Middle East, New in Lobbying

Iraqi Kurds shake up lobbying after longtime KRG lawyer switches firms

The Kurdistan Regional Government has swapped out Washington lobbying firm Dentons for Arent Fox after the Kurds’ longtime legal adviser David Tafuri left the former for the latter.

The semi-autonomous government of northeastern Iraq signed a $20,000-per-month contract with Arent Fox, according to a new lobbying filing. The Washington-based white shoe law firm will provide “legal advice on various issues including legal and regulatory matters” while also tracking congressional action and working to strengthen US-KRG relations. The legal engagement was effective April 1, with government relations work starting April 20.

The contract was signed by Tafuri and the KRG’s representative to the US, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman. She did not respond to a request for comment.

Former Rep. Philip English (R-Penn.), a senior government relations adviser at the firm, is registered to lobby on the account along with senior government relations director Oliver Spurgeon III, a former staffer for Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), and Daniel Sjostedt, a former aide to Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.). The KRG faces a complex set of legal issues in Washington, including staying on the right side of complex sanctions designations that target actors in the neighboring states of Iran, Iraq, Syria and, increasingly, Turkey.

The KRG is also seeking US help as it develops a criminal court to try Islamic State (ISIS) suspects.

“The KRG, Iraq, and the international community have a solemn duty to hold ISIS terrorists accountable,” KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said in a statement last week after the KRG parliament approved legislation creating a special criminal court. “I call on UNITAD (the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Daesh/ISIL) and the international community to increase judicial support and training in preparation for the first public trial [and] provide assistance and contribute towards a fund in support of the victims.”

David Tafuri, Partner at Arent Fox LLP
David Tafuri

Tafuri is not registered to lobby for the KRG but English said he deferred to him for any questions about the account. Tafuri declined to comment on the record but shared some of his thoughts in a February interview with the official podcast of the KRG office in the US.

“I think the Kurdistan region really needs to focus on continuing the progress on rule of law, continuing to strengthen its judiciary and its legal systems and continuing to make it easier for foreign companies to set up a company in the Kurdistan region,” Tafuri said on the Kurdistan in America podcast. “It used to be a very bureaucratic process; it’s gotten better, but there’s still room for improvement.”

The KRG’s new contract with Arent Fox comes just as Dentons US informed the Department of Justice that it had terminated its engagement with the KRG effective March 31. Dentons had represented the KRG for six years and was also being paid $20,000 per month.

Tafuri left Dentons in February for Arent Fox, where he is a partner in the international arbitration and trade and investment practices. He chaired the emerging democracies practice at Dentons and was a registered foreign agent for the KRG until 2019, having previously represented the Kurds while at Squire Patton Boggs.

A former rule of law coordinator at the US Embassy in Baghdad during the height of the Iraq War, Tafuri has long served as an adviser to the KRG representation office in Washington and is also the founder and president of the United States Kurdistan Business Council (USKBC). With his move, Arent Fox is also taking over legal representation for the trade body of US businesses, Foreign Lobby Report has learned. In his podcast interview, Tafuri said the council aimed to organize its first delegation since the coronavirus epidemic in the late fall.

 BGR Government AffairsGreenberg TraurigPASS LLC and Slocum & Bodie also lobby for the KRG.


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