The National US-Arab Chamber of Commerce (NUSACC) recognized Iraq’s Fareed Yasseen as its 2021 “Ambassador of the Year” during a Dec. 14 awards ceremony and luncheon at Washington’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
The event, which attracted 150 people, including 20 current and former ambassadors.
“Look around you,” Yasseen told his audience. “You will find not only members of the business community, but also elected officials, current and former government officials, diplomats, academics, researchers, human rights activists, journalists, and friends, including a couple of my Baghdad College classmates. I don’t blush, and I am not easily humbled, but this turnout is truly humbling.”
Yasseen noted that three of his colleagues have received NUSACC’s “Ambassador of the Year” award in past years: Algeria’s Madjid Bouguerra, Jordan’s Dina Kawar and Tunisia’s Faisal Gouia.
“The United States and the Republic of Iraq have traveled a long road together over the years,” said David Hamod, NUSACC’s president & CEO, in praising Yasseen. “He has skillfully and strategically built partnerships between Iraq and America that will serve our respective countries for decades to come.”
Yasseen, trained as a physicist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, later carried out research at MIT. He was later drawn into political activism, with a focus on human rights advocacy. In 1974, he fled the regime of Saddam Hussein, maintaining a low profile for fear of endangering relatives and friends in Iraq.
In the mid-1990s, Yasseen became involved with the worldwide effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming. He joined the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The technologies he pioneered there, including webcasts, now form an integral part of the UN’s activities.
“This is a subject I have been involved with since the beginning, and it is a topic that I am deeply concerned about,” he said, noting that “climate change could lead to greater water scarcity [in Iraq], more dangerous weather fluctuations, and a rise in sea level.”
Since 2004, NUSACC has presented its Ambassador of the Year award annually to a member of the Arab diplomatic corps for outstanding contributions to US-Arab commercial relations. No event took place last year due to the pandemic, and every precaution was taken during this year’s award ceremony to avoid transmission COVID-19.
The lead sponsor of this year’s ceremony was the Trade Bank of Iraq. Platinum sponsors included the American University of Iraq (Baghdad), Chevron, K2 International, KBR and Weatherford. This year’s airline partner was Qatar Airways, which serves as a bridge between the United States and Iraq via Doha.
US Secretary of State Tony Blinken commended Yasseen as a crucial partner over the years.
“We reset our relationship through a series of strategic dialogues that set a course toward greater economic, health and educational cooperation, and we rallied support from the international community to help Iraq organize the most credible elections in its history,” he said. “Your role in maintaining communication between Washington and Baghdad was key.”
Blinken added: “Your leadership was also felt profoundly in the field of cultural preservation. The Department of State was proud to partner with you in facilitating the voluntary repatriation of more than 17,000 ancient artifacts, including the famous Gilgamesh Dream Tablet. These artifacts tell part of the story of our collective beginning as a human family, and we are heartened, thanks in part to your dedication, that they are returning to their rightful home.”