10 May 2016, Washington, D.C.—On 12 April 2016, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) co-convened the first in a two-part conference series: “In the Shadow of ISIS: Coexistence, Stability & Reconciliation in Kurdistan and Beyond.” Hosted by Microsoft in Washington, D.C., the high-level symposium featured geo-political, economic and faith-based perspectives on the urgent challenges facing Kurdistan and the broader region.

This unprecedented gathering included experts and practitioners from government, NGOs, academia, the military, and the private sector, notably: Senior KRG officials; the former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Iraq, and Afghanistan; the former First Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; representatives from Capitol Hill, Department of Defense, State Department, USAID, and other wide-ranging leaders and experts. This candid dialogue also included voices from Kurdish, Arab, Yazidi and Assyrian civil societies.

Developed in direct consultation with the KRG during IGE’s nine visits to the region over the past 18 months, the conference series highlights Kurdistan’s need for immediate economic support coupled with practical reconciliation efforts in preparation for the “day-after-ISIS.” In his opening remarks, Foreign Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir noted that “inclusion and forgiveness” are integral to any sustainable solutions in Kurdistan, broader Iraq, and Syria and that “there is no future in Iraq for anyone if they seek revenge and not reconciliation.”

The D.C. event identified priorities for the way ahead and set the stage for part two in the series, to be held in late summer 2016 in Erbil with an even broader array of regional and international figures. A resulting communique and practical plans of action will highlight the importance of good governance and reform—anchored on rule of law, equal citizenship, and freedom of religion—only 50 miles from ISIS in Mosul.

(Click image for a highlight film from our 12 April symposium.)

For its part, IGE’s Middle East Program, The Cradle Fund, has been working to help rescue, restore and return those persecuted by ISIS to a place where they can live and practice their faith free from fear. John Gallagher, IGE President & CEO, noted: “This discussion highlights the importance of just governance and reform in Kurdistan, and its potential impact on the region. All stakeholders must make hard decisions now to mitigate this crisis, or instability will only deepen regional rivalries and bring partner-states from outside the region closer to conflict.”

Overall, this timely symposium featured several key actors, including the KRG’s Deputy Prime Minister, HE Qubad Talabani; Foreign Minister, HE Falah Mustafa Bakir; Minister of Interior, HE Kareem Sinjari; and, the KRG Representative to the United States, Madam Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman. The event also featured Columbia University’s David L. Phillips; the former First Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo; the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Iraq and Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalizad; IGE Senior Fellow Martha B. Olcott; the U.S. Special Advisor for Religious Minorities, Knox Thames; George Washington University’s Mokhtar Awad; the University of Melbourne’s Nicholas Al-Jeloo; the Berkley Center’s Eric Patterson and Rebecca Shah; the Center for American Progress’ Muath Al Wari; the World Bank’s Sibel Kulaksiz; Scott Hollingshead of In Defense of Christians, and closing remarks from IGE’s President Emeritus, Chris Seiple.

Participants noted important anniversaries that signal the need for better communication, cooperation, and compromise as they envision and tangibly pursue a stable region beyond the current crisis. 16 March marked Saddam Hussein’s gassing of 5,000 Kurds at Halabja in 1998, amidst Hussein’s three-year “Al-Anfal” campaign. In contrast, April 1991 is the 25th anniversary of “Operation Provide Comfort,” when American forces protected the Kurds and others against another “Al-Anfal” genocide. Finally, 16 May marks the 100th anniversary of Sykes-Picot, a milestone that warrants dialogue over regional borders and emerging opportunities for more durable coexistence, stability, and reconciliation in the Middle East.

For photos from the event, please click here.