Jack Lopresti MP advocates support for the Peshmerga in the Commons

!2 September

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)

May I ask the Secretary of State why it took a year for us to supply ammunition for the heavy weapons that we supply to the peshmerga in Iraq? Can he assure the House that such delays will never happen again, and that we are doing everything that we possibly can to help the peshmerga in their fight against Daesh?

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon

We have supplied, as my hon. Friend knows, not only heavy machine guns to the peshmerga but ammunition for those heavy machine guns. I announced earlier in the summer a fresh gift from us of ammunition for those heavy machine guns, and I am very pleased to tell him that that ammunition has now arrived and is being used.

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Hilary Benn MP on the Kurdistan Region in the debate on Chilcot

Ectract. The best evidence for the difference that good politics and good governance can make in Iraq is shown by the Kurdish region, which, let us not forget, was as it was partly because of the support we had given it through the no-fly zone. As a result, it is now the most stable and relatively prosperous part of Iraq. I pay tribute, as others have, to the Peshmerga for the role that they have played, and still play, in trying to defeat Daesh.

The Kurds regard the 2003 invasion as a liberation. Karwan Jamal Tahir, the Kurdistan Regional Government representative to the UK, wrote this week about the Chilcot report that “there was an Iraq before the 2003 invasion, an Iraq that, for millions, was a concentration camp on the surface and a mass grave beneath.”

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Support for Peshmerga raised in David Cameron’s final PMQs

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)

Q4. I, too, pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for all the hard work that he has done leading this great country for the past few years. My right hon. Friend’s lasting legacy will include supporting the Kurds whose peshmerga are bravely fighting Daesh in all our interests. Having visited the peshmerga on the frontline, I know that our airstrikes, weapons and training are crucial, but peshmerga injuries could be reduced with additional equipment such as body armour, respirators and front-line medical facilities, and we possibly could provide some beds in our specialist hospital in Birmingham to the most seriously injured. Does he agree that that is a relatively small investment that would make a huge difference to our allies in our common fight to defeat the evil of terrorism?

The Prime Minister

First, I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. He is absolutely right that the Kurds are incredibly brave fighters and are doing valuable work against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. I will look carefully at his suggestion of using the Birmingham hospital. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital has excellent facilities for battlefield casualties. Our Army is already providing medical instruction to the peshmerga to help them deal with the situation, but we will look to see whether more can be done. Let us be frank, the strategy is working. Daesh is on the back foot: it has lost 45% of the territory that it once held in Iraq; its finances have been hit; more than 25,000 Daesh fighters have now been killed; desertion has increased; and the flow of foreign fighters has fallen by 90%. I have always said that this will take a long time to work in Iraq and Syria, but we must stick at it and we must stay the course.

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We have embraced and will continue to fight for the freedom Britain gave us

Guest Column by Karwan Jamal Tahir, Kurdistan Regional Government Representative to the UK

There is much for the UK to think about and examine now that the Chilcot Inquiry has released its findings. However, amidst the media frenzy that followed the publication of the Chilcot report it was forgotten last week that there was an Iraq before the 2003 invasion, an Iraq that, for millions, was a concentration camp on the surface and a mass grave beneath.

I commend the British people for commissioning a major investigation into the invasion and the aftermath. This is a testament to the great democracy this country has. However, as a Kurd who personally lived through the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s regime, I am glad that Saddam and the Baath regime are no more. My father, a Peshmerga freedom fighter who was killed by the regime, dedicated his life to the freedom and self-determination of Kurdistan and democracy for Iraqis as a whole. This story is a familiar one for millions of Kurds, and indeed Shias, whose families, relatives and friends were lost to the brutality of Saddam Hussein and his genocides.

This history is often forgotten in the UK and the West. As a former student in Manchester, I know very well that many British people disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq. But as the Kurds’ representative here in London, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the 179 British soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for us and for the Iraqi people. I also thank their relatives and loved ones and assure them that, as far as the Kurds are concerned, a population that faced extermination under Saddam, their sacrifices were not in vain.

Mr Blair righted all the wrongs of the past: it was the British that denied us an independent state and, along with the rest of the West, supported Saddam during his war with Iran. He completed former Prime Minister John Major’s intervention in 1991, when a no-fly zone was established and saved us from Saddam’s wrath. Removing Saddam in 2003 was the completion of a job half-done in 1991. Britain should be reminded that it is for these reasons the Kurds, who lost more than 200,000 to Saddam and suffered genocide at his hands, including the use of chemical weapons, welcomed Britain and the US with open arms in 2003.

Unlike the rest of Iraq, after 2003 we had more than a decades’ worth of experience in state building and developing institutions. As a result, our region was the most stable part of Iraq after 2003 and, unlike like the rest of Iraq, we did not suffer terrorist atrocities, war and large-scale destruction. This does not mean Saddam was not a threat to us before 2003. We were still beholden to the psychotic whims of Saddam and his sons. Ask Iraq’s Shias, who despite their own no-fly zone in the south, were routinely rounded up by the regime, suffered massacres and indiscriminately attacked; their religious institutions and places of worship were violently suppressed. Long after 1991.

Make no mistake. Saddam is gone. But the threat of terrorism remains. The Baath regime has rebranded itself in the form of so-called Islamic State (Isis). Its most senior members are former Baathists who developed the capacity to butcher and maim decades before we knew Isis as it is today.

Just as we have done for decades, we will continue to combat this terrorist threat, for our freedom but also the West’s. Just as we have done for centuries, we will continue to combat the forces of totalitarianism and facism. Isis represents a terrorist scourge that threatens not just Iraq today but the region, the West and the broader international community. Isis recognises no boundaries, as it has made clear with its recent attacks on the West.

We must learn the lessons of Chilcot but we must not forget that a war is still being fought, that there is an imminent threat to us all. British soldiers need not sacrifice their lives anymore, for our Peshmerga are already fighting, bleeding and dying in this war. We seek financial support, arms, medical supplies and training and intelligence support. We Kurds are grateful for the freedom the 2003 invasion provided us with. We have embraced this freedom and will continue to fight for it.

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Chilcot: comment by KRG High Representative to the UK

“It is a sign of the resilience and confidence of the British people that its government commissioned such a major investigation into its decision to join the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It’s not for me to comment in detail on domestic decision-making but I can say that the Kurds are eternally grateful for the British helping to overthrow Saddam Hussein, who committed genocide against us. I also send the most sincere condolences of the Kurdish people to the relatives and loved ones of the British soldiers who died and to those who were injured. Whatever conclusions are drawn from the Chilcot report, we remain allies of the UK in our joint efforts to defeat the common threat posed to us all by the so-called Islamic State.”

Karwan Jamal Tahir
KRG High Representative to the UK

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Chilcot: the need to hear the voices of Kurds

The release of the report by Sir John Chilcot will trigger an avalanche of comment about the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the occupation. I hope that the views of Kurds are not swept aside.

Most people in Kurdistan and Iraq were very happy that Saddam Hussein was overthrown and captured, although Iraqi President Jalal Talabani rightly refused to sign his death warrant. Saddam should have served life in prison.

Iraqis and Kurds murdered by his regime rarely had that option, and most people suffered under Saddam’s “Republic of Fear.” And for decades Kurds were the most mistreated by the Baathist Party, which proudly looked to German and Italian fascism for inspiration and whose leader also admired Stalin.

Chilcot focuses on the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of 2009. It has to start and finish somewhere but I hope people understand prior and later events. The defeat of Saddam in Kuwait in 1991 was the beginning of the end for Saddam who had deluded himself that invading Kuwait would be acceptable.

Kuwaitis suffered horrendously but an international force evicted him. The Kurds rose up and evicted him too although the years before what most Kurds call the liberation in 2003 were difficult. They were protected every day by British, French and American jets policing the no-fly zone.

In that interregnum Saddam constantly refused to comply with many resolutions of the UN, whose sanctions regime hurt ordinary Iraqis and all Kurds – doubly for the Kurds as Saddam added his own sanctions to those of the UN.

We know he had had WMD, because they were used against the Kurds and Iranian troops, and he acted as if he still had them. That WMD were not found does not excuse his refusal to respect the terms of the ceasefire after the defeat of his aggression in Kuwait. This defiance was viewed differently following the ghastly 911 attacks on America in 2001, not because Saddam was involved although he welcomed the attacks, but because of the danger that an aggressive rogue state could ally itself with jihadists and encourage other attacks.

A common myth about Saddam’s regime is that it remained secular until the end. But he used religion to mobilise support after 1991. From 2003, Baathist military and political leaders joined jihadists in Al Qaeda and now Daesh – the former US political adviser in Iraq, Emma Sky calls this the gathering of the moustaches and the beards. In any case, there was nothing to stop Saddam concluding alliances of convenience with Sunni jihadists. The Nazi-Soviet pact between Hitler and Stalin comes to mind.

The 2003 invasion quickly defeated Saddam’s forces but things clearly went wrong. A common criticism is the occupiers aggravated Sunni Baathists through excessive Debaathification and the disbandment of the army. Some were bound to resist, of course, but the scale could have been avoided.

Baathist rule also incubated sectarian passions which exploded to the surface. Some suggest that overthrowing Saddam was bound to expose these fault lines and should not have been undertaken. As one who rejoiced in the end of this fascistic regime, let me suggest another view. If Saddam – or his psychopathic sons – had survived, as he had over Kuwait, he could have consolidated his power as sanctions further crumbled and his revenues increased.

If Western troops had withdrawn in 2003, supposedly for a short time, would Saddam have felt he was off the hook? In that case, he would probably have tried to continue his efforts to exterminate the Kurds. Any later Western action would have been harder.

We will never know what might have been but Kurds believe Tony Blair and George Bush acted in good faith. The British public wants to learn lessons, but the Kurds’ views about the past and crucially about the future should also be part of the debate that Chilcot will unleash.

Furthermore, whatever Chilcot concludes about the past process of British decision-making and the specific faults of the post-invasion occupation should not mean embracing isolationism and spurning liberal intervention. Some have succeeded and some non-interventions have been disastrous. We can, however, say with certainty that genocide and suffering will sooner or later require the positive role of Britain and others to be deployed to protect people and uphold our interests.

Gary Kent has visited Iraq and Kurdistan over 20 times in the last ten years, is Director of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region and writes in a personal capacity. @garykent

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Peshmerga need British field hospital on the Kurdish frontline

By Karwan Jamal Tahir, Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK

Many British people know who the Peshmerga are and that our female fighters frighten the murderers and rapists of Daesh. I have often heard this in my first year as the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative in this country.

Our Peshmerga are great ambassadors but most importantly they are holding the line against Daesh not just for our people but also for the free world as a whole. The very name of the Peshmerga is based on bravery as it is Kurdish for “those who face death.” Nearly 1,500 Peshmerga have been killed and more than 8,000 have been injured.

But less well known is that many of our Peshmerga are needlessly dying from injuries of the sort that British soldiers have routinely survived for decades. Injuries can soon prove lethal if not tackled in the first golden hour but that’s harder on the frontline. By the time a Peshmerga reaches a city hospital, it is often too late to save them and we need frontline medical facilities that British and other Western soldiers take for granted.

But we’re struggling economically to cope with the war. Not only are we defending a 650 mile border against Daesh but we are also looking after nearly two million people who have fled from Daesh and sought shelter in Kurdistan. There will be more people fleeing as Mosul nears its liberation after two years of Daesh rule. And the oil revenues we depended on have been shot to pieces.

I recently briefed MPs from the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region, which has been a valued friend for a decade. MPs visited the frontline with me in Kirkuk last year and saw for themselves what the Peshmerga are up against.

The MPs have agreed to urge the British government to lend us a helping hand to reduce Peshmerga deaths and help the seriously injured. Colonel Bob Stewart, who fully understands frontline life as the former British Commander in Bosnia, is is asking the government to provide field surgical teams for the Peshmerga. Labour’s Ian Austin has asked the Defence Secretary to assess the merits of providing a British field hospital.

They could save Peshmerga but over 7,000 have already been injured and many have lost limbs. We don’t have the specialist facilities to adequately help amputees. Bob Stewart, who is also a senior member of the Defence Select Committee, is urging British ministers to provide some seriously injured Peshmerga with specialist treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham. Its professional staff were crucial to helping British soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I know the UK is doing much to help us already. Your airstrikes have been and remain invaluable, as do your intelligence and reconnaissance, training, demining and heavy machine guns with armour-piercing ammunition. But the medical assistance urged by MPs on both sides of the Commons is also vital. An appeal for all these measures is contained in a cross-party Commons motion tabled by Labour MP Mary Glindon.

We are doing our best to reform our economy so we can look after our people in an age in which oil and gas revenues can no longer cover our needs. But we face an immediate emergency in caring for our Peshmerga.

America has recently given us substantial supplies of equipment and funds to pay our Peshmerga too – our economic crisis means they have not been paid for months. They fight without pay because the war against Daesh is about our very existence against a monstrous foe that also targets the West and Britain, as many British people recognise.

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Minutes of the AGM of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. Monday 6 June 2016.

Present. Jason McCartney MP, Bob Stewart MP, Stephen Metcalfe MP, Lord Clement-Jones, Stephen Hepburn MP, Mary Glindon MP.

Also in attendance, Karwan Jamal Tahir and Khasro Ajgayi (KRG), Gary Kent, and Nicole Piche.

Apologies: Lord Bew, Mike Gapes MP, Henry Smith MP, Lord Glasman, Nadhim Zahawi MP, Dave Anderson MP, John Woodcock MP, Lady Hodgson, Jack Lopresti MP, and Ian Austin MP.
Election of officers. All officers were re-elected.

The KRG High Representative to the UK, Karwan Jamal Tahir and the Director, Gary Kent briefed the meeting on the current situation in the Kurdistan Region.

It was agreed to use parliamentary avenues to urge the British Government to increase medical facilities for the Peshmerga.

It was agreed we should aim to send a delegation to the Kurdistan Region in the November recess, perhaps with Canadian and American parliamentarians.

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Impact of new US visa rules on the Kurdistan Region

Orthopaedic and trauma surgeon Professor Deiary Kader has recruited many scrubs, nurses, physiotherapists, and surgeons into the Newcastle-Gateshead Medical Volunteers.

They use a week of their own holidays to do back-to-back operations for Kurds who have often waited decades for new knees and hips. They have put scores of Kurds back on their own two feet.

Dozens of NHS professionals from Newcastle have visited the Kurdistan Region over many years to perform life-changing operations but that may be unintentionally jeopardised by new American visa rules.

The American authorities have this year introduced a new rule that foreign citizens who have visited Iraq since 2011 are no longer automatically eligible for visa free travel stateside. The rule also applies to Iran, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

Those who have visited these countries can seek exemption if they show their visits were for governments, humanitarian bodies, the media, and legitimate business purposes. Some will probably buy a ten year visa but both require an interview. The cost of the visa and travelling to London and back counts for low paid workers.

The new rule was passed by Congress, although the measure troubles the US Administration, which seems to have decided not to veto it during election year.

Professor Kader said: “The problem is not only inconvenience but that it could also discourage people from going to Kurdistan. Let’s say you’re a nurse who wants to lend a hand but you don’t have to go to Kurdistan. You work out that going will make it harder to holiday or honeymoon in America and it could chill the desire to go to Kurdistan.”

But, he added, “Kurdistan is a solid ally of America and the West and doing us a massive service in fighting the so-called Islamic State – Daesh. The Kurds want Westerners to take holidays there (small numbers for now), and play many vital useful roles from boosting health care, teaching in one of their many universities, or winning business contracts.”

British parliamentarians from across the political spectrum have tabled a Commons motion pointing out these pitfalls and appealing to Washington to review and repeal the new rule.

The Kurdistan Region has, with Western airstrikes and military assistance, secured its borders against Daesh. It also seems to be turning the corner on the huge economic crisis caused by the Daesh assault and an influx of nearly two million refugees and displaced people. It is also seeking to live within its revenues, which have been reduced by plunging oil prices.

The Kurdistan Regional Government is increasing human capacity in its universities and governance as well as unlocking the potential in the private sector but this requires an influx of external expertise and investment.

Professor Kader comments: “Anything that blocks or complicates foreign involvement will make that Kurdish and Western goal harder. It seems as if the American left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

Friends of the Kurdistan Region say that America scrapping the new visa rule would indicate a new understanding and urgency in helping the Kurds stand on their own two feet without one hand needlessly tied behind their backs.

Gary Kent

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The AGM of the group is at 5pm on Monday 6 June in W2 at the Commons.

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