Building global friendship on the road to Kurdistani freedom after referendum

A personal view by Gary Kent, Director of the APPG

Watching the dramatic events unfolding in Kurdistan from afar has been fraught and frustrating for friends of Kurdistan. We wanted to know which news reports to believe, how to identify bargaining gambits and disentangle rhetoric, and the detail of the diplomatic demarches from the US, the UK and the UN.

The key principle is the right to exercise self-determination. It was up to the Kurds to decide if that meant delaying the referendum, proceeding with the referendum and creating a bargaining process with Baghdad that could result in independence, a renewed federalism or some form of confederation. Leaders listened to and considered the alternative path but have decided to proceed with the referendum.

Friends also need to understand why governments friendly to the KRG opposed the referendum. My summary of their position is that established states rarely back secession in advance as that would constitute an interference in the internal affairs of states. A Yes vote, in my view, would establish a settled will to securing statehood, which UN declarations also say is an inalienable right. How these are squared is a political not technocratic question. The rule of thumb is that new nations seize the chance and persuade the world to recognise them after the fact.

The UK and the others were operating the first part of this equation but went further than formally stating their opposition. They strongly and directly urged the Kurdistani leadership to delay the referendum but have not threatened sanctions if their appeals were not heeded and have, indeed, made it clear that their strong bilateral relations will continue.

Diplomats were also worried that a referendum would divide allies in the continuing fight against Daesh, destabilise the wider region, undermine Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi before the scheduled Iraqi elections next year, and that the Shia militia could attack Kirkuk.

There are strong counter-arguments. The lack of political unity between Erbil and Baghdad and domestic divisions made no difference to the campaign to liberate Mosul. Kurdistani leaders are well versed in the complexities of co-existence in a tough neighbourhood. They reject war, conquest and coercion but will defend their homeland and don’t see why they should remain imprisoned in a dysfunctional and increasingly sectarian Iraq that does not respect minority rights.

The West is understandably concerned about developments in Iraq and Abadi is better than Maliki, although I also remember how the Americans stubbornly supported Maliki despite growing evidence that his policies were disastrous.

Yet, if the West had been able to secure a reliable deal with Baghdad backed by solid international and UN guarantees then deferring the referendum would have been possible. The trouble for the Kurds is who to trust or depend on in Baghdad after so many years of broken promises and worse.

Some years back, the Provisional IRA had a similar dilemma although I am not suggesting moral equivalence with the KRG. The IRA’s problem in concluding agreements with the British and Irish governments centred on the concept of parliamentary sovereignty. Neither government could bind successive governments or parliaments in principle but lasting agreements were secured in practice. That is far less certain with Baghdad as no one knows if Abadi can stay in power or if Maliki or someone else could replace him.

The understandable fear in Kurdistani minds and that of their friends is that the Kurds will be seen as lesser people, pawns in the great geopolitical game, and once again abandoned. However, new and strong countervailing pressures show times have changed significantly since the Kurds always said that they have no friends but the mountains.

The British public was shocked to see Kurds dying in the mountains in 1991 and this helped persuade the UK to initiate the no-fly zone. This brought the Kurds into British politics where they have consolidated their position ever since as their diplomats cemented links with the government, parties, civil society and others since freedom was achieved in 2003. This is also the case in America, France, Germany and elsewhere. More and more foreign friends have seen the success and potential of Kurdistan for themselves. Most of the MPs who spoke in a major parliamentary debate in July had been to Kurdistan on APPG visits.

Western opinion also knows that the Peshmerga are a reliable ally in stopping Daesh and that smashing Daesh ultimately increases our safety. They admire the religious pluralism of Kurdistan and know it provides sanctuary to Christians and others.

But public opinion could prove fickle and turn its attention elsewhere without constant efforts to keep and win friends. My hope is that the APPG, which is independent of the KRG and HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) but works with both, can increase its influence in the coming complex times. Friends around the world also need to up their game and better co-ordinate solidarity and support efforts. But ultimately the Kurds are in the driving seat as they navigate their way to freedom.

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Mary Glindon MP column on Kurdistan

It was such good news to see the horrific Isis death cult defeated in Mosul. Their brutality is beyond reasonable comprehension and I am sure we will soon begin to understand that in grim detail.

I recently took part in a major parliamentary debate on the Kurdistan Region. I have not yet been there but have heard disturbing direct testimony about girls who were enslaved and raped multiple times but managed to escape. I urged the government to help boost numbers of clinical psychologists in Iraq and Kurdistan to help manage their deep traumas.

I asked ministers to help churches and religious communities that are helping internally displaced people and refugees in Kurdistan.

I also praised the people-to-people diplomacy carried out by the Newcastle-Gateshead Medical Volunteers who are literally putting Kurds back on their own two feet through many free hip and knee operations.

The Kurds may be two thousand miles away but their bravery in fighting Isis has been a great and direct benefit to us all. We owe them a great debt and I know how keen they are to have the best relations with us because they have a deep affection for us as a people, and for our language and our businesses.

The people of Iraqi Kurdistan are voting in a referendum on independence in September and I have backed a cross-party Commons motion supporting the right of the Kurds to express their self-determination. Their freedom benefits the whole world.

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Minutes of the AGM of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq held on Monday 26 June 2017

Attendance. Jack Lopresti MP, Graham Jones MP, Mary Glindon MP, Lord Clement-Jones, Mike Gapes MP, Tracy Brabin MP, Bob Stewart MP, Karwan Jamal Tahir and Hawre Wahid of the KRG UK, and Gary Kent, APPG Director.

Apologies. Nadhim Zahawi MP, Andrea Jenkyns, Stephen Metcalfe MP, Henry Smith MP, Ian Austin, Lord Glasman.

Elections

Jack Lopresti was elected as Chairman. Statutory vice chairs were elected: Lord Clement-Jones, Mike Gapes MP and Robert Halfon MP.

Other vice chairs elected: Mary Glindon, Bob Stewart, Henry Smith, Andrea Jenkyns, Ian Austin, Nadhim Zahawi, Tracy Brabin, Mark Hendrick, John Mann, Stephen Metcalfe, Seema Malhotra, John Woodcock, Lord Glasman, and, subject to confirmation, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, and Jonathan Edwards.

The remit of the group was agreed as: To promote friendship and understanding between the peoples and representatives of the Kurdistan Region and the UK.

A draft EDM on the referendum was discussed.

The reports of the APPG delegation in November 2016 will be published online with hard copies to follow.

Chairman to seek Westminster Hall debate on the Kurdistan Region

Agreed to send observers to the referendum in Kurdistan on 25 September and if possible combine with a fact-finding mission.

Agreed to send observers to monitor scheduled parliamentary and presidential elections in November.

Agreed to ask the UK Consul General in Erbil to address a future meeting.

Agreed to continue the campaign to urge UK government to provide beds at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham for most seriously wounded Peshmerga.

A general discussion on the current situation in Kurdistan was led by the KRG High Representative and included the need for beds in the UK for wounded Peshmerga, further supplies of weaponry and other equipment.

Officers and supporters
Chairman: Jack Lopresti
Vice-Chairs
Lord Clement-Jones
Robert Halfon
Mike Gapes

Other Vice-Chairs

Bob Stewart
Henry Smith
Andrea Jenkyns
Nadhim Zahawi
Mary Glindon
Mark Hendrick
John Mann
Stephen Metcalfe
Seema Malhotra
John Woodcock
Ian Austin
Lord Glasman
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Jonathan Edwards.

Other members

Conor McGinn
Daniel Carden
Christian Matheson
Chris Stephens
Douglas Chapman

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Full text of SNP Spokesman Douglas Chapman MP in debate on the Kurdistan Region

I thank the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) for his speech. His knowledge of and passion for the Kurdistan area came through strongly, and his work for the all-party group is impressive. The imminent recapture of Mosul from Daesh control by Iraqi security forces is a welcome development, and it will bring multiple complex challenges. The transition from offensive combat operations to a post-conflict stabilisation phase—notably the performance of constabulary police—has not always been well handled by the Iraqi Government forces. Above all, it is critical that there should be no repeat of the stories and allegations that emerged, for example, from the recapture of Fallujah when Iraqi Government forces were accused of reprisals against suspected Daesh fighters and the civilian population alike. Of equal importance are humanitarian aid, stabilisation and the restoration of functioning state institutions. As things stand, there are 820,000 Iraqis currently displaced from Mosul and the surrounding areas since military operations to retake the city began in October 2016. Their needs must become an immediate priority.

Although it is not part of Kurdistan proper, Mosul’s position within the disputed territories of northern Iraq, its multi-ethnic demography and its overall importance for the economy and governance of northern Iraq make it imperative that the authorities in Baghdad and Irbil should collaborate effectively in the aftermath of its recapture. We urge the UK and the other members of the international coalition to exert their influence to make sure that the collaboration works. I believe that yesterday the Foreign Secretary met Iraqi Foreign Minister Jaafari, and we expect to hear how that message might be communicated to him at a later time.

As many hon. Members have said, the people of Iraqi Kurdistan have the right to decide their own future, and we urge all parties to work together to ensure that Kurdish self-determination is supported. My hon. Friends and I support the right to self-determination for all, provided it is expressed through peaceful democratic processes. We welcome the fact that the Government in Irbil intend to pursue their legitimate aspirations by means of a popular vote, but we would stress the importance of dialogue with Baghdad and with all regional actors to ensure that it passes off peacefully and contributes to regional stability.

I was taken by an article by President Barzani who, writing in The Washington Post, made a compelling case for Kurdistan to be an independent country. He wrote: “On Sept. 25, the people of Iraqi Kurdistan will decide in a binding referendum if they want independence or to remain part of Iraq. The vote will resolve a conflict as old as the Iraqi state itself between the aspirations of the Kurdish people and a government in Baghdad that has long treated Kurds as less than full citizens of the country.Iraqi Kurdistan’s exercise of its right to self-determination threatens no one and may make a volatile region more stable. It will not alter the borders of any neighboring state and, if done right, will make for a much stronger relationship between Iraq’s Arabs and Kurds. We are determined to do everything possible to accommodate Iraqi concerns in the likely event that the vote is for independence.”

The President argues that Kurdistan’s case for independence is compelling and he points out that 100 years ago, in the peace negotiations that followed world war one, the Kurds were promised their own state. Instead they were divided against their will, and their lands were carved up among Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. The newly-established state of Iraq was supposed to be an equal partnership between Arabs and Kurds, but that hopeful dream gave way to a grim reality. All Iraqi Governments suppressed the Kurds, and the resulting atrocities culminated in the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein used poison gas extensively on Kurdish towns and villages, levelled more than 5,000 Kurdish villages and deported Kurds to the south, where they were murdered and buried in mass graves; 182,000 Iraqi Kurds—nearly 5% of the population—including members of the President’s family, perished in that period.

The article continues:“With the overthrow of Hussein’s Baath regime, the Kurds worked hard to build a new Iraq, including drafting a constitution that guaranteed Kurdistan’s autonomy and protected the rights of all Iraqis. Fourteen years later, Baghdad has failed to implement key provisions of that constitution, and we have good reason to believe that it never will. This failure of the political system is also responsible for the drastic deterioration of relations between Sunnis and Shiites that led to the rise of the Islamic State, with disastrous consequences for all Iraqis, including the Kurds.”

The President notes that the principal argument that is made for Iraqi unity is that a single Iraq is better able to protect its citizens, but that that claim is not supported by evidence and experience. When the Islamic State attacked Kurdistan in 2014, using advanced US weapons abandoned by the Iraqi army in Mosul, the Iraqi Government refused to give Kurdistan its constitutionally mandated share of the federal budget, and it certainly did not provide soldiers—known as the peshmerga, as other hon. Members have noted—with weapons. As an independent country, Kurdistan would have been able to finance and equip its own troops and to bring the fight to a much swifter conclusion.

The article states: “The war on the Islamic State since then provides a model for how Kurds and Arabs might cooperate in the future. In the battle to drive the Islamic State from Iraq, the peshmerga and the Iraqi army have been in an alliance of equals. Each army has its own chain of command. The peshmerga’s joint operations with the Iraqi military support each other in ways that never occurred in an Iraq where Baghdad sought to dominate and control Kurdistan. Regardless of the referendum, we will continue our close cooperation with Iraqi and Western forces until the final victory over the Islamic State.”
That statement tells us a lot about how Kurdistan would be a stabilising force in the region, should it be able to move to independent status and not have to rely on Baghdad for its orders. The President argues that an independent Kurdistan could have a much stronger relationship with Baghdad and would be a great neighbour, co-operating against terrorism and sharing resources, including water, petroleum and many kinds of infrastructure, in ways that would benefit both countries: “Without the sanctions that Iraq has applied to our imports and exports, we could jointly develop our human and natural resources in a common market to the benefit of both Kurdistan and Iraq.

While the results of the referendum will bind future Kurdistan governments, the timing and modalities of our independence will be subject to negotiation with Baghdad and consultation with our neighbors and the wider international community.” That is not the view of an aggressive state trying to have things all its own way. There is room for negotiation, and I am sure that the way the President has phrased his article means that his approach would be very peaceful and reasonable.

The article goes on to say: “In our negotiations with Baghdad, we will be practical. The issue of what territory joins Kurdistan will be the most contentious issue in the separation. Despite a Dec. 31, 2007, deadline, the Iraqi government refused to implement a key constitutional provision…that would have the people of the disputed areas decide their future democratically. Nearly ten years later, we propose to give them that opportunity.”That is a fantastic step in the right direction.“We wish to incorporate into Kurdistan only those territories where the people overwhelmingly want to be part of Kurdistan as expressed in a free vote. The last thing we want is a long-lasting territorial dispute with Iraq that could poison our future relations.”

The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) talked about Kurdistan’s culture and diversity, which it values. It is home to Christians, Yazidis, Turks, Shabaks and Arabs, all of whose separate identities are recognised by its laws. Since 2003, many Iraqi Christians have moved to Kurdistan to escape the violence and persecution elsewhere in Iraq. Since Islamic State seized part of Iraq in 2014, Kurdistan has also provided support for more than 1.5 million Iraqi refugees, with only minimal help from Baghdad and the international community.

I appreciate the input from the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who talked about having a vibrant civil society within a progressive Muslim nation. He referred to the disgraceful Red House—I was not aware of it, and I think most Members would look on it with disgust. The hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) talked about having respect for the peshmerga, which has support in the north-east. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen talked about the people of Birmingham all moving to Scotland—I am not sure that is a very good idea at the moment, although they would be very welcome—which indicates the scale of what has happened in that country.

Finally, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) said that the people of Kurdistan have the inalienable right to decide their own future. I hope that the Minister will confirm the Government’s position, and that they will reconsider their attitude to Kurdistan and the referendum that is about to take place.

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Full text of Nadhim Zahawi MP’s speech in Commons debate on the Kurdistan Region

As I have so often said in my parliamentary contributions since being elected for the first time in 2010, I am very proud to be the first British Member of Parliament of Kurdish descent. I therefore feel, perhaps more strongly than most, that the people of Iraqi Kurdistan have an inalienable right to self-determination, as do all peoples. That is why it is my belief that September’s referendum should be welcomed by our Government, without the need for the Minister to express a desire or opinion for or against independence.

There are many who say that Kurdistan could not survive as an independent state, that it is not ready for such an important vote, or that now is not the time for it. Whatever the outcome of September’s vote, I believe Kurdistan can and will prosper. Although the most recent delays to holding September’s long-awaited and long-overdue referendum are understandable given the conflict in the region, I cannot help but draw attention to the deficiencies of previous Iraqi Governments in helping to facilitate the vote. In so doing, I am sympathetic to arguments that claim previous Iraqi Governments have effectively contributed to the mood for separation in Iraqi Kurdistan. The so-called Iraqi Barnett formula works in the opposite way to ours. I say that slightly in jest: since 2014, Iraqi Kurdistan has been almost totally cut off in terms of central Government funding. The region questioning its independence is shouldering a greater financial burden than other regions of the country, rather than the other way round.

In 2005 Iraq approved its new federalist constitution, with 79% in favour and 21% against. However, significant parts of the constitution are, sadly, yet to be implemented by Baghdad, denying regional Governments the autonomy for which an overwhelming majority of Iraqis had voted. Perhaps the most significant part of the constitution for Iraqi Kurdistan that is yet to be implemented is article 140. It has long been the expectation that the disputed Kurdish regions within particular governorates would be dealt with as Kirkuk was: they would have a referendum on whether they should become part of the Kurdistan Regional Government or remain within the greater Iraq. Article 140 makes it imperative that significant and sufficient measures to reverse Saddam Hussein’s Arabisation process in the disputed regions are undertaken so that the referendum is seen to be fair.

Thousands of Kurds returned following the events of 2003, and those regions are now under the control of the KRG after it claimed them from Daesh, but a formal referendum has not taken place. We now face a referendum on Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence while the status of the disputed regions remains unresolved.

President Barzani has confirmed that residents of the disputed regions, which Baghdad still considers not to be part of Iraqi Kurdistan, will be allowed to partake in September’s referendum. My fear, however, is that whatever the outcome of September’s vote, without the prior resolution of the regions’ statuses, Baghdad or Irbil will use the treatment or inclusion of those regions as a means to negate the result or make the referendum illegitimate. If it is a no to independence, Irbil may say that the result would have been different had disenfranchised Kurds been formally reunified with Iraqi Kurdistan prior to the referendum. If it is a yes, Baghdad may say that the result would have been different had the disputed regions not been included in the plebiscite as, they would argue, should have been the case all along.

I realise that I may be painting a rather bleak picture of a post-referendum Iraqi Kurdistan. Despite the concerns I have raised, I am still on balance far more optimistic than pessimistic. Although we may see a minor war of words between Irbil and Baghdad in the wake of September’s result, whatever it is I think the wider and longer-term result will be greater stability in the whole region. We will almost certainly see greater devolution to the KRG as a result of the vote: either total devolution in the case of independence or more devolution in order to placate the unsuccessful side in the case of a no vote. It is this devolution, the autonomy and power to control its own economic affairs, to manage its public services and to raise its own army, that has made Iraqi Kurdistan such a powerful force for regional stability.

The peshmerga have enjoyed immense success in combating Daesh-Isil, as many of my colleagues have mentioned, and in bringing stable and lasting liberation to large parts of Iraq and the adjoining parts of Syria. They have played an instrumental role in the liberation of Sinjar, and are continuing to do so as we speak on the eastern front in the battle to liberate Mosul. The leaders of western forces, our great military leaders, are all too ready to praise the peshmerga as the most effective military operators in the region. It is precisely their status as a regional army that has led to their effectiveness. I see a clear causal link between greater devolution to Irbil and the liberation and eventual political stability of Kurdistan and the country of Iraq as a whole. For that reason, I welcome the prospect of any further devolution, whatever the degree.

I would also like to make reference to the very strong relationship that the KRG has with Turkey—another critically important power in the conflict taking place in Iraq and Syria and one on which regional stability also depends. I further welcome more devolution to Irbil in the hope of closer and more unified co-operation with Turkey in the campaign against Daesh.

My overall point is that rather than seeing a fully independent or more powerful Kurdistan as indicative of an increasingly divided and chaotic Iraq, one should see it as an opportunity to bring greater stability to the region. I urge the Government, represented here so ably by the Minister, whom I thank for giving up his time, to look closely at the opportunities that an Iraqi Kurdistan with more devolved power could bring.

I know from conversations with leading politicians in the KRG, including the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, that the Iraqi Kurds would never resort to any violence of any kind against the Iraqi Government to make their case for more control over their own affairs. The KRG, and indeed the people of Iraqi Kurdistan, see Baghdad as their closest and most important strategic ally. My message to my Government is this: let us learn the lessons from our invasion of Iraq in 2003; let us recognise that we may have won the war but we certainly did not win the peace; and let us be open-minded about the role we can now play in restoring stability to Iraq by being positive about a more autonomous Kurdistan, whatever path it chooses for itself in September.

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Tracy Brabin MP on film and psychologists in the Commons debate on the Kurdistan Region

I have travelled to the region as the guest of the Regional Government of Kurdistan. I was invited to visit as part of a cross-party group of fact-finding parliamentarians. Aware that the conflict in the region is one of the biggest issues facing our world, I was very keen to go, and having spent a number of years volunteering in London with victims of torture—some from the region—I jumped at the chance to find out more.

On arriving in Irbil, I was shocked by the progressive and sophisticated surroundings. I was expecting a war zone, but the city could be mistaken for Dubai in its high-rise ambition and elegance. Sadly, war was not very far away. Half an hour’s ride out of the city, we were in a Syrian refugee camp near the border with the Kurdistan region. Chatting to families, surrounded by playful children, I heard so many stories of pain and suffering: loved ones missing believed dead, people injured by mines, children made orphans by war. Most of those I spoke to had been there for more than three years, with no guarantee of when they would return home. They were weary and exhausted; all they wanted was to be reunited with their families and get back to their homes.

Kurdistan is host to not just refugees from Syria, but 1.5 million people displaced by war from other parts of Iraq. Although refugees have special status in international law and are cared for by the UN, internally displaced people are the responsibility of the host Government. Sadly, Baghdad seems to be doing little to help and leaves the task to Kurdistan, which is already suffering an economic tsunami, thanks to a dramatic fall in oil prices, the hostility of Baghdad, which has cut its budget since 2014, and Kurdistan’s own dysfunctional economy, which needs massive reform.

As the Kurds and Iraqis move to liberate Mosul from the brutality of the self-styled Islamic State, more displaced people are heading into Kurdistan—the population has expanded by a third, which is the equivalent of the population of Birmingham moving to Scotland. Understandably, there are electricity and water shortages, and schools and hospitals are overwhelmed.

Travelling to the frontline in Mosul to talk to peshmerga fighters and Iraqi special forces, we saw clearly the sacrifices made by those men and women. Over the border, in Mosul province, we visited the Christian village of Bartella, which had been seized by the Iraqis after a brief firefight. ISIS did not have time to destroy houses or set booby traps, but many houses were pockmarked by bullets, while some were entirely destroyed by airstrikes. Later, visiting a local hospital, we saw soldiers suffering life-changing injuries. I was humbled to witness a female peshmerga fighter passing away. We and the rest of the world owe them so much.

Another poignant visit was to a camp that is home to Yazidis, who practise a pre-Islamic and pre-Christian religion. Many have been murdered as apostates, sold into sexual slavery between one IS emir and another across Iraq or Syria, or killed because they were deemed too old to sell. Women survivors saw their men slaughtered before their eyes and their babies killed for fun. Of the 5,000 Yazidi women abducted as spoils of war, 2,000 have escaped, but they must still endure daily nightmares and flashbacks, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) alluded to.

At the SEED project, which operates from a schoolhouse building, assiduous professionals were working carefully to help victims overcome such traumas. A couple of therapists had studied clinical psychology at Koya University, but that is the only such course in the whole of Kurdistan: the country is in desperate need of people who understand post-traumatic stress. It must be our priority, and the Government’s, to offer that support, alongside physical reconstruction and the political reform the country so desperately needs.

Another way to heal psychological wounds can be through culture, which can be a force for rebellion and resistance, as well as for rebuilding empathy and tolerance in communities. The Kurds’ love of poetry and music attest to that. The legendary Iranian-Kurdish folk singer Mazhar Khaleghi, who now runs the Kurdish Heritage Institute in Sulaymaniyah, says: “We have lost our lands and we’re probably never going to get them back. But we have to fight to save what is left of our culture. If we lose that, we have lost everything.” As 150,000 peshmerga fighters push back against IS, Khaleghi’s team of a dozen ethnomusicologists, anthropologists and historians are fighting to preserve the Kurdish identity.

Kurdistan is an exceptionally beautiful country and I was privileged to meet a number of film makers and producers, who were anxious to use the beautiful location to create greater creative links with the rest of the world. I was shown around a disused cigarette factory by a local producer who had some of the finance in place to create a film studio to rival Shepperton or Pinewood. Nearby Turkey has a vibrant film industry and I am sure the same could be true of Kurdistan. It is younger film makers such as Syrian-Kurdish director Lauand Omar, making films such as “Curse Of Mesopotamia”—a low budget horror that can be screened anywhere in the world—who are leading the way.

We can help by supporting Kurdistan’s ambition for inward investment, domestic production and private-sector employment within the Kurdistan region and working with the UK film industry to secure an efficient unified film industry organisation, merging the cinema directorates within the KRG. Kurdistan has huge potential to be a film-making centre in the middle east, bringing economic, social and cultural benefits to the region and its people. I hope there are people listening to this debate who could make that happen.

To visit Iraqi-Kurdistan was an absolutely fascinating opportunity. Yes, there are grave challenges in that part of the world—but where terror has done untold damage, a rose is growing through the cracks in the cement. Beauty and creativity is growing. I think we can all agree that that is testament to the Kurdish people. Over the coming years, they will look to us for support, and sometimes guidance. I hope that, in years to come, such support will be more forthcoming from our Government.

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Robert Halfon MP’s speech on the Kurdistan Region

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con)

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. It is also an honour to follow the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) and, in particular, my genuine hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), who introduced this debate and knows a huge amount about the region. Without sounding too sycophantic, I could not be more pleased to have my right hon. Friend the Minister back in his rightful position as the Minister for the Middle East.

I have been privileged to join all-party group delegations to Kurdistan—I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—five times since becoming an MP. Kurdistan has its problems, but it successfully has the essential ingredients for a flourishing society. It is an extraordinary place run by a progressive Muslim Kurdish Government dedicated to improving property rights, boosting private enterprise and encouraging inward investment. Unusually for that part of the world, the Kurdistan Government have determined that the rule of law must prevail. There are the beginnings of a vibrant civil society. I have met the trade unions several times on my visits, and I wish them well in developing sharp elbows to ensure that working people get a fair slice of the cake, although I would not recommend they follow the example of Len McCluskey and others. I have spoken to women’s organisations that have put domestic violence on the agenda and helped reduce the incidence of female genital mutilation. I salute the religious pluralism, and commend Prime Minister Barzani who said: “What differentiates [us] from most of the countries around us is religious and ethnic tolerance. Accepting and defending each other’s rights strengthens the principle of humanity in this country, particularly in difficult times.”

It is astonishing to see religions from all over the region—Turkmen, Christians and others—literally fleeing to Kurdistan, because they know that it is the one place where they will receive protection. I note that the KRG has appointed an official in charge of Jewish affairs. Jews once made up 17% of the population in Slemani before they were expelled in the bad old days, and there is a large Kurdish Jewish community in Israel. I remember driving past a Jewish area synagogue that was being preserved. Not many other nations in the middle east would preserve synagogues; they are usually knocking them down or demolishing them. I was very pleased when President Barzani told me that if Iraq recognised Israel, there would be a consulate-general in Irbil the next day. The relationship with Israel could be a major asset for both countries in future. Just imagine, Mr Davies, a progressive Muslim nation building relations with Israel, working together to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That would set an example across the middle east.

There is one place, however, that I will never visit again: the Red House in Slemani. It was a horrific Ba’athist torture centre where thousands were murdered, tortured and raped. It is now a museum. More than anything, it shows the devastating inhumanity of Saddam’s regime. I remember going into a room inside the prison that was called the “party room”. In that room, women were raped by the guards and the subsequent foetuses were thrown into furnaces, in echoes of the holocaust. I remember going into the rooms of the prison, which were bugged. That was not for the prisoners, but to bug the guards in case they were giving anything to the prisoners, which has echoes of Stalin and Nazism. When we visited the Red House the second time, I refused to go in; I just sat outside.

The visits encouraged me to lead the Kurdistan Genocide Task Force, which united the KRG in the UK with MPs, academics and legal practitioners. In 2013 it helped persuade the Commons to formally recognise the Anfal genocide. We wanted to encourage the UK Government to do the same, but as my right hon. Friend the Minister will remember very well, the Government did not agree on the grounds that the decision should be legal and not political. I suspect we will still disagree, but I ask him to rethink. I give my real thanks to him for agreeing that the British Government should formally mark Anfal Day every April. I passionately believe that given the suffering of the people of Kurdistan, it is vital that we recognise the genocide, because it was the demonisation, marginalisation and annihilation of the Kurdish people.

Some people at the time asked why we focused on the past, but the history of genocide remains relevant to the Kurdistan story. Let us remember that they lost nearly 200,000 people, most notoriously in the chemical weapons attack on Halabja in 1988. Let us also remember that Saddam bombed the area before he used chemical weapons, so that the windows of all the Kurdish people’s houses were broken. That meant that when the chemical weapons were dropped, the people could not protect themselves by shutting themselves in their houses and shutting their doors and windows. More than 4,000 villages were razed to the ground. That was the beginning of forcible urbanisation, which makes it difficult nowadays to persuade people to leave the cities and make their money from agriculture. It could be a major source of income and help Kurdistan diversify away from a reliance on oil.

The past is never far from the surface. Just a few months after the Commons recognised Halabja and Anfal, the Syrian Ba’athist regime used chemical weapons in Ghouta. It is no coincidence that that was done by a Ba’athist party. In 2014, ISIL attacked Iraq and later Kurdistan. I am sure I have no need to persuade the Minister that ISIL undertook a genocide against the Yazidis and the Christians. I would welcome his update on the measures the UK is taking to help preserve evidence to mount criminal prosecutions. I remember being in Kurdistan and being warned by Kurdistan Ministers that, “In some months, we will have al-Qaeda in Mosul.” I think the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), was at that meeting. They called it al-Qaeda, not ISIL, but they said that that would happen. All the awful things they predicted would happen tragically did happen.

The genocide against the Kurds ended when they rose up against Saddam in 1991 and evicted him from most of Kurdistan under our armed protection. For that the Kurds will always thank the then British Prime Minister, John Major, and British public opinion, which was appalled at the sight of so many people dying in the freezing mountains which had, in the old Kurdish saying, been their only friends. It is a privilege to sit next to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), who was so involved at that time.

Whenever one thinks of the Iraq war, the thing we must always thank Tony Blair for is the fact that but for the removal of Saddam Hussein, the Kurdistan nation would likely still face an existential threat. Saddam has gone. Leaders that followed may not have been like him, but their actions did much to break the hope of federalism. That is why the Kurds are now seeking their sovereignty. I worry, however, that the mentality that allowed thousands of soldiers to conduct genocide is still obvious in the condescending and high-handed manner in which the Kurds are treated by Baghdad. I am also concerned about the attitude of the Shi’a militia towards the Kurds.

I have much sympathy with the Kurds’ desire for independence so that they can always protect themselves. I certainly believe they have the right to exercise self-determination by holding a referendum in September. I have signed the early-day motion stating that, and would be willing to observe the referendum. I understand that the Government’s position is to ask them to be proactive in seeking to facilitate the negotiations that will follow a successful referendum result, so that the Kurds and Arabs currently in Iraq can negotiate a more productive relationship. The UK must do everything possible to support this remarkable nation, which is at the vanguard of the fight against ISIS and for democracy, rule of law and a free economy in Iraq and the middle east.

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Mary Glindon MP’s speech on Kurdistan Region and people to people diplomacy

Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab). I congratulate the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) on securing the debate, on his excellent and passionate speech and on being elected chair of the all-party group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq. Unlike many Members here, I have not yet visited the Kurdistan region, but I have attended many all-party group meetings with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s High Representative, Karwan Jamal Tahir, and others, to gain insight into the region. I, too, would like to thank the peshmerga for their bravery in resisting so-called Islamic State, and I am relieved that Mosul is near to full liberation from a ghastly organisation whose brutality is beyond reasonable comprehension.

Through the all-party group I have heard disturbing direct testimony about girls who were enslaved and raped multiple times but managed to escape. Sadly, I am sure that their psychological traumas will last forever, but at the very least they can be treated. I understand there is just one university department of clinical psychology in Kurdistan. I fear that the department will be overwhelmed by the anguish that will become ever clearer and more in need of urgent attention over the coming weeks. Therefore, I appeal to the Government to play any role they can in increasing the number of clinical psychologists in Iraq and Kurdistan. Those young women—those victims—deserve nothing less than being able to look forward to a future when they can at least manage their traumas, and so manage their lives.

We know that there are more than 1 million internally displaced persons—IDPs— currently accommodated in the Kurdistan region, as well as more than 200,000 Syrian refugees. Resettlement is limited because of poor security and the lack of basic services. However, the Catholic Church, working in the region, has played a significant role in helping IDPs and refugees since the beginning of the crisis. The diocese of Irbil currently supports about 70,000 people with accommodation, subsistence, education and employment. Many of those people are from religious minorities, including Christians and Yazidis. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, has welcomed the Government’s recent decision to extend the vulnerable person resettlement scheme to non-Syrian refugees in the region. I hope that the Minister can say what support the Government plan to provide, during this Parliament, for Churches and religious communities that are helping IDPs and refugees in Kurdistan.

I join colleagues in supporting the right of the Kurds to express their self-determination through the referendum in September. I commend the Kurdistan leadership’s decision to ask the people for a mandate to negotiate full independence and new relations with Iraq. I also understand the position of the British Government, as set out by the Foreign Secretary, who visited Kurdistan in January 2015 as the then Mayor of London. He visited British troops training the peshmerga and was even pictured alongside one of them with an AK47. He wrote that he had previously met “a dynamic and forward-looking young politician”—Nechirvan Barzani— “the prime minister of the fledgling state of Kurdistan.”

He further stated: “Then we should help because we have a moral duty to that part of the world. It was the British who took the decision in the early Twenties to ignore the obvious ethnic divisions, and not to create a Kurdistan”, which he described as “one of the few bright spots in the Middle East.”

I accept that such solidarity and the right hon. Gentleman’s recent statement as Foreign Secretary are not incompatible, but I also recognise that the referendum will proceed. We will see whether the long negotiations achieve independence or a firm guarantee of equality in a new Iraq. It is not for me to say what is best for the Kurds, but I suggest that the UK and its diplomats use their experience and expertise to facilitate progress.

I want to highlight how the struggle of the Kurds has captured the hearts and minds of many ordinary British people who are practising their own version of diplomacy, and I am proud to speak about an example from the north-east. The Newcastle Gateshead Medical Volunteers have held charity fundraising events in both Gateshead and Newcastle. Its founder, Kurdistan-born Professor Deiary Kader, mobilises health professionals from the north-east to visit Kurdistan two or three times a year, to provide free orthopaedic care. He and his colleagues are literally putting Kurds back on their own two feet through many free hip and knee operations, which are beyond the capacity of the health system there, or for which people would have to wait many years. The charity undertakes formal educational events to raise the standard of surgical care, as well as providing blankets and winter clothing to the Yazidi refugee camps in Duhok. The charity is also building a connection between Kurdistani doctors and the International Committee of the Red Cross in Lebanon, to transfer war-injured casualties to the committee’s war-wounded trauma reconstruction centre there.

Although I have yet to visit Kurdistan, I am an enthusiastic advocate of deep and broad links with our friends in the Kurdistan region, which is inclined to friendship with us and describes us as a partner of choice. The Minister has travelled to Kurdistan in his former official capacity and on an all-party group delegation. He was prepared to put aside Foreign and Commonwealth Office briefings to meet the passionate pleas of many Members here when the Commons discussed and agreed to formally recognise the genocide by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds. I hope his wisdom will enable him to understand that the Iraqi Kurds have a special place in British hearts and do his best to help ensure their freedom, equality and justice.

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Jack Lopresti MP: opening speech in Commons debate on the Kurdistan Region

I begin by declaring an interest. I travelled to Kurdistan in November 2016 as a guest of the Kurdistan Regional Government and I am now chair of the all-party group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq. It is three years since the last debate here on the Kurdistan region, and everything has fundamentally changed in that time. The Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), earned much respect in his first stint as the Middle East Minister, and his wisdom, experience and expertise, not least with the Kurds, will be major assets in his second stint.

I have visited Kurdistan twice with the all-party group, which has done much in its 10 years of service to improve and increase understanding of Kurdistani issues. I use the term “Kurdistani” because Kurdistan contains non-Kurds as well; however, I refer only to the Kurdistan region in Iraq. I will start by testing key points and end with the measures that I believe require our Government’s help.

My basic points are that Iraqi federalism has sadly failed and cannot be revived, because the Shi’a majority has no appetite for federalism or minority rights. The Kurds voluntarily re-joined Iraq in 2003, on the basis of western and Iraqi promises that Iraq would be federal and democratic. This exercise of their right to self-determination did not expire on its first use. They cannot be forced into subordination by leaders in Baghdad. In effect, Iraq has severed itself from Kurdistan—it pays no budget contributions and does not help Arabs sheltering there—but recent co-operation between their separate militaries have been very successful indeed.

The Kurds have rejected the option of making a unilateral declaration of independence and wisely seek a reset of relations with Iraq, which could be much stronger without the constant internal disputes between Baghdad and Irbil. Sectarianism and centralisation caused the rise of Daesh and could do so again. A yes vote in September’s independence referendum in the Kurdistan region will lead to negotiations. The west should help, not least over the disputed territories, and the UK should send observers to the region during the referendum. In any case, the west should continue to nurture relations with the Kurds, as they are a beacon of moderation and pluralism and support for western values.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Does he agree that the Kurdish people have helped to fight Daesh and have been a key ally to the western world?

Jack Lopresti I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I absolutely agree. I will return to the peshmerga and the fight against Daesh later, but we owe the Kurds a huge debt of gratitude for what they are doing on a daily basis, including as we are here today.

I will briefly give some history. The treaty of Lausanne in 1923 led to the Turks formally ceding all earlier claims on Syria and Iraq and, along with the treaty of Ankara, settled the boundaries of the two nations. The earlier post-world war one discussions about a Kurdish state being formed after the break-up of the Ottoman empire, which had been nominally supported by the British, including Sir Winston Churchill, were absent from the treaty of Lausanne.

The Kurds have a long history of suffering second-class citizenship, and in the late 1980s they experienced genocide at the hands of Saddam Hussein—a genocide that was formally recognised by this House in 2013. From 1991 onwards, Sir John Major’s no-fly zone and safe haven protected the Iraqi Kurds from further attack by Saddam Hussein, and Tony Blair and George Bush’s overthrow of Saddam Hussein was welcomed by the Kurds as a liberation. Indeed, on my visits to the region I have personally been thanked for the British contribution to the liberation of Iraq.

The Kurds re-joined Iraq in 2003 and they have tried to make that arrangement work. They brokered a federal constitution, which was agreed by 80% of people in the Iraqi referendum in 2005. It enshrined a binational country of equals and, for instance, agreed a mechanism for resolving the status of the disputed territories. The deadline for that resolution was supposed to have been 2007, but it has still not been carried out. The end to federalism was demonstrated in February 2014 by Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki, who unconstitutionally cut all federal budget transfers to Kurdistan.

In June 2014, Daesh captured Mosul, took a third of the country and seized sophisticated American military kit, including lots of vehicles and heavy weapons. A Kurdistani offer of help before the attack was spurned. Maliki failed the most vital duty of any leader, which is to uphold the security of the state and protect its people. So the Kurds suddenly acquired a 650-mile border with Daesh and there was an overnight influx of Iraqi Arabs from Mosul, who increased the population by a third, straining all public services to breaking point. Daesh attacked Kurdistan in August 2014 and came within 20 miles of the capital, Irbil, which was only saved by immediate American air strikes and other assistance.

Then, a massive slump in the price of oil exposed the inefficient nature of the Kurdistani economy—massive state employment, little productivity, a miniscule private sector and an almost complete reliance on energy revenues, which now came through independent exports via Turkey. The Kurds faced a perfect storm of crises and came through, not unscathed but in one piece. This highlights their great resilience.

The story of how the Kurds eventually united with the Iraqi army against Daesh is instructive. When I visited the Kirkuk frontline in November 2015, I was told that there was no co-ordination, or indeed any communication, between the peshmerga and the Iraqi army. A year later, with western support the two forces concluded a deal to continue to drive Daesh out of Mosul, and I saw for myself the result of that deal last November, both on the road to Mosul and inside Mosul. This unprecedented military partnership came despite the historic bad blood and bad feeling between the Kurds and the Iraqis, which largely exist because of the Iraqi army’s chemical weapons attacks on hundreds of villages and the extermination of nearly 200,000 people in the 1980s.

I will not focus on the moral reasons for airing arguments for Kurdish independence; instead, I will address the strategic gains for the west. Once Daesh is defeated in Mosul and later in Raqqa, the key question is how to prevent any such force re-emerging and how to undermine the ideological and political appeal of such “vile fascism”, as the KRG’s High Representative to the UK, Karwan Jamal Tahir, has put it.

We have to understand why many Sunnis came to believe that Daesh was less awful than Baghdad. Many could not accept the loss of the privileges they had enjoyed under Saddam. Thanks to the Kurds, however, Sunnis joined power-sharing Governments in Baghdad, and their militias and tribes helped to defeat the al-Qaeda insurgency in 2007-08.

However, the immediate consequence of the disastrous American decision to withdraw all its forces, a decision favoured by Maliki, was that Maliki brutally repressed Sunni civil rights protests. Sunnis had seen how badly Shi’a politicians had treated the Kurds and concluded that they themselves could face worse.

The central task now is to eradicate the drivers of Sunni radicalism and protect minorities, who have suffered rape, murder and dispossession by Sunni neighbours, as well as facing the massive cost of reconstruction and the need for a “Marshall plan of the mind” to tackle the deep traumas of those who were raped in their thousands and saw their menfolk slaughtered. The Kurdistanis also need devolved governance.

Already, we see that the old centralising is in contention; and it would be odd—bizarre, even—if the status of Kurdistan was not part of the conversation after Daesh. There are those who say that this is the wrong time, citing internal division in Kurdistan, the starkest symbol of which is the paralysis of its Parliament. I hope that the continuing negotiations, which have involved our diplomats, will resolve the dispute. As candid friends, we must continue to put pressure on the Kurds, so that their Parliament sits again and there is a functioning democracy as quickly as possible.

The state of the economy is another reason why some people say that now is the wrong time for the Kurds to consider, ask for and seek their own independence. However, I take the point made by the Kurdistani leader and former Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, that “if we wait for all the problems to be resolved, we will have to wait forever”.

I commend the reforms of Prime Minister Barzani and Deputy Prime Minister Talabani: aligning revenues with state spending and introducing better forms of identification of the work force, to eliminate double-jobbing and ghost workers. They have much further to go, but statehood could end excuses for neglecting reform and allow access to development funds that are conditional on such reform.

The Kurds reckon that old foes are weaker or amenable to a potential independence deal, agreed with Baghdad. Turkey, Kurdistan’s major trading partner, could see Kurdistan as a major source of secure energy supplies, an interlocutor with the Kurds in Turkey, and a buffer between Turkey, Sunnis and Shi’as. Iran, of course, is resolutely opposed, but it is, thankfully, under intense pressure from America and the Gulf states and has absolutely no right to veto Kurdish independence. Arab-Iraqis adore Kurdistan, as Shimal Habib—the beloved north—thanks to the holidays they have there, enjoying the temperate climate and the hospitality. But Bagdad has refused to treat the Kurdish region fairly or with any good will. As for the bilateral relationship, the Kurds see us as a partner of choice, and the APPG supports a bigger British footprint in Kurdistan.

There are three specific issues I would like the Minister to address in his remarks. The first is the peshmerga. The gallant, brave, wonderful peshmerga are fighting Daesh on the ground, and that helps to secure our own security, freedoms and way of life. One of my most moving visits was when I went to see wounded peshmerga soldiers in Irbil. Many seriously injured soldiers are beyond the capacity of the medical facilities and the health system there, and I have asked two Prime Minister’s questions urging the British Government to supply a small number of beds at Queen Elizabeth hospital Birmingham because, as I am sure we agree, we owe the peshmerga a huge debt of honour and gratitude.

The second matter is visas. The visa application system is a vexed issue and the rejection rate has increased from 55% to 66%. We need up-to-date figures, and I ask the Minister to help with that. Entry clearance officers have perhaps three minutes to examine an application, and any small query means a no. One application was rejected due to a small discrepancy over claimed income, even though exchange rates had moved in the intervening days. Such issues are not clarified because we no longer interview and our diplomats and Ministers can no longer intervene to assert a national interest. We should, of course, police and secure our borders, but we must, looking forward to a post-Brexit world, encourage people to do business and holiday here, and not make it excessively difficult for them to do so.

Thirdly, on bilateral relations, the KRG’s Prime Minister visited the UK in May 2014, and we established a joint committee, which was obviously then overtaken by events. When will the committee begin to function or a new committee be set up? I urge the Government to invite the Prime Minister or the new President of Kurdistan to meet our Prime Minister.

Today’s debate coincides with independence day in the United States. The Kurdish people will decide in their referendum in September whether they, too, want to be an independent state.

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The British debate about Kurdexit

When Daesh menaced Kurdistani cities in 2015, London Mayor Boris Johnson visited British troops training the Peshmerga and was pictured with an AK47 alongside a Peshmerga. He had previously met ‘a dynamic and forward-looking young politician,’ Nechirvan Barzani, ‘the prime minister of the fledgling state of Kurdistan’ and wrote that ‘…we should help because we have a moral duty to that part of the world. It was the British who took the decision in the early Twenties to ignore the obvious ethnic divisions, and not to create a Kurdistan,’ which he described as ‘one of the few bright spots in the Middle East.’

Two years later, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has issued a formal statement on the referendum on Kurdistani independence in September. The text is worth citing in full: ‘We note the announcement by the government of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq regarding a referendum on independence. We understand the aspirations of the Kurdish people and continue to support them politically, culturally and economically within Iraq. But a referendum at this time will distract from the more urgent priorities of defeating Daesh, stabilising liberated areas and addressing the long-term political issues that led to Daesh’s rise. Any referendum or political process towards independence must be agreed with the Government of Iraq in Baghdad. Unilateral moves towards independence would not be in the interests of the people of Kurdistan Region, Iraq or of wider regional stability.’

It adds: ‘The UK supports a stable, democratic and unified Iraq, one that is able to provide the security, jobs and healthcare and education all Iraqis want and deserve. We urge all parties to engage in dialogue to deliver a better future for their people on the basis of the Iraqi Constitution.’
His passionate plea for solidarity and his restatement of the FCO’s One Iraq policy are not in conflict. I suggest analysis of the recent statement falls into three parts: timing, viability, and morality.

The Foreign Secretary says this is not the time given the priority of defeating Daesh and resolving Sunni issues. But the military defeat of Daesh in Mosul is imminent and a referendum in September will not affect that.

Iraq effectively disintegrated three years ago and is a failed state. The Kurds are entitled to decide how to relate to a new Iraq whose governance is up for negotiation. September is a good time for the Kurds to secure a mandate for negotiations with Baghdad. The Kurds agreed to remarry Iraq in 2003 and did their best to make it work but their natural right to self-determination did not expire on its first use.

Viability is not explicitly mentioned in the FCO statement but is a concern. The Kurds have made massive political and economic advances since 1991. They achieved a rapprochement with Turkey, developed their energy sector from scratch, boosted living standards, and transformed their cities. But they are hobbled by major internal differences that resulted in parliament being suspended, and a dysfunctional economy whose deep flaws have been exposed and exacerbated by external crises.

Most parties have endorsed the referendum but some Kurds and friends argue that they should get their house in order before a referendum. Indeed, they should move more quickly. The international community’s patience over the reactivation of parliament is fading and a referendum would be more credible if parliament is restored.

Transforming a top-heavy statist economy with massive reliance on one commodity and boosting private enterprise is widely accepted in theory and practical steps are being taken to reduce the deficit. But no new state is born in perfection and independence could boost reform and allow access to development and capacity-building resources that are denied a sub-sovereign entity. In any case, independence is conceived not as a total rupture but a collaborative process.
As for morality, normative arguments don’t cut the mustard with hard headed ministers and diplomats. Kurds can, however, highlight common strategic interests: that an independent Kurdistani state will remain a good military ally to the West, a buffer between Sunnis and Shias, a reliable source of energy, and a beacon of pluralism and religious tolerance.

The UK and other statements will not stop the Kurds acting as they see fit. Independence has acquired a greater urgency because Iraqi federalism has failed. Sovereignty is the last resort for the Kurds who have spent many decades seeking equality, autonomy, and full federalism.
They got genocide in the second half of the twentieth century and were rescued by the international community. They have suffered economic sabotage by Baghdad since 2014 even when they and the Iraqis together faced an existential threat. Iraq’s failure to stop Daesh capturing its second city of Mosul underlines the Kurdistani fear that Iraq cannot protect them.

The Iraqi and Peshmerga’s unprecedented military co-operation co-exists with Baghdad shirking its responsibilities in helping nearly two million internally displaced people, mostly Iraqi Arabs, who have been welcomed by the KRG, although it has severely strained their resources and capacity.
The dynamics of Iraqi politics are also becoming post-federal as Shia elites want majority rule which means tyranny for minorities, as former Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari told me recently in Kurdistan.

Otherwise, the Kurds and their friends could reasonably urge those who want progress under the Iraqi constitution to help reinstate federalism, and reduce the urgency of Kurdistani sovereignty. It does not seem likely they can persuade Baghdad to do this and the Kurds won’t accept subordination and inequality. They have sacrificed too much blood and treasure. And many Kurds worry that the Islamicisation of Iraq politics will threaten their moderate religiosity and tolerance for different faiths and none.

Furthermore, the treatment of the Kurds by Nouri al Maliki, in particular, is connected to the radicalisation of Sunnis who came to prefer Daesh to Baghdad. If the Kurds, who were long allies of the Shia, can be treated that badly then Sunnis could expect worse.

Brits have warmed to the Kurds thanks to their bravely resisting the common enemy of Daesh. People know a good friend when they see one. Kurdistani diplomacy has assiduously won allies, many of whom see the establishment of an independent state as both deserved and necessary. And the APPG and other political, cultural and commercial bodies have helped promote partnership. Kurdexit is now firmly on the agenda.

Gary Kent is the director of All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). He writes this column for Rudaw in a personal capacity. The address for the all-party group is appgkurdistan@gmail.com.The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.

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