April 27th - May 3rd, 2012
The delegation arrived on the evening of Saturday, April 28th, and had an organizational dinner at the Erbil International Hotel. The official program began the following morning with an overview of the foreign policy goals of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) by the Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, Mr. Falah Mustafa. He explained that the KRG’s main interest was protecting and developing democracy within Iraq and requested U.S. support for this goal. Following this meeting, the group was briefed by His Excellency, Mr. Asmat Muhamed Khalid, the Minister of Education. Minister Khalid discussed education initiatives in the KRG and curriculum development which were designed to promote religious and ethnic tolerance. The delegation then turned its attention to economics and commerce with a presentation by Mr. Herish Muharam, Chairman of the Board of Investment of the Kurdistan Regional Government. The Chairman discussed the immense potential of Kurdistan’s oil industry and how Kurdistan was adapting its trade policies to attract foreign investment. Afternoon appointments included a briefing by the U.S. Consul General in Erbil, Alex Laskaris who explained developments in the U.S./KRG bilateral relationship and programs designed to increase trade as well as cultural and educational exchanges. The delegation also had the opportunity to meet with the leadership of the International Red Cross in Erbil, who explained the importance of their humanitarian mission in Iraq, in particular dealing with refugee issues in various locations. Next, the delegation met with the representatives of the National Democratic Institute, an international NGO that operates in Erbil to promote better communication among Iraqi citizens, political parties, and government institutions. NDI aims to encourage the development and implementation of policies that meet the needs of the Iraqi population. The last meeting of the working day was with the Chaldean Catholic Bishop, Bashar Matti Warda, who discussed the problems of Christian refugees arriving in Kurdistan from southern Iraq and proposed solutions that could be reached through international cooperation.
Monday, April 30th, was devoted entirely to U.S. business interests in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The day began with a working breakfast to which all U.S. businesspeople in Kurdistan were invited. They had the opportunity to individually meet the participants and to discuss issues of importance to the U.S. business community. After the breakfast, the delegation drove three hours north, close to the Turkish border, to Dohuk Province, which is the center of Aspect Energy’s operations in Kurdistan. The delegation returned to Erbil in the evening and had in-depth discussions with representatives of the Assyrian Christian community. The focus was both on the deteriorating situation for Assyrian Christians in southern Iraq as well as the situation of Christian minorities in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq in general.
Sulamaniyah, the second largest city in Kurdistan, was the destination for the congressional staffers on Tuesday, May 1st. Driving three hours through the mountainous terrain of the country, the staffers were able to gauge the stability and development of the rural areas of the country. The main stop in Sulamaniyah was the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. This American style university, 150 miles north of Baghdad, is a premiere center of learning in the Middle East. Both Arab and Kurdish students have the opportunity to receive a quality Western-style education on a campus which promotes tolerance and diversity. The delegation was briefed by both administrators and faculty. The staffers also had the opportunity to engage in a round table discussion with a large group of students about the importance of educational opportunities for the diverse ethnic community of Iraq. The students at AUI-S expressed their concerns about the lack availability of employment outside the government agencies. Before departing Sulamaniyah, the staffers met with Kurdish business representatives who stressed the desire for increased trade with the United States.
The last meeting of the delegation was on Wednesday, May 2nd, with the Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani’s Chief of Staff, Mr. Fuad Hussein. Mr. Hussein stressed the importance of cooperation between U.S. and KRG and most importantly U.S. relations with the central government in Baghdad. The Chief of Staff made it clear that stable relations between Erbil and Baghdad were of the utmost importance to peace and security in Iraq and in the region.Mr. Steven Shearer - Chief of Staff, Representative Aaron Schock ( R-IL)
John Sandy - Chief of Staff, Senator James E. Risch (R-ID)
Ken Cummings - Senior Legislative Assistant, Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
Rachel Hines - Legislative Assistant, Representative Russ Carnahan (D-MO)
Tom Garofalo - Legislative Assistant, Representative James Moran (D-VA)
Keenan Austin - Senior Advisor, Representative Frederica Wilson (D-FL)
Stephen Lassiter - Legislative Assistant, Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN)
Elizabeth Hoffman - Legislative Assistant, Representative John Carter (R-TX)
Stephanie Hammond - Special Assistant, Representative Dan Burton (R-IN)
Philip Simshauser -Legislative Assistant, Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ)
Lauren Shapiro - Legislative Aide, Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)
All HDI organized Congressional travel is approved by the Ethics Offices of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate and follow all guidelines for travel by USG employees as prescribed by U.S. Department of State regulations.