Dr John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS
Emile, thank you very much, and also for repeating the injunction we heard from the senior minister yesterday that state building is an important mission, since strengthening national identity, importantly, blunts the transnational terrorist message, so I think that is something that will resonate here.
You made a comment about the rise of transnational Shia militias, and perhaps just before I turn to the six or seven people who have asked for the floor, and please, I invite more to do so, could I just turn back to John Raine, and ask whether he could say a few words about how this rise of transnational Shia militias might also be an important component in what he styled the next phase of the international terrorist challenge?
John Raine, Senior Adviser for Geo-Political Due Diligence, IISS
Yes, thank you, John. To pick up on Emile’s comments, we have in the Middle East now a new ascendant power, Iran, who, without wishing to flatter an adversary, rather to understand it, has mastered a number of techniques which position it to act as a sponsor for further acts of terrorism, and which require us now to shift our gaze a little bit away from the Sunni threat and to look at what those Shia groups can do.
Those capabilities are, first of all, Iran is a major cyber adversary. It is a premier-league player. And the country’s ability to act largely with impunity in the cyber domain is as menacing as a conventional and unconventional military arsenal. We have no reason to believe that those techniques will not be cascaded in some form to proxies and lieutenants.
Secondly, Iran is an accomplished agent of proliferation, and the weapons systems which Iran is proliferating across the Middle East are reshaping dynamics between countries. In particular, the geopolitics of missiles, with which we are all familiar from work against countries proliferating largely ballistic missiles, we now have to bring the same discipline, the same attention towards proliferation of rocket systems, surface-to-surface missiles, and their location at strategic positions in the Middle East.
In addition to cyber and missiles, the third thing which Iran cascades, and in some ways this is more deadly, is the battle experience. These are battle-hardened operators, and Emile brought out very vividly how effective and how transnational their command structure is. So too is the transference of personnel, techniques and that priceless commodity, battle inoculation. There are just too many militiamen under arms with battle experience and a commitment to a transnational cause, for us not to regard these as equivalent in terms of a terrorist threat to those other organisations we have been looking at.
Dr John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS
John, thank you very much. I will now turn for about six to seven reflections from the floor. Cyber has been mentioned a couple of times, so I will bring in Sean Kanuck first.
Sean Kanuck, Director of Future Conflict and Cyber Security, IISS
Thank you very much. Obviously, John Raine discussed the widespread adoption of information technology in the region, and the potential weaponisation of those cyber capabilities, but I offer that despite the importance of such technology to the region, most of the Gulf countries largely utilise foreign-origin hardware, software and social-media platforms. When it comes to fighting terrorism, does that leave them dependent on the cooperation of multinational corporations and all the sovereign authorities in those firms’ home jurisdictions? Thank you.
Clarisse Pásztory, Head of EU Liaison Office, Kurdistan Region, European External Action Service
Thank you. John Raine said that no country can act in isolation nowadays in the face of the security threats, and I would agree. I was wondering whether there was any specific reason why, at this very Manama Dialogue, we have not seen a single European speaker at any of the panels? Not from EU institutions, not from an EU member state? I was wondering whether this was pre-empting Brexit isolationism? I was wondering whether IISS thinks that security cooperation is becoming less important in the face of global terrorism and other transnational threats? If it perceives the withdrawal of the US and an emerging EU defence system. Thank you.
Dr John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS
Thanks. Well, perhaps I might just answer that question very quickly. The IISS is a very international organisation. You might notice in the case of Germany that they are still attempting to form a coalition, and perhaps that coalition might not even be formed by some estimates before March. I can tell you that all the government officials in Germany that I talked to were very keen to attend the Manama Dialogue, but they do have to have a government before they can deploy. One or two other diplomatic tasks in Paris have perhaps retained the French. Our good friend Federica Mogherini was also invited.
We have had very strong attendance from key European ministers at the Manama Dialogue in the past, and I am absolutely confident that we will in the future, but government formation is something that the IISS cannot do itself, and that has actually made deployment from some governments a bit difficult this year. But let me turn back to the discussion and invite David Petraeus.
General (Retd) David Petraeus, Chairman, KKR Global Institute; former Director, Central Intelligence Agency, US
Well, thanks very much, and Toby in particular, thanks for a really superb and nuanced discussion of the situation in Iraq and for all you have done in and for Iraq since 2007, especially during the surge in 2007/2008.
I have a question on a very specific issue that seems tactical but I think has considerable strategic implication and could be an enormous flashpoint, and that is the possibility of Iraq establishing an official border crossing between Turkey and Iraq at Faysh Khabur, just north of the Tigris River, in northwest Nineva. That would allow Turkey to transport goods directly into Iraq, bypassing the current route that crosses at Ibrahim Khalil Habur gate, and goes through the KRG before entering Iraq proper. How do you assess the possibilities of this and the implications of it, if attempted and done? Thanks.
Fleur de Villiers, Chair of the Trustees, IISS
Thank you, John. A question for Toby, and that is, I quite understood your pessimism, in fact I think Iraq tends to make depressives of us all – at least, the Iraqi experience. But you placed some hope in the desectarianisation, if I might coin a phrase. You cannot write Iran out of this equation. Would Iran permit it?
I was much encouraged yesterday by the representative from the Emiratis, who said that we should place our faith in the creation of a nation-state, which is quite new, I think, to this part of the world. But when it comes to Iraq and to Syria, the suggestion or the line that comes to mind is ‘closing stable doors and bolting horses’, I am afraid.
The other question is actually to John. I found the discussion on terrorism extremely interesting today, but I was just rather worried by the fact that all our speakers, with the possible exception of the Egyptian speaker, tended to see counter-terrorism through the lens of past wars, or even ongoing wars, but nevertheless, that is, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Whereas – and I think you have highlighted this, but I think it is terribly important – we tend, I think, through that approach, to replicate the experience or the charge that used to be delivered against the British Army, that it fought every new war with the weapons of the last. One of the problems, I think, in approaching this through a military perspective, is that by putting all terrorism in the same basket, you tend to deprive yourself of the suitable weapons in each separate particular case.
Just two thoughts on this which I think, as I said, to go back to what I said originally, tends to make depressives of us all when it comes to talking about the problems of the Middle East, which are not limited to the Middle East. Terrorism has, as we know, manifested itself in West Africa with Boko Haram and al-Shabaab in Southeast Asia. And each, I think, demands a separate and unique response.
Dr Henri Barkey, Cohen Professor of International Relations, Lehigh University
Emile, you described a fairly negative picture, and the rise of Iran, the fact that Iran won maybe a strategic victory, and it is true that when you listen to Iranian speakers, as I did last week in Rome, at something that the Italian foreign ministry organised, you see that the Iranians are extremely full of themselves, and if you were to listen to them, Daesh was defeated by them and them only. It seems like Raqqa fell through some magical force that cannot be defined. But it seems to me that this overconfidence also may contain elements of its own demise, and I wanted to see if you can think ahead and look at whether or not the Iranian policy and the Iranian assumption of success now also contains some elements of its own demise or its own weaknesses, so instead of just looking at a linear projection, whether or not we can look at a much more dynamic picture for the next five to ten years in the region? Thank you.
Falah Mustafa Bakir, Head, Department of Foreign Relations, Kurdistan Regional Government
Thank you. In fact, when we talk about the regional conflict and stability, we need to build stability, political and security, but today, after the post-referendum in Iraq, I do not believe we have the environment ready, because Baghdad deals with it as the winners and losers, or the winner takes all, a zero-sum game. We can never have stability in Iraq which will go beyond the region. The Kurds played an important and positive role in the post-liberation Iraq after 2003. We believed in that and we wanted to be partners, to share the power in Baghdad, unlike the Sunni Arabs and the Shia Arabs who all wanted – Sunnis wanted to get all the power back, Shias wanted to take it once and for all. We have paid the price of this Shia and Sunni power struggle. We played a positive role to bring both sides together, but now there is trust lost between these communities. We have to rebuild trust in order to start a new process.
Unfortunately, the tragic history prevails, and people’s policies are shaped based on that tragic past. We need to disconnect ourselves and start a new page, on the basis of sharing the power and wealth of this country, and to turn this crisis into an opportunity, so that we can solve our problems on the basis of the constitution, if we want to have stability. But also for Iraq to recognise the Kurdistan region and its institutions as they are stipulated in the constitution, but also to build a truly representative government in Baghdad that is inclusive, representative, and also to stop the negative foreign intervention in Iraq.
We welcome positive intervention. And for this, we believe the Arab countries can play an important role in dealing with and supporting Iraq in terms of reconstruction and humanitarian aid. The EU can play an important role in strengthening and consolidating the democratic institutions that should have been built and should have been functioning by now; but also the United States, to play, with all the players and stakeholders, an important role in bringing stability and security, especially in political understanding among all groups and also security arrangements within Iraq, because that would go beyond the country if we are not able to build a stable, secure and prosperous Iraq.
Malik Al-Abdeh, Programme Manager, European Institute of Peace
Thank you. This is a question to Emile. Emile spoke about the gap between US rhetoric and US action when it comes to confronting and rolling back Iran’s influence in the region. He also spoke about the depoliticisation of the war on ISIS. The US does not seem to appear to be willing to use its successful campaign against ISIS as leverage to bring about political change in Syria as a whole, on a national level. Why do you think that the US has taken this position? And is that likely to change now that ISIS has been defeated?
Ali Sharif Al Emadi, Minister of Finance, Qatar
In order to counter terrorism, we need to study the root causes on which terrorism was built. So we need to address these root causes, and I think that one of these root causes is the Palestinian cause and what the Israelis are doing, and this is what made us reach this moment today and what is happening to our people. The Islamic extremists, and whether they are from the Sunnis or the Shi’ites, are using this excuse and this pretext to make people feel that they are struggling against this injustice, although these terrorists have only killed Muslims and civilians, and the citizens in the other countries.
This is why I think that the Middle East cannot continue like this without solving this problem for this cause, based on the international laws and conventions, and with having two states, the Israeli state and the Palestinian state; and I think that the last decision taken by the American President to consider Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will make things even more difficult, and we do not want this excuse to be used by the terrorists to gain the affection and affiliations of the Muslims and use that in more terrorism. Thank you.
My question is to Raine. I want to know, he spoke about terrorism and how terrorist groups are always following new approaches and tactics in the way of how they do their actions. I want to know, from his point of perspective, I want to know what is the reason of the declining role of ISIS in Libya. Where can we see there is positive progress, what the coalition is doing in Syria and Iraq?
Dr Bastian Giegerich, Director of Defence and Military Analysis, IISS
John, thank you very much. My question is for Toby, and it relates to one of your policy recommendations, Toby, which was, if I am paraphrasing slightly, to spend a lot more money on demobilisation and reintegration. So, I take it from that that you believe that the capability and the willingness to do that is there, is present, and I was wondering whether you had any thoughts on what kind of framework would be required, what kind of actors will have to be brought together to make that a reality? Thank you.
Dr Nawal Khalefa Al-Hosany, Deputy Director-General, Emirates Diplomatic Academy
My question is actually addressed to you. I sat here for a day and a half and went through the different plenary sessions and I noticed the lack of diversity on your panels. There was not even one woman in any of your plenary sessions. Even in your parallel sessions, only one of them had a couple of women, which actually helped, and that is the panel I have been to. I do not want an excuse in your answer; I would like to hear a commitment, a pledge that maybe next time you will make a conscious decision, you and your team, to include a voice, a diverse voice from your panel, because it is extremely, extremely important. I am sure there are so many very, very capable women around that can provide wise insights. I guess in many cases it might be a bit wiser and more optimistic, so please take this as a positive feedback.
The other comment I would like you to take into consideration is that we spoke a lot about the importance of youth and youth engagement, and I would recommend maybe we can have a youth delegation that are part of this Dialogue, because I think we are past the phase that we guess what the youth think, or what is the implication of the youth. I think we are now in a phase that we really need to put the youth at the centre of our conversation and hear them through our delegations. Thank you.
Dr John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS
Thank you very much. If you will allow me, I will answer those points, which I think are very important, in my summing-up remarks. So if I do not answer them now, it is because I want to answer them properly in my concluding remarks. Ebtesam Al-Ketbi.
Ebtesam Al Ketbi, President, Emirates Policy Centre
I have a comment on what Mr Dodge said. When you presented a model for an idealistic Iraq, the reality is that this cannot be implemented, first of all, because of the support of the religious parties. When the ruling elite is from the Dawa Party, and this party is based on religion, then I think that, first of all, party should not be based on religion.
I agree with the former speaker concerning the process in Iraq, and here I am speaking about Iran and Iranian intervention. And then the ideology for the candidates that are running for the presidency, all that are running for the electoral campaigns, do you think that any of them will put aside their ideological thoughts, especially that this gives them material gains? Maybe not a lot of people agree with me on this, but if you go back to Iraq before the invasion, Iraq was in harmony. Iraq was a secular country with no sectarianism. There was no sectarianism in Iraq before the invasion, and I think that this should be studied further.
Concerning what Emile said, the Iranian–Russian relationship, and I heard this from the Russians themselves, there is no trust. The Russians do not trust the Iranians, but they fear them. They fear the Iranians, so they did go and play in their backyard in the middle of Asia.
As for Syria, I do not think that there is an Iranian–Russian agreement on this issue, and I do not agree that Iranians are fighters. I think that the Iranians are fighting through Hizbullah in Syria. They are also fighting through the Afghans, though Iran uses religion. It is not about their resilience. They use this divine right.
Now, about the nuclear agreement that was applauded in the West. It was an essential part of making Iran strong in this region, so Iran is investing in the weaknesses in this region. How can we rectify this agreement so that it would have other impacts on Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Syria? Thank you.
Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, IISS–Americas; Director, Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme, IISS
Thank you. I have a question to Emile, who at the end of his presentation offered a very interesting suggestion that structural conditions exist for a massive war in the Levant, and I guess you meant between Iran and Israel. That shocked me, because I do not see either side itching for any such fight, but what would spark it? To me, what would spark it would be if the Iran nuclear deal, which the previous speaker just referred to, were to break down, and if Iran were to resume the fast expansion of its enrichment programme. That would make Israel again think that it had to stop it militarily. But are there other tripwires that you would see for such a war?
Dr John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS
Thank you very much. What I think I will do now is I will come back to the panel and give them each five minutes to respond to the points raised to them, and I will do it in reverse order. So I will ask Emile Hokayem first, then John Raine, we will close with Toby Dodge, and then I will make some concluding remarks which will address all the questions that have not been answered by the panel, on the Dialogue and our future together. Emile.
Emile Hokayem, Senior Fellow for Middle East Security, IISS
Thank you. I will also answer in reverse order, so I will start with Mark Fitzpatrick’s question.
I do not foresee a direct war between Iran and Israel; what I see is a war between Iran’s allies and Israel along the Lebanese–Syrian border, and one that, if de-escalation is not well managed, could lead to something else, but I think that is still unlikely. I would say massive in terms of Lebanon, in terms of Israel, in terms of southern Syria. And I do not think, and as I said in the presentation, I do not think anyone wants it. It is just that everyone is getting ready for it, and everyone expects it, which raises the chances of it happening.
I still think the risk calculations are at the right level in all places. People do expect this to be very destructive, so they are trying to avoid it, but the potential for a miscalculation and misinterpretation is quite high. And let us remember how the 2006 war started: it was a low-level kidnapping that went badly, and then the escalation was massive. But back in 2006, George Bush, Jacques Chirac, others were around, you did not have a territorial corridor all the way, you did not have tens of thousands of potential Shia militiamen next door, so it was easier to de-escalate. This time I am concerned that the conditions for de-escalation are not met.
Ebtesam, first, on the nuclear deal: the nuclear deal as a technical agreement is a strong, good one, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and everyone else. It is something worth preserving. The criticism should not be about the deal; before the deal, the Gulf states in particular were adamant that regional issues not be discussed, because they were not at the table, so they feared that their own interests would be compromised. The deal in and of itself was never about regional security issues. I think the deal is really the wrong target. Look at major capitals, look at the IAEA, pretty much everyone – except Donald Trump and Israel – aren’t really opposed to the deal. Even in the Gulf states at some point there was acceptance. It is just that the discussion needs to move on to other topics. But we should not indulge in the delusion that there is a better nuclear deal to be had. What we had is already good enough and it is a good start for discussion with the Iranians. The question is how you design other strategies, some of outreach and dialogue with Iran, and some others about containing Iran at the same time.
On your point about Iran–Russia, I agree with you. There is no massive trust, but still, at the moment, the strategic returns of the partnership are large enough that they justify continued joint work on a number of issues. Of course, if you were Iran, you wonder what the Russians have in mind in Syria, or whether they will seek to please perhaps the Turks more or the Americans. It is a big strategic discussion that is going on. But despite all the differences, this partnership is holding, and we have to understand that today, Russia is a pivotal actor in the region, but Russia is not strong enough to tell regional actors to do what they want, so the Russians themselves have to be very careful in managing those relationships.
Malik, quickly, Malik Al-Abdeh, and US policy: I think under the Bush administration you had the invasion of Iraq, under the Obama administration you had retrenchment, and now you have disarray. That is the story of the past 15 years of US policy in the region. I think that a lot of people in Washington do not want to own Syria. They do not want to have a massive investment in there. They do not see what the strategic purpose of a presence is there. And there is a danger that the US ends up staying in eastern Syria just because this is what the military does best. When they go somewhere, they build a military base, and they build partnerships, and they do not want to leave without necessarily a strategic understanding of what they want to achieve. I would argue that it is still difficult to figure out what Washington wants, and the extent that it is a risk profile in terms of containing Iran. And perhaps it is not doable at all. I tend to be sceptical that this is feasible.
And finally, Henri Barkey, on Iran’s bombast: of course there is a lot of Iranian bombast and hubris these days, certainly in the declarations of President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, et cetera. But the Iranians are served by three things: they are competent at what they do, and they have demonstrated that pretty well; they operate at low cost; they have lots of deniability in what they do.
The second point is that the image of Iran has improved, relative to its Arab rivals, so there is this thinking in many capitals that the promise of Iran, and the fact that Iran is a coherent, strategic actor, may lead to some understanding. It is not necessarily out of love or embrace of Tehran, but it is out of recognition that perhaps it is a better partner to talk to.
Finally, the Iranians are able to define what their vision for the region is. Of course, this might be a dream, this is a preference, et cetera. But it is difficult to go to other capitals in the region and have the same confidence in what they would like the region to look like in five, ten or 15 years. Look, I think the game is still up, of course. Toby talked about Iraqi politics. I think Iraq is a very fluid place, where you have real politics that may organically check Iran’s power. In Syria, you don’t have politics. It is about force. It is about sheer power. And yes, perhaps the democratic so different, but there is no arena at the moment. Perhaps there may be one if the Geneva dialogue is restarted, if the Saudis, the Turks, others figure out how to revive a regional discussion and bring back parts of the opposition into the game. But in Lebanon, I also think that there are politics, but Hizbullah is on the ascent, and I genuinely do not believe that the politics can keep Hizbullah in check strategically. Thank you.
John Raine, Senior Adviser for Geo-Political Due Diligence, IISS
A lot of very good points there on terrorism. Can I take the Brexit point first? I feel almost passionate about this, largely because I spent a lot of my previous time in the British government ensuring that some of our most sensitive relationships with Europe would survive a Brexit, and then that was both on a contingency basis but also afterwards, ensuring that they were in place and functioning. And I can give you a commitment, although I am no longer in government, that that is still being continued, certainly in the critical area of civilian cooperation, because Europe is not yet a military theatre.
I wanted, though, to flip back to something that Joseph Votel quoted in our session this morning, which was that great phrase: ‘you cannot surge trust’, and unlike just about every other aspect of government work which you can surge, you cannot. And the care that we give to relationships which have to bear some of the most sensitive dimensions of government work, you cannot overstate that.
I was greatly heartened by the reciprocal nature of the outreach after Brexit as the other European countries met us halfway, saying that we wanted to preserve the closeness of the cooperation, and the vivid example of that for me was after the terrorist attacks in France and Belgium, we gave instant and significant, and I would like to think game-changing, assistance. Not because we were trying to be nice after Brexit, but because that was a reflexive, muscle reaction.
On the other points, on Fleur’s depression, I will do what I can on that. Toby will have to do the rest. I said, you know, it is a distance event, terrorism, which we did not think it was, I think, when we got into it. We thought first of all, if I can summarise historically, we thought that if you solved the political problem around the Palestinian issue, then somehow the terrorism would go away, and we thought that similarly in other theatres where there has been a political dimension, apparent or real, to terrorism. Somehow that does not seem to be the case. This phenomenon is persistent and it is mutable.
But there are reasons to be cheerful, and one of the things that I found particularly heartening was a country that I was closely involved with, which was Saudi Arabia, was to see how Saudi Arabia developed over time, and as a result of some pretty traumatic experiences, a highly effective domestic response to terrorism, out of all recognition to what it had had before. And that was greatly to their credit, and greatly to the benefit of its partners. Other countries have done the same. I think you can say, and I would readily say, that the same has been true in Pakistan, in some areas of the Pakistan theatre.
The lady who asked about Libya gave me another reason to be cheerful. It is true that Daesh did not materialise in quite the form or with quite the ferocity that we thought they would do on the North African littoral. I think that was because we dealt with the problem at the right time. There is a window in which you can destabilise terrorist organisations who are trying to establish themselves, particularly in non-familiar territory.
You asked what the elements were in the defeat, and I think they are worth reflecting on, because they have general application. First of all, there was a local reaction against Daesh which it was possible to capitalise on. Secondly, we were, as the international community, prepared to work with partners who would not perhaps have been natural partners, and had very varying capabilities. And thirdly, we had a collective experience to flex into this problem such that when it started manifesting as it did briefly, and continues to into other theatres, we were able to close down on that too, so we were able to understand who was moving in and moving out of the theatres. So, a combination of those three capabilities, which were hard-won over years, delivered something of a result in Libya. I would not like to say it is entirely over now, though.
The final point, really, was on the Iranians, if I may. I think the gentleman who asked about Iran’s position, now that they seem to be in the ascendant, is there perhaps a negative side to that? I think the Iranians now have the victor’s responsibilities, and it will be interesting to see whether they can discharge those. The choices that they make now will be even more consequential. Their margin for error goes down and not up. And that is particularly relevant in the stand-off with Israel.
Secondly, they are at risk of overstretch. If you look at the number of theatres that they are seeking to be active in, it is possible that they cannot adequately coordinate those.
And thirdly, if you are standing there, as they seem to feel they are, at the top of the podium, you are very exposed, and they will, I imagine, be preparing for the reaction against them. But I would suggest there is a period now in which there are vulnerabilities as well as strength in their position.
Professor Toby Dodge, Consulting Senior Fellow for the Middle East, IISS; Director, Middle East Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science
Thank you. First, I would like to thank General Petraeus for his very kind words and say it was a steep learning curve and a pleasure to work with him back in Iraq in 2007 and 2008. But I would temper that with a typically difficult question that takes two supposedly mundane issues of whether the border crossings at Faysh Khabur and Ibrahim Khalil, which is a window onto the negotiating strategies and strategic intents of both Abadi and Baghdad and Barzani and Erbil, and then beyond that, how the Turkish government rectify their rather incoherent policy towards the Kurdish Regional Government.
Let me start with that. I think the issue of Faysh Khabur is so important, because it becomes an existential issue of survival for the Kurdish Regional Government, that if the Iraqi government is intent on circumventing the large financial resources that the KRG get from taxing border crossings, it sets a tone of their own strategic intent, basically to put the autonomy of the Kurdish Regional Government in doubt, and I would argue that that is worryingly indicative of a hubris, a potential hubris in Baghdad to overreach.
Now, to be equal opportunities in my critique, hubris is not an unknown condition in Erbil, especially after 2014, when Peshmerga forces used the collapse of the Iraqi Army to expand their territory, and I think the example of pushing ahead with the referendum in the face of near-universal international pleas not to do so explains the debacle that followed.
So, you have Baghdad, I think, overreaching itself and with the Faysh Khabur issue, pushing the Kurdish Regional Government into a corner that it cannot come out of, and I think Falah quite rightly has continually worried about the seeming unwillingness or reluctance of Baghdad to return to substantive negotiations. If I were advising Abadi, which I am not, I would say, at the moment, in a very small window, you have the capacity to negotiate with Erbil from the point of view where you are holding nearly all the cards. Now, I do not think Falah would agree with that, but that would strike me as to encourage quick negotiations, not only because, as has been mentioned, of the dynamics of the election, but also because I think Baghdad has more leverage than it has had probably since 2005.
So, I would hope that there would be negotiations around Ibrahim Khalil and not the opening of Faysh Khabur, and if they do open Faysh Khabur, I think that puts such a strain and an existential threat on the Kurdistan Regional Government that the relationship, which is pretty poor at the moment, will deteriorate, quite possibly to disastrous effects.
If we go to Fleur’s point, and it links rather neatly with Henri’s, and it goes to the question from the United Arab Emirates as well, Iraq still, for its sins, is a democracy. The more astute Iraqi politicians, someone like Moqtada al-Sadr who is not known for his secular intent, has continually positioned himself, driven by the demands of his population. So, desectarianisation comes, I think, from those post-2014, especially the demonstrations in 2015, the strong sense amongst the Iraqi population, especially generationally at the younger level, that they have been very, very poorly served by their politicians who have hidden behind religion, and they are now demanding issue-based politics.
It goes to Henri’s point about the, again, a word of the day, the hubristic attitude of the Iranians. And I think we run the danger of overestimating Iranian strategic coherence. Let us not forget it was policies advocated by Qasem Soleimani, amongst others, in both Iraq and Syria that drove the expansion of Daesh, responding to the peripheralisation of sections of the community from both the Syrian and the Iraqi regimes, and drove two allies, both in Baghdad and Damascus, to the very edge of loss, where the Russians had to intervene in Syria to save Assad’s rule. From that point of view, I think the Iranians’ hubris leaves them incredibly vulnerable. I also think Iraqi nationalism of whatever stripe, to some extent, is juxtaposed against the bigger Iranian state over the border. You have seen, especially with the Supreme Council and the Haqqims, where they have been too closely aligned with Iran, and that has done great damage. I think that brings me on to the two questions about religiosity in Iraq.
Yes, certainly, Dawa, the Supreme Council, and the Sadrists are essentially vehicles for mobilising around sub-state religious sectarianism and religious identity. However, I would point to three things. Firstly, Iraq still is, albeit a rocky one, a functioning democracy. And we see that politicians have to move to meet their voters when sectarian appeals do not work. I think we see that with Abadi, the Prime Minister, whose polling in non-Shia communities is actually stronger than in Shia communities, so you could argue that there is the potential for a post-sectarian moment. If you look at generationally, the younger politicians who occupy levels below leadership across all the parties have a common theme when you interview them, around their recognition that their leaders have made profound mistakes, which puts the parties’ survival in great doubt.
Just on the point about pre-2003, I have spent a great deal of my life and research working on Iraq before regime change, and in fact travelled back and forth to carry out research in Iraq under the Ba’ath Party and Saddam Hussein, which was no easy matter, as you can imagine. The idea that that ruling elite was not sectarian is simply not true. They had a Janus face, where the public statements of unity and nationalism were oft repeated while government policy deliberately targeted sections of the Iraqi community because of their religion and persecuted them. In fact, you could argue, and I have argued in some of the research that I have done, that the radical Shia mobilisation that has exploded after 2003 is a direct result of the brutal suppression of the Shia population in the south of Iraq from 1980 onwards. I think we cannot argue that.
The final point I will leave you with is Palestine, as the issue of Jerusalem was brought up, quite rightly, as being a dominant theme all the way through this, and I will just leave you with two points. There is an argument made in some American policy circles that Palestine does not matter, that the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel can be done cost free. Now, we have heard a lot of quite right howls of outrage from this platform during the Manama Dialogue. But, if they are not backed up by policy decisions by those politicians, those state leaders, those decision-makers who are quite rightly outraged, then those people in the United States who will say, ‘We can do this cost free, there is no cost to it’, will be proved right. I think, to a certain extent, those in positions of influence who are angered by this, it depends on them to follow up their anger with policy choices, with censure, not simply with statements from the platform. Thank you.
Dr John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS
Toby, thank you very much, and may I thank my three colleagues for offering compelling IISS analysis and, wherever possible, policy prescription. Let me conclude this Manama Dialogue by offering a few words about what we sought to accomplish here, and what our strategic intent is in organising this Dialogue.
First, inevitably, a few statistics. We had here 470 delegates, and a further 700 government officials, so more than 1,400 people officially badged. The IISS helped to quietly organise 53 bilateral meetings between government ministers, although many, many more were organised on the sides directly, and 40 governments and countries were represented.
As you know, what the Manama Dialogue was conceived as, was as an important transregional, intergovernmental meeting with important private-sector and civil-society participation. The governments that have deployed here this year have said two words, that it is really important to keep and to build this important institution of transnational dialogue, and we are committed to do that, and to embed the Manama Dialogue even further and officially in the defence diplomacy of the region, for the region, with the important stakeholders from Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific represented.
I can say with confidence that those governments that have not been able to deploy this year at cabinet or government-ministerial level have assured me that next year they absolutely wish to do so, and so our strategic intent is to maintain this as an intergovernmental forum, where at plenaries, foreign ministers, defence ministers, national-security advisers speak.
We are committed to bringing as diverse a group of foreign defence and national-security advisers to this podium as we can, and in that spirit, and in direct response to one of the questions asked 15 minutes ago, we invited, for example, Florence Parly, the Defence Minister of France; Ursula von der Leyen, the Defence Minister of Germany; Nirmala Sitharaman, the Defence Minister of India; Federica Mogherini, the Vice-President of the European Union; Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister of Australia; Retno Marsudi, the Foreign Minister of Indonesia; Ine Soereide, the Foreign Minister of Norway. There are not many female foreign and defence ministers around the world, but we reached out to all of them, and had half of them been able to come here, we would have had the diverse panels that were rightly championed by one of our excellent female delegates, and what we did here also was ensure as much gender diversity as we could within the debate.
While I do not have the statistics readily at hand, I think the interventions from the floor were pretty closely 50–50% between the two genders that we know were deployed here today. We will continue to work on this intergovernmental summit, and we think it is important to get the balance right between that intergovernmental spirit, the foreign defence ministers and national-security advisers, because there is no other place where the national-security establishments of the Middle East meet with those from Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific.
We need to focus on the Manama Dialogue as this intergovernmental platform. But, as many have said from this podium, international affairs, to coin a phrase, is too important a matter to be left to governments alone. That is why we work very hard to ensure that international business is represented, because business has strategic impact, and why we have also involved representatives of NGOs and civil society. We have a young-strategist programme at the Manama Dialogue, and if you look around, a number of young strategists are here.
In 2018, which is the IISS’s 60th-anniversary year, we will be reinvesting in ensuring that there is a strong young-strategist component at the Manama Dialogue. That is our strategic intent. We need to work with all the governments, businesses and civil-society organisations that have a stake in peace and prosperity in the Middle East to ensure that we build this Manama Dialogue ever further, and we look forward to doing so next year.
I want to say three things by way of thanks. First, thanks very much to the IISS staff, too numerous to mention here, who worked very hard with the 40 governments that were represented and the eight or ten that almost came here to attend this Dialogue. The IISS staff, I think, has served everybody here marvellously. Thank you very much.
I want to also thank the Kingdom of Bahrain, His Majesty the King, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed and the various agencies that have supported this Dialogue. Thank you very much.
Finally, I want to wish you all an excellent afternoon, a safe return home, and look forward to meeting you again next year at the 2018 Manama Dialogue. That will take place, as I just said, during our 60th-anniversary year, and I think it will be a very special Manama Dialogue, where we will have more ministers, more governments, more women, more young people and I hope also, and this is key, and I leave you with this thought: more practical results from this gathering, because what we want is not only to provide, as we have just done, excellent analysis, but ensure that the governments who take the time to come here, who send foreign ministers, defence ministers, national-security advisers, defence chiefs, intelligence leaders, use the Manama Dialogue opportunity in order to develop security partnerships, innovate policy ideas, create proper relationships that help to meet the challenges of the time, and do not miss the opportunity that the Manama Dialogue provides in order to do practical things.
That is what the IISS is about. It is what everybody in this room is about in their public and private lives. We look forward to that happening over the next 365 days, and when we meet again, to have a really successful 2018 Manama Dialogue. Thank you all for making this one a great success too.