Leape (MA ’19) discusses institution-building in the Kurdistan region of Iraq with the governor of Sulaimani, Dr. Haval Abubakir.

I spent the summer in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq pursuing an independent research project on institution-building. At Jackson, I am focusing on policy change in fragile States and this experience enabled me to enhance my understanding of how governments deal with cycles of fragility.

My research was looking into institution-building in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in light of the crisis in 2014 and the independence referendum in 2017. Over the 10 weeks I spent there, I interviewed 45 individuals, including government officials in the Council of Ministers and in various ministries, governors, academics, former ministers, journalists, UN staff, World Bank staff, and British, American and French diplomats. The interviews allowed me to collect qualitative and quantitative data on the impact of the two time points I identified and how they affected the institution-building path that the Government is treading, providing conclusions and recommendations.

Further, this experience enabled me to enhance my understanding of the role of the Iraqi Kurds in the Middle East context, in relation to the other Kurdish populations, the Arab Iraqis, and the three bordering States. Ever since my first exposure to the Middle East volunteering in Palestine over the first summer of my undergraduate degree, I’ve perceived the Middle East to be a fascinating and complex combination of simultaneously active problem sets, continuously interacting with one another. This complex combination can only be understood by accumulating an understanding of the varied and intertwined relationships between different States and groups. For example, only by understanding the relationship between Israel and Palestine can you understand the role of the Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanon and the relationship between Israel and Lebanon. Only by understanding the influence of Iran and Saudi Arabia in Lebanon can you understand the relationship between Lebanon and Syria. And so on and so forth. After graduating from Jackson, I intend to move back to the Middle East to work on policy change in fragile states, investigating further the impact of exogenous shocks on endogenous drivers of fragility.

The highlight of my time in Erbil was quite possibly spending an afternoon at a rickety yet thrilling waterpark, Aqua Tarin, a must-see the next time you’re in the Region!