Fuad Masum

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President of Iraq

You are Fuad Masum, President of Iraq.

You are perhaps the most important man in Iraq. While you do not hold the highest elected office, or control the greatest amount of money, you are an extremely important person in the future of your country and, indeed, the entire region. In 2014, you were elected President by the Iraqi parliament, and you had only been in office for about three weeks when a major crisis unfolded. Iraq’s military fell under siege by an extremist Sunni militia called the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and the general understanding was that Iraq’s Sunnis were willing to support (or, at least, not oppose) ISIS because the government of Shi’a Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki had been ruthless and short-sighted by pushing Iraq’s Sunnis out of power. When the crisis in your country reached the point where the United States decided to commit air support and even some troops to the task of combatting ISIS, you asked Haider al-Abadi, a Shi’a politician with a reputation for getting along with people, as the new Prime Minister, and you ultimately talked Maliki into giving up the Prime Ministership without a fight. Having orchestrated a minor miracle, you have become a key figure in the delicate process of holding together a scattered nation.

After you were awarded a doctorate in Islamic philosophy from Egypt’s al-Azhar University, you returned to the Kurdish region of Iraq and joined the Communist Party. You soon became disenchanted by your party’s lack of support for the aspirations of the Kurds (whose home region spans Iraq and Syria) to have an independent homeland, and you joined the Kurdish Democratic Party in 1964. You have been politically active on behalf of your people ever since, later becoming a charter member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by your longtime colleague, Jalal al-Talabani.

In 1992, you were chosen to be the first Prime Minister of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq. A decade later, though, you were elected to the new Iraqi parliament in the wake of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Your longtime ally, Talabani, was later chosen to be the Iraqi President, the first non-Arab President of Iraq. This reflected an agreement reached by Iraq’s Parliament whereby the President would be a Kurd, the Speaker of the House a Sunni, and the Prime Minister a Shi’a. Jalal al-Talabani was befallen by a stroke in 2012, and though he was incapacitated for many months, he retained his position, finally being replaced by you in 2014. Through you, there remains the possibility that the Kurdish and Iraqi people will be united together. For the first time in Iraqi history, Kurds have a strong voice in government and a chance to influence that government's direction. This means that they also have a vested interest in seeing it remain strong and united. Given the political, economic and military struggles rocking your homeland, such support is both welcome and sorely needed.

As the President of Iraq, you do not have too much formal power. You may issue pardons and ratify treaties, and you are also the ceremonial head of the armed forces. Your true power is as the symbol of the Iraqi people. The President of Iraq represents the goals and aspirations of his people. The President is the personification of those people. His duty is to represent the civic body of Iraq to the world. To achieve this goal, the President is often seen working with the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister to craft and deliver a message to the world that represents the goals of the Iraqi nation. Unlike the Foreign Minister who normally deals with politicians in other nations, the President targets a much larger audience. He attempts to deliver a message to the people of the world in an effort to influence public opinion in different nations. This means using press releases and dealing directly with the media.

Iraq is a nation torn by violence and instability, and such instability generally dissuades foreign investors from starting new businesses within such a nation. It is the President's job to deliver a message that Iraq is on the mend, to downplay outsider concerns, and to encourage positive outside contributions to Iraq. He is, in effect, the salesman of Iraq to the world.

You are also the champion of Iraqi goals abroad. It is your duty to convey to the world the goals of Iraq in foreign policy and to explain why these goals should be the goals for the entire world. While the Foreign Minister will negotiate the finer points of these goals with other diplomats, the President should be seen trying to move the opinion of the peoples of the world toward an Iraqi point of view. By doing this, you strengthen the position of the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister. With world support behind a position, it is much easier to convince other nations to agree to it.

As the President, you are a consensus builder. You should see your goal as communicating Iraq's goals to the people of the world. It is your duty to appeal to the world to support the goals of Iraq and to support the stability of Iraq itself.

Recent violence has also brought focus to your role as national champion. With the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and other groups attempting to destabilize the government of Iraq, it is your duty to appeal to the Iraqi people. You, along with your teammates, must win the war of public opinion against ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Members of a group like ISIS require public support to arm, feed, and shield them from government troops. It is your duty to convince the people that their interests will be better served by aiding and siding with the Iraqi government than with the Islamic revolutionaries. This will not be an easy thing to sell. The Iraqi government is incredibly slow to react and is notoriously corrupt. The previous government under your predecessor, Jalal a-Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Malaki You are in the unenviable position of selling an imperfect product on the promise that it is better than an unknown promise. This means focusing the attention of Iraqis on the cost that attacks made by extremists have on them, specifically the number of people they callously kill in pursuit of their goals.

President Masum, you have a huge task ahead of you. However, you have decades of experience in fighting against seemingly impossible odds. For the first time in your life, the Kurdish people are in a position where they can influence their own fate through participation in government and not through violent revolution. This means that you have a vested interest in seeing this government succeed. Allowing outsiders to out maneuver Iraqi interests is not an option, and neither is allowing Iraq to tear itself apart.

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