The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) operates a small lobbying office in the US capital, Washington DC. In February 2007, O’Dwyer’s PR Daily reported that the KRG had “officially opened a D.C. lobbying office, which is headed by Qubad Talabani. His goal is to mobilize grassroots support for Kurdish interests,” including by establishing a Kurdish Congressional Caucus and a Kurdish-American business council. Talabani will also “promote Kurdish educational and cultural links with the U.S.”
The former offices of the PUK and KDP were combined to open this office. Working with Talabani, son of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, is Dasko Shirwani, the Director of Community Outreach. The office also has a media rep, and an office intern/research assistant.
Laura Rozen describes the interior of KRG’s I Street offices as “the plain white walls adorned with Ottoman-style silver filigreed decorations, colorful woven saddlebags, and Kurdish paintings. On a side table in the foyer sits a photograph of Talabani père with President Bush in the Oval Office.”
So what has the KRG DC branch been up to since they opened 18 months ago?
In August of 2007 Talabani and Shirwani were in the US State of Arizona, located in the dry desert of the southwest. They met American companies in Phoenix to discuss investment and development opportunities in the secure and stable Kurdistan Region in Iraq.
The US Export Assistance Centre in Phoenix reported, “Many companies speak of positive attitudes toward US businesses in the region and the KRG has adopted a favorable regime for foreign investment.”
Talabani said during his visit that “an investment law passed last year makes the investment climate even better and provides sound incentives for the potential investor.” Talabani briefed Jan Lesher, Director of Commerce in the Office of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, on the development priorities of the Kurdistan Region. Their discussion centred on advancements in solar energy, Arizona’s focus on environmentally sound practices, and possible research and development cooperation between Kurdistan and the State of Arizona. The US state is home to one of the most efficient electrical grids for power distribution in the world.
Talabani and Shirwani also held meeting with City of Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and Director of Economic Development Donald Maxwell to go over other areas of potential development and engagement between Kurdistan and the city of Phoenix. They focused on tourism, energy, the environment and urban planning. On a related note, the Kurdish city of Suleiymania has a sister-city relationship with another Arizona city, Tucson. So it seems that Arizona is well positioned to become a KRG partner in economic development. With Talabani’s goal to “promote Kurdish educational and cultural links with the US” it is feasible that Arizona could be at the forefront of educational exchange as well.
In May of 2008 KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani visited the US. While there he helped inaugurate the Kurdish-American Caucus. Congressmen Lincoln Davis (D-TN) and Joe Wilson (R-SC) were the lead congressional figures in establishing the caucus.
Congressman Davis said of Barzani’s visit that he hoped “that this will stand as a symbol of continued friendship and cooperation between the United States and Iraq’s Kurdish people in our effort to bring peace and stability to a federated Iraq.”
During a meeting with businessmen and women sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce, the Prime Minister discussed a forthcoming US Commerce Department trade mission to the Kurdistan Region and reviewed the progress made in creating new opportunities for those seeking to invest. He gave the increasing investments from Turkey, Lebanon and the UAE as examples of growing international interest in the varied opportunities within Kurdistan.
The Prime Minister said that outreach and education efforts would continue from the KRG, especially through its Washington office.
Qubad Talabani said of Barzani’s trip that it further strengthened ties between the allies and underscored the continued democratic development in the Kurdistan Region. He said also that “the messages of support we heard from our friends in Washington, show a sincere appreciation for the leadership of the Kurdistan Region.”
Qubad Talabani was raised in England and first went to Washington in 2000. He first worked in the PUK’s small Capitol Hill–area offices and later became head of that office. He recently married an American State Department officer.
The KRG continues its outreach and lobbying efforts across the US. Earlier this month Talabani addressed the Alaska World Affairs Council. His address at the Hilton Anchorage can be heard here.
-Laura Rozen, The Scion: Kurdistan’s man in Washington. Washington Monthly, June 2007
-Kurdistan Govt representative to US tells Arizona businesses of opportunities in Kurdistan. 11 August 2007, Iraqupdates.com
-O’Dwyer’s PR Daily
-Kurdistan Regional Government website (http://www.krg.org/)
-PM Barzani attends launch of Kurdish-American Caucus. 26 May 2008, Iraqupdates.com