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Iraqi Think Tanks Discuss Democracy and the Role of Policy Institutes

August 5, 2010

As part of its efforts to promote public policy dialogue among Iraqi civil society and government officials, IRI recently hosted a two-day roundtable in Erbil with the U.S.-based Hudson Institute, nine Iraqi think tanks and government officials. 

Co-hosted by the Iraq Center for Research and Studies (ICRS), the roundtable focused on the status of democracy in Iraq and the continuing effects of the country’s previous authoritarian regime on contemporary Iraqi politics.

The event attracted attendees from throughout Iraq, as well as the attention of local and international media.  Roundtable participants included Ken Weinstein, Chief Executive Officer of the Hudson Institute; Wejdan Mekhail, Iraqi Minister of Human Rights; and Kemal Kirkuki, President of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament.

The first day of the roundtable was dedicated to the presentation and critical analysis of four academic papers on a variety of topics, including the influence of Iraq’s past authoritarian leadership on the country’s recent political process.  With the negotiations to form a new national government as a backdrop, much discussion centered around the long-term viability of democracy in Iraq if political parties begin to display the autocratic tendencies historically associated with the country.

A discussion of strategies for strengthening Iraq’s democratic culture was the subject for the second day.  Attendees came to a broad consensus on the need for political party reform, and that quality education must be a priority for Iraq’s government if it wishes to provide an alternative to tribal social welfare and justice.  Finally, think tank participants agreed that both religious and tribal figures must play a more constructive role in instilling a democratic culture in Iraq.

Prior to the roundtable discussion, Hudson Institute experts conducted a two-day workshop for think tank participants that focused on the role of independent policy institutes in free and democratic societies.  Under the guidance of Ken Weinstein, the training focused on how Iraqi research organizations can increase their impact on public decision making.  Workshop participants discussed new organizational strategies for fundraising, media exposure, lobbying best practices and partnering with foreign research organizations and businesses.  The seminar also addressed long-term strategies for building trust between think tanks, political leaders and the public to encourage the growth of an independent Iraqi philanthropic sector willing to invest in policy research.

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