Boris Johnson joins MEPS in Iraqi Kurdistan

The New Region - Erbil

Nov. 17, 2023 • 3 min read
Image of Boris Johnson joins MEPS in Iraqi Kurdistan

The former UK prime minister will be among those grappling with challenges facing the broader Middle East at a forum in Dohuk from Nov. 19 to 21.

Duhok, Iraq – The Middle East Peace and Security (MEPS) Forum will be returning to the city of Dohuk in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region later this month with former UK prime minister Boris Johnson among the invitees.

MEPS will be held from November 19 to 21 at the American University of Kurdistan (AUK). 

The three-day event, under the theme of "Renewal, Revision, and Resiliency”, will seek to address major challenges across Iraq and the broader Middle East, according to promotional information. 

The Prime Minister of the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), Masrour Barzani, will be speaking at the event on the last day. 

KRI President Nechirvan Barzani will be in attendance, as will Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Bafel Talabani. 

All the political parties in the KRI are expected to take part as a “sign of unity”, according to event organisers, after a rocky period in recent months between the two main political factions.

A number of top-ranked officials from the central government in Baghdad are expected to attend including Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and National Security Advisor Qasim al-Araji.

Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani may also attend, according to organisers.

Former UK prime minister Boris Johnson will be giving a keynote speech.

Past and present editions

Launched in 2019, past editions of the forum have covered a broad spectrum of issues ranging from climate change and food security to relations between the central government in Baghdad and the autonomous KRI as well as the global energy crisis. 

This year’s forum plans to look at Erbil-Baghdad relations and their implications for Iraq's future, good governance and reform, the role of peacebuilding and the influence of armed non-state actors. 

There will also be discussions about how and whether Iraq could be transformed into a “regional hub for peace”. The list of confirmed invitees is expected to be released a few days prior to the event. 

University of York lecturer in Post-War Recovery Studies Jacob Eriksson, who has attended past editions, praised the forum in comments to The New Region.

“The MEPS forum is an invaluable opportunity to discuss the latest developments in Iraq, Kurdistan, and the wider region with leading politicians and civil society actors,” he said. “I look forward to it every year.”

The event comes at a crucial point in the region amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza.  

Johnson’s stances on migration and other issues affecting Iraq

Johnson, who served as the United Kingdom's Prime Minister until his controversial resignation in 2022, visited Ukraine in January and was received by President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"I welcome Boris Johnson, a true friend of Ukraine, to Kyiv. Boris thanks for your support!" Zelensky wrote on Telegram during his visit.

The former UK prime minister has taken a number of positions on Middle East issues and ones affecting migrants from the region that have sparked heated debate over the years. 

One of Johnson’s decisions that sparked the most debate at both the national and international levels was the costly transfer of undocumented migrants to Rwanda. As of October 2023, the UK had paid Rwanda £140 million for the deportation scheme. However, the scheme was found to be more costly than keeping individuals in the UK. 

In June 2023, the Court of Appeal ruled the Rwanda plan unlawful due to deficiencies in Rwanda's asylum system. The UK government is reportedly considering plans to deport Turkish, Egyptian, and Iraqi Kurdish migrants directly to their home countries if they enter the UK illegally, bypassing Rwanda. 

These three nationalities accounted for a significant portion of illegal migrant arrivals in the UK in August 2023.

In speaking to KRI officials on a previous visit to the region, Johnson stressed the UK's continuing support for both the region and Iraq as a whole.

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