible and coming to some kind of an agreement about how to go forward. The problem that we have right now is that the sensitivities about Hodeidah have increased exponentially over these past several months perhaps in particular because of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi but also because of the growing concerns about the coalition campaign the humanitarian crisis etc. So so we–the situation that we're in right now is that while Hodeidah may still make sense, the fact of the matter is that if there is any particularly negative growth of that either an increase in the humanitarian crisis a mass casualty event because a bomb went astray it could end up destroying whatever goodwill is left for the international coalition government and the international community. It may in fact actually trigger the end ofU.S. support which was discussed at the at the first panel. So Hodeidah is something where I think that the Coalition needs to proceed extremely cautiously in how they take on this challenge and we'll see how it goes. But the, so the immediate issue should be to try to help affect the U.N. initiative to get a cease fire in place to end the big conflict that's going on. And I agree completely with Ken Pollack's point which is that you are not going to be in a position to really address the humanitarian crisis until you get a cease fire in place. And until international aid organizations international NGOs domestic NGOs can get in place and start to do some work. The other part of that is that if you do have a ceasefire and some kind of an agreement on returning governance to Sana'a the other part of the humanitarian crisis is the economic crisis and the fact that at least 25 percent of the population which has been dependent on government salaries and various kinds of assistance programs has not received any money for at least a couple of years. And until you begin to get the economy functioning again return employment get money into people's pockets even in those situations where the necessities food medicine other necessities are available, people don't have the money to go out and buy it. So that needs to be the first stage. The second stage has to be a Yemeni Yemeni process. We had the national dialogue conference that met for over a year between 2013 and 2014 came out five hundred people with sixteen hundred recommendations of things that that should be done in Yemen that would address not only the immediate political challenges but the broader structural political economic social challenges those obviously have never been implemented because of the conflict that broke out. We need to look at that again but also think through and the Yemenis need to think through how they would adjust how they would address some of those some of those issues. The international community and the neighbors have responsibilities in that. In that phase I think that is extremely important as we move forward that the neighbors one make very clear that they respect the sovereignty unity and territorial integrity of Yemen. And those issues have become more imminent and more immediate as this conflict has worn on and questions have arisen about what some of the neighbors think about Yemeni unity. I think that it's important that everybody speak on the same page about about that. I also think that it's going to be incumbent on the neighbors particularly the Saudis and the Emiratis to to provide the funding for reconstruction. To also help again with getting economic activity going if there is a GCC still than the GCC needs to think through how they might bring Yemen more fully into a cooperative arrangement with the GCC in order again to benefit from the larger regional prosperity and to help with economic development. The international community will also have responsibilities at that point particularly in making clear that that we understand the nature of a long term commitment to help Yemen address some of these structural issues that have been a source of so much conflict over these last decades and particularly help with institutional capacity building on the security side but also on the economic and social sides health education some of the other things that would provide a kind of for again addressing some of these core issues.

Ishaan Tharoor: [00:38:24] Thank you, I know time is quickly running away. So let me bring in Randa. Let's talk a bit about Iraq. I mean obviously we've seen a coalition government come into place finally. Iraq is a bit further along this process of conflict resolution and reconciliation with various parties. Tell us you've also of course worked greatly around there you've done track two dialogues based in Baghdad. Tell us a bit about some of the lessons that Iraq has for the rest of the region right now.

Randa Slim: [00:38:55] I think first good to be with you all. I mean it's an honor and a pleasure to be here at this conference speaking about pathways to ending civil wars. I think Iraq compared to Syria and Yemen is in a better place today. Today Iraq is facing a window of opportunity which Iraq had in the past and missed a window of opportunity to tackle the underlying drivers of conflict in Syria. I mean in Iraq. It faced this opportunity 2004 2005 prior to the civil war there in 2006 2007 and it placed this opportunity faced this opportunity 2008 2009 after the surge when there was the security conditions they were put in place to create a environment to enable the different political entities and group to come together and form a new vision for an Iraq they can buy in. I think Iraq is beyond that in a way and maybe that's thanks to the fight against ISIS. I think ISIS has proven to be the common enemy that change the mood inside the Sunni Arab Sunni community. And we today have the three major communities in Iraq and I mean by that Arab Shia Arab Sunni and the Kurds have bought into a power sharing arrangement. And we are seeing as you said with the formation of the coalition government sticking to some timetables as in the Constitution that there is also resort to compromise to negotiations as a way to wage differences. And that's a principle that's still lacking in Syria and still lacking in Yemen. So in that respect Iraq is a better place. However I think as we have seen with the problem facing Dr. Abdullah Abdul Mahdi in the formation of the government what we see is is a continuation of what drove this conflict in the first place even pre the 2003 invasion which is competition among different groups over political power over territory over resources economic resources. In the past this competition used to be waged mainly along ethno sectarian lines so it was Sunni against Shia, Sunni against Shia and Kurds. Today this competition is being waged inside each of these houses. So you have intra-Shia competition as we are seeing for example over the appointment of the minister of interior. The fight is not between you know between Sadr and the Najaf of the world. The fight is between Sadr of the world and the Amir of the world. And so the same think–with the Ministry of Defense. It's a fight amongst Sunni components. And the same thing we are seeing you know within the Kurdish house this shift of the conflict driver from an ethno sectarian line to an intra community line has created opportunities for cross sectarian alliances to be formed and has created a space for these cross sectarian alliances to start focusing on issues that matter you know to people in terms of services jobs and really created a unique opportunity for tackling serious reforms that the citizens have been demanding. I have to mention here that one of the drivers also of the shift. It's not only ISIS but an important driver of the shift is important actor that drove the shift is the civil society is the youth led protest movement that we know about as in 2006 but really this movement started in 2011 and continued you know ebbed and flowed and then we had the major protest movement over a few over like ten to twelve months in 2015 2016 and and we saw this summer in Basra and as you have as you all have seen this protest youth protest movement which is led mostly by people under 30 men and women, Iraqis, have been focused on issues and have been basically has has cast the new lines of conflict in Iraq not as again not along sectarian lines but it's again it's about a division between political elites that are interested in maintaining a political system that serves their interests versus citizens versus society. That is that has moved beyond beyond the system. I don't see this ethno sectarian system put in place in 2003 which also is based on an ethno sectarian quotas which were which were utilized by the Iraqi opposition when they were in exile. So it's not also a creation only of the US. This was something that predated the US and the CPA. Anyway I see this system is not going anywhere is here to stay. But what–as I said what we are seeing is this push by civil society a civil society that's refusing to be co-opted by these different group that's forcing these different political elites to basically deliver. I mean the participation rate in the last election forty four point five percent was one of the lowest participation rate. And we have seen and we have seen also as a result of that the ability of the party bosses if we can put it or the five to six men who used to rule Iraq their ability to impose order within their own coalition has decreased because again many of these faces who came to the Iraqi parliament feel are finding themselves under pressure from the civil society group from the youth to answer to them rather than to answer to the demands of their political bosses. So going forward having having said I mean having portrayed at least the positive aspects of the development in Iraq I think there are political challenges that are going to be facing this government and Iraq going forward. The first challenge has to do definitely with you know jobs the reconstruction especially reconstruction in liberated territories the fight against corruption. So far we have seen previous governments including the last government by Mr. Alaa led by Mr. al-Abadi despite his sincere effort to fight corruption despite the support lent to that effort by the grand ayatollah Sistani. We have seen that fail. So that is still the question whether you know there is enough momentum within–to keep this fight going forward and to pressure these you know these political elite to start giving up on some of these perks that they have enjoyed jobs. I think this a big big big issue because it relates also to putting you know denying in a way denying extremist groups the ability to recruit within a large swath of populations that are unemployed that have no hope for the future. Today we have 2.5 million Iraqi young Iraqi men who need jobs urgently. There is expectation that by 2030 this number is going to increase to between 5 and 7 million people who will need jobs and that is a big question mark about whether Iraq can generate this kind of jobs related to what Mr. Amin out said the IDPs. So that's a major challenge. Iraq government under Mr. Al-Abadi has made major strides in enabling IDP to return home. Out of 6 million 4 million were able to return the remaining two million are the people who basically are not able to return because they happen to live in mixed areas especially Sunni Arabs returning to mixed areas where to have heavy presence of Shiite use you know militias minority groups that are not able to return to areas. The challenges there is mostly security but also it leads to lack of infrastructure lack of jobs the health sector education. But primarily it's security guarantees. And the question is whether these can be provided within within the framework that exists today in Iraq especially with the presence of the PMU. The third challenge is the PMUs. I mean the popular mobilization units the numbers are hard to get in terms of official estimates. In 2016 the number was about 145,000 of them. The great majority of them are Shia. There are however Sunni PMU units they are a Christian PMU units. So it's not–but the great majority of you are Shia and they are divided in a number of groups. And we don't have the time to go into the division of them. The latest number I saw from the Ministry of Interior is about 120 thousand of them. And the question is going to be about who's under who's command officially. There has been a law passed in 2016 putting them under the command of the Prime Minister's office but in reality they do not answer to the Prime Minister's office. They answer to two leaders Hadi al-Amiri and Al Muhandis and both of these answer to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. So the big question is and the challenge for any Iraqi government is is what to do with these PMU many of them will be able to be and you know I think are amenable to a DDR process in the future especially if there is enough economic packages put on the table to enable them to return to their respective communities have jobs small business whatever but a the hard core of them. And that could be a third of the PMUs which answer to Iran and to the IRGC. I don't think these are amenable to the process. They are there to serve a certain agenda to serve their own interests but also to serve an Iranian agenda of maintaining Iranian security interests in Iraq. And that is going to be a question especially if this group in the future. We might see emergence of new conflict lines in Iraq if these groups are going to start choosing their military might in order to you know help or to help certain political leaders in this alliance. Let me talk quickly about for future life flashpoints that I see in the horizon in Iraq and that's the first one is the whole issue of formation of regions. I mean the 2003 order basically was introduced the idea of a federal Iraq. And since then I think that putting federalism into practice has failed as a project in Iraq. There has been a decentralization law prevention laws but I think these have have have have not been fulfilled to the way they should have been fulfilled. There has been calls even as recently as this summer by people in Basra for the formation of the Busra region that is very much similar to the KRG. The second big flashpoint is going to be the foreign troops in Iraq. Turkish troops in northern and north of Mosul but also U.S. troops. We have already heard from militia leaders that this question should be brought to debate in parliament especially within the new leadership. The third question and that is a that was sidelined by the fight against ISIS. But it is going to come back to the fore which is the status of disputed territories between the KRG and Baghdad. I think right now most of these territories are under the control of the Iraqi government in Baghdad which is has not happened until you know since in the in the lead up between 2003 to 2014. But I think that but they remain disputed territories. There is a road map in the Constitution about all of that. But I think that's going to be a major problem going forward. And finally is this unified vision of what Iraq wants to be regionally. Post ISIS. What's the role of Iraq in the region and what the potential of Iraq in the region. I'll stop at this point.

Ishaan Tharoor: [00:53:06] Thank you Randa, we are running out of time I want to turn the foreign question soon but let me just quickly ask a couple of things. I know we have a lot of darts on the board but we're covering a very complex territory here. Mr. Awad, Jerry said earlier that we can't even begin to reckon with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen without some kind of substantive meaningful political cease fire. Nevertheless the humanitarian crisis is there. There are millions in risk of various things malnutrition famine various epidemics of diseases. And of course there there is a very entrenched situation in Syria. So what can be done in the absence of genuine political ceasefire ceasefires reconciliation and what are you doing?

Amin Awad: [00:53:53] Well thank you very much and I agree with Mr. , with Ambassador Feierstein and however the situation in Yemen is very very elusive situation and we're running out of time for negotiation or otherwise. Millions of people 80 percent are in need of humanitarian assistance. There is famine. We have hundreds of children now below the age of 5 are dying in their beds. They're not even taken to graveyards to be buried. They're buried in the backyard of their home or the front yards or even the side of the road. So I am I'm afraid that we wake up one day during the last couple of months when we found out we find ourselves facing one of the most horrible horrible horrible famine of our time maybe in the last two centuries. Twenty five million people they cannot find a way to eat and all negotiation that we have seen in the last two or three years the parties are entrenched and I think there is a need for humanitarian assistance quickly. There is a need for a cover for our humanitarian operations so that they can go to every corner of Yemen and save people. There are problem of cholera diseases other diseases. There is no services to speak of. There is no food there are there are several places where the complete lawless situations and children in particular and the frail the old the sick they continue to die. And I think that the traditional methods of going about Yemen we would find ourselves really failing the people and failing our staff and something have to give in and give in very quickly if I just go back very quickly to the subject of pathways to finding ending civil wars. I think the return of displaced people and I give you the harsh reality of 68 million people almost 70 and they are being displaced every day at the rate of 44000 people is an important element in really bringing peace and tranquility in the world. And if we look at what's happening for example in Syria I think the return of 6 million almost 6 million refugees in surrounding countries and another six point two million internally displaced twelve million that brings the number to a new level bigger than what we have experienced in world war 2 both the end of that war. Therefore the return of the Syrian refugees and the return of the aid is of course have to be accompanied by many measures the refugees concern according to the surveys that we have taken these security physical security first and foremost land and property the the education the health and the repairs and the claiming of their of their homes. Also there are many other legal obstacles that would be on the way of returning of refugees and IDPs and therefore no end to the conflict. And that is civil documentation. So people have the freedom of movement very sick of the very very physical security of returnees that's free from abduction imprisonment and the physical security in particular. We also there are so many other obstacles for return when it comes to services when it comes to freedom of movement and when it comes to finding solutions to jobs livelihood and other complementary pathways to support a stronger global responsibility sharing also asked to better than that is taken by the neighboring countries by the communities inside Syria who who hosted millions of IDPs and that has to continue. I don't see a return to Syria will be a quick swift as we have seen in many other areas like Kosovo for example if I mentioned one example is going to be hindered, why, because of the destruction is huge destruction destruction destruction everywhere. If you see on the ground in Syria and therefore there is a need for services that the need for habitation of the schools and so on and so forth and livelihood therefore return is going to be is going to be hindered but it will happen. Eighty two percent of the people who have been interviewed in Lebanon Jordan Turkey Iraq and surrounding countries and in North Africa they tell us that we are going to return provided that there is physical security there are services we claim our homes there is freedom of movement and there is tranquility in our in our home. So it is an important part of a stabilization and ending conflict. If I just go back to Iraq for a moment yes there is progress made in Iraq but I think the issues that hinder those two to three million people from going back. Indeed it is the property security. This is a war where the number one victim was during the ISIS era and beyond were women traumatized assaulted and deprived from their belongings from their from their homes. And there is still a big number of them in displacement in the camps around Mosul and there are other villages and towns where this happened but another victim I would say are the minorities and I think the simple evacuation of minorities from their home and from their lands where they have been for thousands of years it's not the right way to go evacuating for example Christian minorities to Western Europe and far beyond. It's not a solution. These people have been there for thousands of years. They have a history. They have a heritage and they have properties and they have treasures that they really have to be next to them. And keep that. We can not enter the Middle East if it is minority. That's an easy an easy way out and that we should find that in every in every way and everywhere we can. Thank you.

Ishaan Tharoor: [00:59:22] Thank you. Just one quick question for Ambassador Ramzy. As a journalist there are so many questions I'd love to ask you but we're running out of time. I was wondering if you could look back for the past you know still to beginning you know looking back to 2014 when you assumed this post is there a single moment or is there a set of moments that made your task particularly harder in those few years. What would it be? And was there a moment where had an outside power asserted leverage in a different way or in any way that your task could have been easier?

Ambassador Ramzy Ramzy: [01:00:00] Well it's been a roller coaster really. Emotional, otherwise. I mean we always thought that we were about to turn the corner at different points and again surprises took place. And usually in Syria as you can tell there were always very bad surprises. I think the hate. I think the best time when we thought that we could really turn the corner was when the United States and the Russian Federation were able to bring the Security Council to produce Security Council 22 54. It was this roadmap that we thought that was possible. Then, for a variety of reasons. I think the United States some of it domestic some of it otherwise took a backseat. And for a time there was one power that was really dictating the course of events. Now we are in a situation where there's an heightened interest on the part of the United States which is a welcome thing because the United Nations operates in a more or less at its best when there's a level playing field. I hope this present situation will produce a situation where the United States and Russia can reach some sort of understanding that would allow the U.N. and the Security Council to move ahead. So when was it a difficult time? A difficult time I think was when we when I first assumed this position Daesh ISIS was just you know exploding on the scene and our hope was because of that because of this huge and very sinister force coming raising its head and really putting things in a very stark way as to how the region can change. We thought this was an opportunity for the world to come together and decide to deal with the situation. We were disappointed I must say. It did not happen the way we would liked. But as I said earlier we just have to adapt to the shifting context all the time. I hope we have reached a point where now can reach an understanding of how this conflict can be solved. It's going to be difficult decisions on the part of many countries certainly on the United States on Arab countries on Turkey. Like I said all these questions have to be answered. If there is going to be a solution and what kind of a solution it will be. It's a civil war that we heard this morning could end in different ways. But we have to understand that it needs to end. Otherwise the prospects for stability not in Syria but in the region will be very dim. And I think nobody wants that. Thank you.

Ishaan Tharoor: [01:03:22] Thank you. It's time for a few questions. Please introduce yourself and go ahead.

Audience Member: Steve Buck: [01:03:29] Can you hear this. Yes. I'm Steve Buck a life member of the Middle East Institute. My question to you is what if the Coalition takes over Hodeidah and then does not let any any humanitarian assistance in Mohammed bin Salman is going around Saudi Arabia and basically getting a lot of support saying we don't want to have any foreign pressure on us. So what if he does nothing? And the White House doesn't seem to be particularly concerned about what's going on in Yemen. So then what happens?

Ishaan Tharoor: [01:04:05] So we'll take a few questions for us and then we'll circle back. Thank you.

Audience Member: [01:04:08] Hello. Thank you to our panel and our moderator as well my key question is actually on Syria and I think it underpins all of the factors that Ambassador Ramzy mentioned in terms of what the future could look like we are at a point in time where as we've discussed the Assad regime has control over vast stretches of the territory once again has faced no consequences at all from the international community for the explicit murder of the Syrian people. And so realistically speaking if we're talking about shifting to this negotiation framework what incentive does Assad have to negotiate and what are tangible steps that influencers including the Russians can take in order to motivate that? And if we have time I did have a question for Randa that takes two seconds, thank you. What challenges are created by this very narrow focus on accountability for ISIS crimes? Are there any challenges that that creates for stabilization in Iraq? Thank you.

Audience Member: [01:05:19] Hi Beau Willcox and I had a question for Randa specifically. You pointed out that the CSOs are pushing for this shift within Iraq. And I just wanted to ask is this a unified front based off of ideology or is there actual physical collaboration between thes CSOs? I just have a or an article here from the Washington Institute that says there's a lack of incentive between CSOs to operate together. Is this going to harm the capacity of these CSOs have to influence–or with the shift within Iraq? Thank you

Ishaan Tharoor: [01:05:55] Randa you want to quickly answer the ISIS question?

Randa Slim: [01:06:00] Let me let me, can I do the second question and then the other? I think in fact if we look at how the protest movement died down in 2016 it was partly about the lack of a hierarchal leadership because it was you know a bunch of young people coming together to that drove this movement and it was also about the lack of a common agenda. Beyond wanting a reform of the state I think over time we are seeing a leadership structure starting to emerge. It's not there yet. I think the agenda is is becoming a little bit more focused in terms of accountability in terms of fighting corruption in terms of specific job. I mean this service delivery specific demands in that respect and they are starting to learn how to build alliances with different stakeholders within the political elite spectrum to be able to have an impact on actual policy. I don't think they are there yet but I think eventually they are getting there if I may say so. The second question in terms of how the focus on ISIS accountability presents a challenge I think there is a lot of work that's being done on transitional justice by international organizations and accountability and there is this whole study done on how to integrate families of ISIS members. You know back into the community especially you know folks that are identified as as having collaborated with ISIS during its reign in these communities and I think we are seeing more acceptance from the communities in terms of dividing which which are the real collaborators which are the real culprits rather than putting this blanket kind of accusation on whole sets of family members. I think without also including the violation of human rights that have been committed by the PMU and focusing solely on violation of human rights and crimes that have been committed by ISIS. I think that will also send the wrong message inside Iraq especially within the Sunni Iraqi community.

Ishaan Tharoor: [01:08:47] Ambassador Feierstein do you want to take the question about Yemen and leverage there?

Ambassador Gerald Feierstein: [01:08:53] Yeh, the specific question was what if the Saudis take Hodeidah then don't open it up for humanitarian shipment? I don't I don't really think that that would be a big issue. I don't think that the Saudis would see their interests are being served by by obstructing humanitarian assistance if they are running with the plan that was worked out with the United Nations and and with the international community was that the Coalition took control of the port that it would be turned over to third party management presumably the United Nations to run the actual port operations and I would anticipate that that's what the Saudis would do.

Ishaan Tharoor: [01:09:40] The last question Ambassador Ramzy on Syria on the behavior of the Assad regime. How do you reckon with it?

Ambassador Ramzy Ramzy: [01:09:47] Let me say this. I guess conventional wisdom would say that President Assad has no incentive to negotiate now that he is in a stronger position militarily much stronger than he was certainly a year ago. Politically he feels emboldened. So why would he negotiate? Fair question. Difficult to answer. But I will try to shed some light on how things could evolve. Now I have heard President Assad personally say that mistakes have been made including he did not exempt himself from that and he did say that he understands that the clock cannot be wound back to go back to where this situation was in 2011. Now he needs to be tested and he's been tested for the past years. I think it's safe to say we haven't seen much progress but I think we need to continue to test hi. Now he will face a challenge. Those the hardcore who have supported him who are saying it's time to cash in. And then there's a vast majority of the Syrian people who have been indifferent have been, well I would say mild supporters or have been against him. I'm talking about not talking about the opposition right. But even those who were inside Syria and he will have to face it that that challenge. The resources will they all be devoted little resources all to pay back his core supporters? Or will he go beyond that? It's a challenge that he will have to face. Now, I'm not sure what the answer is but I think the only way to do it is to test him. And to test him here comes in another factor that is very important which is Russia which has influence over him. We have not seen the extent of that influence yet. And I think a lot of people ask that legitimate question whether Russia is capable or willing. Legitimate questions. But again that needs to be tested. It's obvious that the present situation cannot be sustained and Russia knows that. And I think all of us would agree that cannot be sustained. Now how do we allow the situation to change. Now of course there needs to be rehabilitation reconstruction. All of that. Russia is not in a position to foot the bill. Neither is Iran. Somebody else has to come in. And the main I would say candidates for that are the European Union and Gulf states. So the conditions have to be put into place to allow that to happen. And I think it's very clear now that this will only be unlocked of resources for reconstruction will be unlocked if there is progress in the political process within the I would say of course charted by 22 54. Another test, now the option is pull back and do nothing. I think we can pretty much predict where things are going to end but I think it's a challenge also for the international committee to keep up this process and keep on putting pressure to ensure that the situation in shit in Syria changes for the better and allows for the Syrian people to exercise their right to determine their future. I know it's not easy but what is the alternative.

Ishaan Tharoor: [01:13:35] Well thank you. We've a lot on the table. There's a lot unresolved but I think it's been a really really fascinating and instructive conversation. I believe there's lunch waiting for everybody and thank you again. Thank you so much. I'm going to turn to Paul thank you very much.

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