What will be the projects/areas of focus of MERI in 2015?
We have five main programs that encompass our research. These include:

  1. International Politics and National Security;
  2. Democracy and Governance;
  3. Economics, Energy, and Environment;
  4. Science, Health, Education, and Public services; and
  5. Community, Civil Society, and Cultural Development.

We have initiated projects under each program that are highly focused on policy areas and designed to have lasting impact on the ground. These projects are destined to grow steadily during 2015 and lead to quality publications in due course.

For example, we are studying the war on ISIS and its political, social, and security implications on the entire Middle East. We explore the impact of refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDPs) on the Region’s economy and security, and the impact of prolonged conflicts on the future of IDPs. We are currently examining the new socio-political dynamics within the disputed territories and the best ways forward.

Within the KRG, we initiated an ambitious program to reform the police and judicial system with the view of making them more democratic, accountable, transparent, and amenable to performance pressure. With human rights as a core value, we began to train police officers on performance management, accountability, and professional conduct. We started with special units responsible for combating and preventing violence against women. In parallel, we are looking at revising the current legislation for greater protection of women and a more equal status in society. We have a number of other projects at various states of implementation relating to government strategies for managing health service, agricultural development, and the diversification of the economy.

MERI held its inaugural Forum. Can you tell us about its outcome?
MERI Forum 2014 was an exciting event. The primary purpose was to create a platform for dialogue and constructive debate for the Middle East. This event brought together decision-makers, academics, and members of the public to debate current political events with an impact on both Iraq and the wider region. Among the speakers were Fouad Masum, President of Iraq, Salim al-Jubouri, Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, the current and former Prime Ministers of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani and Barham Salih, and other national and international experts and dignitaries. Fostering a culture of debate and dialogue is of utmost importance to the Institute’s objectives. Events of this nature are not common in the Middle East. We encourage a culture of dialogue that can contribute to stability and growth in the region, now and in the future.

As MERI aspires to be a “global leader in strategic research,” what plans do you have to partner with your international peers in think tanks, academia, or government?
From the outset, MERI established strong links with many of the world’s top think-tanks and centers of excellence within renowned universities, particularly in Europe, the USA, and neighboring Turkey. We have joint programs for accommodating fellows, training staff, and supervising master’s and PhD students. The aim is for MERI to act as a credible partner to international research institutions and a good home for international researchers. Our objective is to jointly publish high quality reports that have impact on a local, regional, and international level.