Kurdistan Region of Iraq: Interview with Dr. Honar Issa

Dr. Honar Issa

Provost (American University of Kurdistan)

Dr. Honar Issa

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been facing security challenges for the past two years. However, on his speech, the last 1st of May, Prime Minister Barzani expressed that “war and terrorism have been pushed away and the Region has embarked on a new era, the post-ISIS era. How do you think this new era will transform the Kurdistan Region?

The war against ISIS has proved that Kurdistan is part of a failed country that put the Region in for a fragile situation in which there is no trust anymore. As an example, we did not get any support from Baghdad even during the ISIS fight. However, the defeat of terrorism entails a new opportunity for Kurdistan to rethink about the future of the nation, the new era.

The Kurdish people have realized that within a failed Iraqi state they will achieve neither economic, democratic and security stability nor more engagement with the international community. The referendum is taken place the 25th of September and the people in Kurdistan will have the opportunity to demonstrate whether they want to continue exactly in the same situation or they want something different.

President Masoud Barzani has recently announced that the referendum on independence is due to take place on September 25th, a crucial step towards the creation of a new independent state. What would be the implications of an eventual independence for the Kurdistan Region?

Independence would put Kurdistan into a different category in the world. During the nineteen eighty’s we were bombarded with chemical weapons and no one even responded. On the other hand, when Kuwait was invaded by Iraq everybody was on board from the international community to defend that nation. The main reason was that Kuwait is a sovereign state, therefore, according to the international law, the international community had to respond. Independence is a step that would protect us from the atrocity that Kurdish people have been facing through history. Independence would also mean an economic boost as well as an improvement in terms of political stability and security.

The American University of Kurdistan is a reference in the study of the Region’s independence movement. Several international personalities have addressed this issue in your conferences, including the Chancellor of the Kurdistan Regional Security Council, Masrour Barzani, who is also Chairman of the University. What is the position of the University regarding the independence of the Kurdistan Region?

Before our university addressed the idea of the referendum, there was not any other institution researching on the issue. We carried out a survey through the Centre for Peace and Human Security to see the perception of the Kurdish people on independence and we realized that 84% of the citizens willing to participate in the referendum would vote for independence. That showed us the need for a conference to analyze the challenges and opportunities of the independence of Kurdistan.

In the inauguration of the university, President Massoud Barzani said that Kurds are alive and strong in the face of enemies as they are setting up educational facilities while the Islamic State is threatening the region. Now that Mosul has been liberated, what are the main goals and challenges of the Kurdistan Region for the university?

When we founded the University in 2013 the economy was booming, but then the budget coming from Baghdad was cut-off and the KRG financial resources were assigned to the fight against terrorism. However, even when the ISIS was only twelve kilometers away from our campus, we never stopped constructing the American University of Kurdistan.

We could not stop bringing high-quality education into Kurdistan and the scope of our work goes beyond the region.

The American University of Kurdistan started to operate in 2014 aiming to prepare the generation called to lead the nation in the future. What is the history behind the creation of the institution?

Eleven years ago Prime Minister Barzani gave me the opportunity, as a top student at the College of Engineering, to go study abroad. Years later, in a conversation with the nowadays Chairman Masrour Barzani about creating a scholarship program, he brought up the idea of founding in Kurdistan a university with the Western standards instead of sending people abroad. We wanted to have such a quality education here to enrich the future of the nation accordingly.

In April 2017, you organized the conference “Contemporary Political Agenda in Iraq and the Middle East”, which relied on the presence of the Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jafaari, among others. What was the main outcome of the conference?

The goal was to discuss the future of Iraq, the possibilities of the reconstruction of the state and whether Kurdistan should be part of this “new country”. We are quite sure that the people in Kurdistan would go for a referendum and we decided to address this issue.

We are contributing to the design of a post-referendum plan for the Kurdistan Region that includes an amicable divorce with Iraq. Therefore, we wanted to gather intellectuals from Iraq, Kurdistan and the international community to discuss the viability of a smooth and friendly process.

Education and innovation are, along with technology, the core values of Harvard Business Review. The American University aims to be the reference in research and high standard education. What are the main innovative programs that the University is implementing?

We are currently identifying the needs and demands of the community, so we can address them from a scientific and academic perspective. However, Kurdistan is virgin in terms of innovation and we cannot go beyond something that the society is not ready for. Our mission is to use cutting-edge technology but we have to be realistic and the first step is to promote critical thinking. At the American University of Duhok, we encourage our students to put in practice a critical thinking that will enhance innovation, the main lack of the basic education system in Kurdistan.

As an example, we have identified the central role that nanotechnology will play in war and we have established a five years plan to see how can we include this field in our research program.

Dr. Honar, you have an international career that began as a lecturer at the Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom right. After this experience, you were a member of the board of trustees for three years and then you founded the American University of Kurdistan. What do you feel most proud of in your career?

I feel most proud of the opportunity that I have had to serve my nation by contributing to knowledge and research. The enhancement of the education system of the nation with the establishment of the American University of Kurdistan in such a short period of time is an achievement that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. There is nothing more satisfying than being involved with the young generation who have been deprived of the highest quality education and now they have an opportunity to exercise their right receive the best education. They are enthusiastic because of the opportunity that they have now and they play an active role in the community, something unforgettable.

As an engineer, I feel proud of being part in the development of Kurdistan in terms of economy, construction, and urbanism, as well as in the education of young engineers that are the future of the nation.

Harvard Business review readers include the business leaders on top of decision-makers around the world. What is the final message that you would like to transmit to our readers about the future of the University of the American University in the Kurdistan region?

The nation has started a new journey with the American University of Kurdistan, and we are going to educate the young leaders of the future. The international community has the opportunity to promote the high education in the region and the community by engaging with our young and enthusiastic people, something that I am sure will amaze to the HBR readers.