ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials revealed they are holding high-level meetings with US officials in Washington DC to discuss the current political and security issues facing the semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq.
A Kurdish delegation consisting of the KRG’s Head of Department of Foreign Relations (DFR), Falah Mustafa, Chief of Staff to the Kurdistan Region Presidency, Fuad Hussein, and KRG Representative to the US, Bayan Sami Abdulrahman, are scheduled to meet with various officials, diplomats, congressmen, and the think-tank community in the US over the coming two weeks.
The Kurdish delegation already met with Michael Bell, Special Assistant to President Trump on National Security Affairs, to discuss political and security challenges facing the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and the Middle East, according to the DFR’s press office.
The delegates in their meetings with US officials will raise a number of concerns, namely the relationship between Erbil and Baghdad, the upcoming Iraqi Parliamentary elections, and the ongoing fight against terrorism. The humanitarian crisis plaguing the Kurdistan Region and the need for greater support for ethnic and religious minority groups in Iraq are also subjects that will be addressed.
The KRG’s delegation met separately with Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Counter-Islamic State (IS) Coalition. Other meetings were held with Andrew Peek, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iran and Iraq; Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom from the Office of International Religious Freedom; and Carolyn Thompson O'Connell, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration.
They also met with Ambassador Michael Kozak, Senior Advisor in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in Washington; Ambassador Tina Kaidanow, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs; Jonathan R. Cohen, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs; Ethan Goldrich, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Syria; and Peter Shea, Director for Iraq Affairs.
When meeting with Robert Karem, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, the KRG officials extended their gratitude to the US for providing critical assistance to the Peshmerga and maintaining strong ties with Erbil.
Since July 2016, the US Department of Defense has provided stipends to some Peshmerga fighters, and it continues to provide training and equipment to the Peshmerga as a whole.
The delegation later met with Republican and Democratic members of Congress in addition to a roundtable lunch-discussion with congressmen hosted by co-Chair of the Kurdish-American Congressional Caucus Representative, Ralph Abraham.
Among those whom the KRG delegates met with were Congressman Will Hurd, Senator Bob Menendez, Congressman Ron DeSantis, and Jeff Dressler, who serves as the National Security Advisor to House Speaker Paul Ryan.
They also held separate briefing sessions with staff members from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, House Armed Services Committee, and Senate Armed Services Committee.
Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East, Maria Longi, received the delegation at USAID headquarters to discuss US support for the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
Recognizing the US being the largest donor to the United Nations, they stressed the importance of the American role in providing the bulk of international humanitarian aid to the 1.4 million Syrians and Iraqis that have found shelter in Kurdistan, DFR reported.
The US Institute of Peace hosted the delegation for a roundtable discussion with diplomats and officials from the Trump Administration. The Kurdish delegates also had the opportunity to brief members of the think tank community at separate briefings with the Atlantic Council and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Iraqi Ambassador Fareed Yasseen hosted the delegation for lunch this week where they discussed the importance of Diaspora voters in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Hussein and Mustafa also attended the Sedona Forum, an annual high-level gathering of national and international leaders hosted by the McCain Institute.
The forum was attended by US Secretary of Defense Mattis and CIA Director Pompeo; US Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, Dan Sullivan, Amy Klobuchar, Ben Sasse, Heidi Heitkamp, Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham; and other leaders and figures from around the world
Editing by Nadia Riva