Robert Halfon MP marks the 30th anniversary of Halabja and the Anfal Genocide

Thirty years ago this week thousands of Kurds were murdered by Saddam Hussein’s mustard gas and sarin in the town of Halabja. It’s also the 30th anniversary of the wider “Anfal” Genocide across Kurdistan in which up to 200,000 people were killed and thousands of villages razed to the ground.

At the entrance to the cemetery in Halabja with its mass graves, with many still unidentified bodies, there is a defiant sign saying “Baath not allowed.” This refers to the party of Saddam, who decided to eliminate the Kurds as a people.

I saw this after taking part in a Commons debate which formally recognised Saddam’s attacks as genocide. As with other genocides, we all argued that recognition is a vital part of ensuring “Never Again” means something, although it wasn’t long before the Baathist regime of Syrian President Assad used chemical weapons there.

The Kurds in Iraq picked up the pieces after Anfal and looked after the maimed, mentally impaired, widowed and orphaned. They also rebuilt their shattered villages but have not yet recovered their full agricultural potential as the breadbasket of Iraq.

They also opened museums to document Saddam’s toxic mixture of Hitlerism and Stalinism including the Red House Museum in Slemani which I will never set foot in again. Its recreation of torture chambers, rape rooms, incinerators for babies, and the later genocide against the Yezedis is graphic and would make me ill. The Kurds are people who learn from the past but don’t live in the past.

The Kurds also managed to create a largely decent near-state which aspires to democracy – with recent backward steps that are now being remedied. Their political DNA enthusiastically extols religious pluralism, secularism, women’s rights, and a more dynamic economy to replace their state-heavy and overly oil-dependent economy. The Kurdistan Region has been steadily turning itself into a beacon of moderation in the Middle East, which needs such examples of co-existence.

And their army, the Peshmerga proved to be resilient allies despite chronic under-equipping. Iraq as a whole would not now be largely free of the scourge of the fascistic and genocidal Isis if the Kurds and their Peshmerga had run away, as sadly the Iraqi Army did as Isis took Mosul and then advanced towards Kirkuk and Baghdad and later the Kurdistan Region itself. The Peshmerga did so much at so much cost to resist and then roll back the so-called Islamic State by offering to work with the Iraqi Army which had genocided them before.

Thanks to this, the Kurds were widely hailed but are now in a perilous and diminished position thanks to the distinctly ungrateful and mean policies of Baghdad. While the Kurds are not currently facing genocide they are effectively imprisoned by a new government in Baghdad whose methods reek of the centralising and sectarian playbook of pre-genocide Saddam.

Following years of broken Iraqi promises to a federal settlement with equality and fair revenue sharing, the Kurds clearly endorsed independence in a peaceful referendum last year and wanted to negotiate that with Baghdad over several years, rather than declaring immediate UDI.

Baghdad’s reaction was swift, harsh, violent, and unconstitutional. Kurdish airports were closed and remain shut five long months later. The agreed Kurdish share of national revenues is being whittled down in a spiteful attempt to twist the knife and keep the Kurds in a subordinate position. It is hardly the hallmark of a government willing to treat the Kurds equally and persuade them to remain part of Iraq. One day, the Kurds will escape and they will have my full support so they can themselves defend their people, prevent further genocide, and encourage reform in the Middle East.

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Churchill, Major, Blair, and Anglo/Kurdish relations

Debate on Kurdish rights once more took place in the Commons this week with a brief debate at short notice on the recent Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) report on what the FAC Chairman, Tom Tugendhat called “an important aspect of our foreign policy that, sadly, has often been overlooked by the United Kingdom for many years: the aspiration of the Kurdish people.”

Asked about the UK’s long involvement in Kurdish affairs, Tugendhat acknowledged that it had not all been pretty. Conservative MP Philip Hollobone asked “Is not the truth about the Kurds that British foreign policy towards them has been wrong for about 100 years? They were abandoned by us in 1918, we ignored them in the treaty of Versailles, and the problem has persisted ever since. Is it not true that, without the Kurds, ISIS would not have been defeated?”

Tugendhat was commendably candid in telling Hollobone that he “is absolutely right,” and detailing: Britain’s historical involvement: “We must not forget the air policing, as it was then called. The then Colonial Secretary, one Winston Churchill, was the first person to use chemical weapons against the Kurds. Indeed, it was the RAF that dropped them. One reason that the RAF still exists is that it cut the cost of colonial policing by reducing the number of battalions required. I am afraid that that is true—we do not always have a glorious history.”

But Tugendhat also made the point about the positive experience of the no fly zone initiated by John Major from 1991 and that “the truth is that our role today is as a peacemaker and as an engaged friend of the whole region. In that, we should recognise that the Kurdish people have the right to self-determination, and we do recognise that, but we should encourage them to stay as part of the Republic of Iraq in the areas where they are within Iraq. Many witnesses we spoke to said that, although the referendum had called for independence, they were looking for greater autonomy within the Republic of Iraq, so there is more tension within the Kurdish position than appears immediately obvious.” I would add that Tony Blair deserves praise for helping to oust Saddam Hussein in 2003.

APPG Chairman, Jack Lopresti MP, who was unable to attend the debate, later said: “I would have commended the report in acknowledging the fears and views of many Kurds in Iraq but would have asked for more passionate pressure from the FAC for the need to persuade Baghdad to lift its restrictions on Kurdistan. As one who has been lucky enough to visit Kurdistan three times in recent years, I would praise the efforts of the Peshmerga, which was vital in defeating Daesh. I would also have highlighted the outrageous ban by Baghdad, for no constitutional or safety reasons, on flights to and from Kurdistan. It is unacceptable that this blockade has lasted for five months and I very much hope it will be lifted well before Newroz on 21 March. I know it is very difficult for many Kurds to use Baghdad to get in and out of the country and the damage is being done to those who need medical treatment, want to see relatives, and to do commerce. Unless it mends it ways and soon, Baghdad is proving the case for independence when a more far-sighted leadership should be asking what it can do to encourage Kurds to stay in Iraq as equals, and with the comprehensive implementation of the Iraqi constitution.”

I think that there is insufficient awareness that Iraq does not seem to have good intentions towards the Kurdistan Region. It cannot be said enough that there would not have been a referendum if Iraq had complied with its compact to uphold federalism which the Kurds made absolutely clear before rejoining Iraq and since was the condition of their staying.

The parameters of the discussion are often still confined to the need for what Tugendhat stressed was “supporting the autonomy of the people of the Kurdish region is important, but so is supporting the Iraqi Government’s right to territorial integrity.” But what is done when these imperatives clash. Merely asserting two conflicting rights in this case gives moral equivalence to the jailer and the prisoner: Iraq and Kurdistan. Yet the Commons debate shows there is much goodwill towards the idea that the Kurds deserve better treatment and that needs to be built upon.

The full debate is at https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-02-22/debates/18E4F28D-EE09-47D2-8D00-AF8FDEE0CF45/ForeignAffairsCommittee

Gary Kent is Secretary of the APPG but this is his personal view.

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UK MPs recognise “many Kurds feel imprisoned” in Iraq

“Many Kurds feel imprisoned in a country that they see as not implementing its commitments of equality to them. The FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] must therefore (my emphasis) press for these commitments to be fulfilled. The FCO should press the government of Iraq to lift the restrictions placed on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq after the referendum” and “relations between Baghdad and the KRI are now at an historic low, and the risk of fighting was described to us as being high.”

These observations are made in the report of the five month long inquiry by the influential Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) into Kurdish aspirations and the interests of the UK. The cross-party report also analyses the situation in Syria and Turkey, where it says “the FCO’s view is currently incoherent,” and which deserves separate attention.

On the Kurdistan Region, the report further observes that “the overwhelming vote in favour of independence was a manifestation of deep frustration and dissatisfaction with the KRI’s place in Iraq,” and that restrictions imposed by Baghdad “will inevitably be seen as punitive, and collectively so.” It says when these restrictions are combined with the role of the Shia militias connected with Iran in confronting the Kurds they “are only likely to encourage the Kurds on the path to departure rather than integration.”

It makes several recommendations that, if implemented by the British government, could boost the UK’s role in defending and advancing the interests of the Kurds. This is also seen as a British interest and the report quotes UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who told the FAC that “we owe a great debt to the Peshmerga for their bravery and sacrifice. What they are doing is on behalf of all of us. That is why instinctively we are so supportive of the Kurds and their aspirations—the KRG.”

The FAC accepts the ministerial view that the UK cannot mediate on a sovereign matter but concludes that “The FCO should offer itself alongside international partners in an enhanced role of facilitating dialogue, and should secure the backing and support of the wider international community to play such a role,” given that “different interpretations of the constitution are raising tensions and risking conflict.”

The report caveats this with “if desired” by Baghdad but says it would be “an offer from a sincere and concerned ally that has a long history of close ties and cooperation with both sides and a shared interest in preventing conflict. The FCO should also secure the backing and support of the wider international community to play such a role.”

The report highlights Middle East Minister Alistair Burt’s point about the UK using its diplomatic influence, “as we have been trying to in the region for some time, to point to those areas where conflict might arise, and to offer advice about how conflict might be scaled back and about institution building, non-sectarianism and things that can be done to prevent communities feeling excluded or being pushed towards an area of conflict […]. In future, I think that that will be a more important role in the region for the United Kingdom than anything else.”

The report says disputes in the different Kurdistans can only be resolved locally but urges the FCO to “support meaningful political participation and representation for Kurds, as well as cultural recognition, equal rights, and economic opportunities for them, underpinned by national constitutions and achieved through negotiation, as a means of fulfilling Kurdish aspirations. It is not in the UK’s interests for any state to deny Kurdish identity through law or force. It is likewise not in the UK’s interests for Kurdish groups to seek their goals through violence or unilateral moves.”

The MPs also make a useful suggestion that the UK “should supply and encourage others to provide capacity-building courses and training that equip KRI policy-makers and others with the greater ability to promote political reform and economic reform and diversification.”

The MPs endorse the FCO’s long-standing One Iraq approach but complain that the FCO has not adequately addressed the behaviour of Baghdad and internal Kurdish problems. It asks the FCO to “not shy away” but set out assessments of the role of Shia militias in retaking disputed territories such as Kirkuk, whether reports of crimes being committed by them are credible, and how much Iran supports, or controls, these militias. Given that the role of the Shia militias and Iran was obscured in and after the attack on Kirkuk, this could usefully redress the balance of blame for the Iraqi reaction to the peaceful referendum.

The report also says “The FCO must be prepared to criticise both Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurds when criticism is due,” and urges the FCO to explain its view of and response to what it describes as corruption and the monopolisation of power or curtailment of democracy in Kurdistan. Corruption, it adds, is a serious problem in Iraq in general, and risks impeding reconstruction.

The report argues that such criticism should be part of an effort to achieve not only a dialogue between leaders, but a positive interaction between people on both sides to turn—as far as possible—mutual suspicion into a shared belief that they can all benefit from being diverse regions of a united country.

My written evidence argued that the referendum did not justify Iraqi violence but the Iraqi violence justifies eventual independence. This is not on the agenda for now but it would have been better if the FAC had examined tensions between self-determination and supporting the status quo.

After all, the UK put the Kurds in Iraq in the first place and against their will and they have suffered ever since apart from one decade after the overthrow of Saddam. I have previously praised the Estonian Parliament’s motion on the Erbil-Baghdad dispute which affirms that “…it respects the territorial integrity of the Republic of Iraq, as long as preserving it will not bring along violent suppression of the human and political rights of the Kurdish minority in Iraq.” That could have been usefully recognised by the FAC.

There is also much “he said, she said” in surveying the evidence conflicting from bodies as varied as the KRG, the Iraqi Embassy, the KDP, and Gorran. Oddest was the noted contrast between Kurds denouncing the closure of the airports as a blockade while the FCO dispassionately said Baghdad had “closed Kurdish airspace to inbound and outbound international flights”. Our friends, the Kurds, deserve more passion and calling a spade a spade but despite that there is enough in the report to expose the shameful treatment of the Kurds to a wider audience.

The FAC report is less substantial than the one released by a previous FAC in 2015, but that took a year, involved visits to Iraq and Kurdistan, and focused exclusively on UK-KRG relations, while this was involved no visits, and also examined other Kurdistans.

The FAC report can only recommend actions to the Government, which will respond within two months. It won’t automatically change British policy or Baghdad’s bullying but at least shows they are being watched carefully. The Kurds currently in Iraq can take criticism on the chin and it should prompt continuing and thorough economic and political reform, but Baghdad’s vindictive and punitive imprisonment of Kurds cannot be evaded.

* The full report is at https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/foreign-affairs-committee/news-parliament-2017/kurdish-aspirations-report-published-17-19/

Gary Kent writes in a personal capacity.

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British Lords recount experiences in Kurdistan and urge British action

The British government this week came under pressure from several parliamentarians in the House of Lords who have visited Kurdistan and Iraq to detail its strategy for protecting religious and ethnic minorities there.

The debate was opened by the Bishop of Coventry who highlighted the mixed blessings faced by Christians hounded out of Mosul by Daesh, who then returned to celebrate mass but find the city is still not safe enough for them to return permanently.

The Bishop argued that military victory over Daesh is only the first step to its defeat: unless the causes of the violence are rooted out, it will return and minorities will be the first victims. The UK has a moral responsibility and a strategic interest in a stable and flourishing Iraq because “Daesh might be like a Hydra, with heads surfacing across the world, but if it could be fatally wounded in the country of its birth, it would be starved of vital sources of energy, morale and inspiration.” And protecting minorities is critical to a secure and politically stable Iraq.

He cited the need for reconstruction of cities and villages accompanied by social reconstruction, which requires rebuilding trust based on security. He quoted an Assyrian priest from Duhok: “We may not be able to restore the Christian demography that we had in the past but we can preserve for the future a presence and role for the Christian community in our society so that through our schools, our skills and our hospitals we can serve all the people of this land”.

Other Lords who have visited Kurdistan weighed in. Former foreign minister, Baroness Anelay highlighted the need for public trust in a unified, independent and sovereign Iraqi state and asked the minister to assess the likelihood of resolving historic differences between Erbil and Baghdad consistent with the Iraqi constitution

Labour’s Lord Glasman, a vice-chair of the APPG on Kurdistan, recalled his visit to the church of the red stone in Kirkuk where the congregation still speak Aramaic and highlighted the steady historical decimation of Christian and Jewish communities in Iraq. He described “the rupture of trust” among refugees he met in Erbil who had been told they could return home but “Not one moved…because…their neighbours had attacked them. They were subjected to murder, their homes were taken by their neighbours and they felt no security.”

He concluded that the UK should continue to support the KRG in the solidarity that they are providing these refugees and expressed concern about Iraqi military activities and the suppression of the Kurdish language in Kirkuk.

Conservative Baroness Hodgson, who was an APPG observer of the independence referendum, focused on the Kurds as the largest ethnic minority in Iraq. She recalled her visit to the Red House museum in Slemani, which shows the grimly ingenious means used to rape, torture and murder.

She outlined lessons from her visit to Kurdistan. Kirkuk would have fallen to Daesh if the Peshmerga had not immediately reinforced their positions, and security was improved under Kurdistani control. Baghdad’s withholding of federal fiscal transfers to the KRG in 2014 caused great problems and sparked calls for an independence referendum. She said Kurds “told us that they felt that there was never going to be a ‘right time’ but insisted the referendum would not mean an immediate declaration of independence, but rather negotiation with Baghdad to start state building.”

She told the Lords that “Many we met were bewildered by the lack of UK and western support for their referendum. I was told that they always felt that we were talking about democracy and that they were trying to exercise their right to self-determination.”

She urged the government “to recognise that the situation in Iraq has not been satisfactory for the Kurds,” and that Kurds need to defend themselves from “roaming Shia militia, every bit as brutal as Daesh.” She stressed that “whether the Baghdad Government or the KRG controls the disputed territories, they are still disputed territories that require the implementation of the article of the Iraqi constitution to hold censuses and then referendums so the people can decide whether they wish to be part of the Kurdistan region.”

She praised pluralism in Kurdistan, which provides “sanctuary to very many Christians who live there peacefully and practice their faith without hindrance, as I saw for myself when I visited St Joseph’s Cathedral in Erbil.”

Baghdad, she said, has shown no signs of wanting to help re-establish a better relationship with the KRG but she was pleased the UK has joined France, Germany and the USA in encouraging dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad. She concluded that “just doing nothing and allowing the present crisis for the Kurds to simmer for years will damage them in the long term and deprive Iraq and the world of a potentially dynamic and reforming country that has done so much to stabilise and improve Iraq, protect religious minorities and resist Daesh.”

Baroness Goldie, for the government, said it is “encouraging dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil to ensure they put the relationship on to a sustainable long-term footing, and we are doing everything we can to encourage the resolving of differences.”

The powerful personal testimony of parliamentarians who have seen Kurdistan for themselves will not change government policy or public opinion overnight but an accumulation can keep the issue on what is always a crowded agenda.

Gary Kent. Personal capacity.

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The growing case for Kurdish statehood

Baghdad has closed Kurdistan’s airports to international flights, a ban that has just been extended despite its impact on commerce and medical treatment for all Kurds, writes Jack Lopresti MP

Letters. Guardian. 16 January 2018

Your report (UK ‘inadvertently helped neuter’ its Iraqi Kurdish allies, 8 January) is a timely reminder that our vital Kurdish allies start the new year with the same old blockade-and-punish mentality in Baghdad, encouraged and assisted by the Iranian regime for its own malevolent purposes. Newspapers that once hailed the contribution of the Kurds to defeating Daesh (Isis) largely ignore the fact, for instance, that Baghdad has closed Kurdistan’s airports to international flights, a ban that has just been extended despite its obvious impact on commerce and medical treatment for all Kurdish people. I observed their independence referendum last year with an open mind but Baghdad is doing much to convince me and others that it spurns a federal Iraq of equals, and that eventual statehood may best suit both Kurds and Iraq.

Jack Lopresti MP (Conservative)

Chairman, APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq

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Why the UK Consulate-General changed its Facebook designation

The recent redesignation of the British Consulate-General’s Facebook title from the British Consulate General in the Kurdistan Region to the British Consulate General Erbil worried some Kurds given Iraqi efforts to downgrade the officially recognised Kurdistan Region. APPG Chairman Jack Lopresti MP tabled a written parliamentary question seeking clarification from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

Respected Middle East Minister Alistair Burt’s answer, for the record, was: ‘The British Consulate General in Erbil has not changed its name. Its Facebook page was recently changed from a monolingual (English) to a bilingual (English and Kurdish) version. Subsequently, the Kurdish name on the site was shortened as the previous title exceeded the maximum allowed characters in Kurdish. The British Consulate General in Erbil has informed local media and officials of the change.’ The question confirms that the reasons for redesignation were mundane and understandable but also elicited further confirmation that ‘the British Government continues to support the security, stability and prosperity of the Kurdistan Region within a unified Iraq.’

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Importance of invitation to Kurdistan Region leaders

Theresa May has had a lot on her hands but has found time to help resolve the standoff between two important allies, the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and the federal government in Baghdad.

May is inviting the Kurdistani Prime Minister to Downing Street for talks next year. Nechirvan Barzani has been before but this will be the first such meeting with a British Prime Minister. Its importance is further lifting Baghdad’s blockade on Kurdistani leaders meeting international allies.

Baghdad has banned international flights to and from Kurdistan. Barzani recently managed to use the land route through Turkey to visit the French President in Paris. But the German Foreign Minister was denied permission to visit the capital, Erbil after official meetings in Baghdad. Such obstructiveness flows from Baghdad’s fierce reaction to a referendum in September seeking eventual and negotiated independence from Iraq.

The Kurds are stuck between competing international relations doctrines and ambiguities in the Iraqi constitution. The theory of international relations in various UN declarations favours self-determination but the practice privileges existing sovereign states.

The Iraqi constitution says Iraq is a free union of peoples including Arabs and Kurds. But it also says the federal government should protect the country’s territorial integrity and uphold the federal constitution.

It was flagrant flouting of many federal provisions that forced Kurds to seek statehood. Even the Iraqi supreme court that pronounced the referendum as constitutional is not part of the same constitution. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledges that the Iraqi constitution has never been fully implemented.

The Kurds voted clearly for statehood but the Iraqi government, in league with Iran, took unconstitutional action to compel surrender of their desire to leave. Given Kurdistan is landlocked they got their way.

The worry is that Baghdad leaders are acquiring a taste for strongman actions that are feathers in the cap for the current Iraqi Prime Minister, keen to prevent harder-line Shia politicians from ousting him in elections next year.

The UK and the US urged the Kurds to defer their ambitions with a promise of structured negotiations and a possible internationally supported referendum in two years. The Kurds went ahead and have at least established in this generation the widespread desire for statehood. It’s off the table now and the KRG accepts that. But Baghdad has so far refused all pleas for dialogue and international mediation.

The British PM treads a delicate and diplomatic line on this but Kurds are buoyed by her invitation. Its basis is that Iraq is indivisible but May also says the UK will continue to fight to protect the identity and rights of the Kurdish people under the Iraqi constitution. May also says the UK will continue to encourage reform to strengthen Kurdistan’s institutions and deliver for the Kurdish people.

This invitation bolsters the Kurds whose decent, democratically-minded, and pluralist instincts have long made us a respected ally. My hope is that their airports are re-opened before Barzani leaves for Downing Street.

This article by APPG Secretary Gary Kent is in a personal capacity

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Cross-party Commons motion backs UK Prime Minister’s invitation to KRG leaders

Early day motion 684
PRIME MINISTER’S INVITATION TO THE PRIME MINISTER OF THE KURDISTAN REGION

Session: 2017-19
Date tabled: 13.12.2017
Primary sponsor: Lopresti, Jack

Total number of signatures: 6
Austin, Ian Blackman, Bob Bottomley, Peter Glindon, Mary
Halfon, Robert Lopresti, Jack

That this House congratulates the Prime Minister on her decision to invite the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq to London; believes that the UK is well-placed, thanks to its history with Iraq and Kurdistan and the respect for the UK there, to encourage much needed dialogue on all outstanding issues between the Kurdish Regional Government and the federal Government in Iraq, based on the full implementation of the Iraq constitution whose neglect in recent years underpinned the Kurdistani decision to hold a referendum on eventual and negotiated independence; welcomes the Prime Minister’s commitment that the UK would continue to fight to protect the identity and rights of the Kurdish people under the Iraqi constitution and the UK’s continued support for the Kurdistan Region and Kurdish people within a unified Iraq, while urging continued reform in the political, economic and security sectors to strengthen Kurdistan’s institutions and deliver for the Kurdish people; and wishes the very best for the visit by Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani.

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The Kurds are down but far from out. A personal view

Kurds seeking independence did not justify Iraqi violence but Iraqi violence now justifies Kurds seeking independence. The needlessly harsh Iraqi reaction clarifies the stakes for the world to see if it were paying any great attention.

The referendum was a long time coming. For most of the time I have visited Kurdistan since 2006, independence was on the backburner and they made Iraq work while insisting they would only stay if Iraq remained federal.

Baghdad never fully accepted equality but was relatively weak and the Kurds had a state in all but name. But the game was up when Iraq unilaterally cut Kurdish budget payments and lost a third of the country to Isis in 2014.

A desperate Kurdish people sought to escape a loveless Iraq. The referendum was not a unilateral declaration of independence but the beginning of the bargaining. Self-determination is rarely consensual but the Kurds gave it a try.

Baghdad could have responded politically but instead blockaded international flights – I took one of the last flights out – and then used violence as a first resort in which 60 Peshmerga were killed.

A sophisticated Iraqi Ambassador once said that Iraq should emulate Switzerland, which keeps its neighbours at bay and its different ethnic groups together. But Baghdad’s instinct is centralisation.

On the day of the referendum, I saw joyful crowds in their best and colourful clothes enthusiastically voting in Erbil, Kirkuk and Slemani where the celebratory tracer gun fire was thankfully going the other way.

International observers joined the Kurdish governor of Kirkuk for lunch at his mansion, once the home of Saddam Hussein’s notorious general, Chemical Ali who organised multiple mustard gas attacks against Kurds.

Weeks later Shia militia broadcast triumphalist videos insulting Kurds from the same offices with pictures of Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei in the background. They trampled on the Kurdish flag and the Iraqi commander stopped the police chief speaking Kurdish in a country where Kurdish and Arabic are official languages. The governor was whisked away to safety. 160,000 Kurds also fled from Kirkuk and elsewhere since the Iraqi attacks.

Iraq will ‘keep’ Kurdistan for now but any internal settlement should respect their rights in the Iraqi constitution, long neglected and the cause of the Kurdish attempt to secure statehood. Any deviation from the constitution makes living together untenable in the long term.

If Baghdad continues down the road of punishment, strangulation, and possibly partition of the officially recognised Kurdistan Region, many Kurds will conclude that next time it will be ‘no more Mister Nice Guy.’

Young Kurds who don’t speak Arabic and don’t identify with Iraq will not bow the knee to a sectarian and more corrupt politics that despises their progressive policies and wants, for instance, to ban alcohol and reduce the age of sexual consent and marriage to 9.

Independence may have been forcibly taken off the agenda for a decade or a generation but the impulse remains strong. The problem is that Kurdistan is stuck between competing international relations doctrines of respecting the sovereignty of current members of the UN club and also upholding the right to self-determination.

British and American diplomats tried to avert the referendum with an alternative based on supporting dialogue with Baghdad and a referendum if that didn’t work out in a year or two. Sadly, the final offer was only delivered hours before the referendum. There was no guarantee that Baghdad would play ball and it seems likely they wanted to cut the Kurds down to size anyway.

Kurds feel abandoned by the world, despite their courage in defeating our common enemy Isis, but must get their act together for the next phase in the long struggle for freedom. They may be out of sight but should not be out of our minds in the dark days they are enduring. The Kurds are down but far from out.

This article appears in the Newcastle Journal on 11 November 2017. Gary Kent is the Secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and writes in a personal capacity @garykent

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Kurdistan in Prime Minister’s Questions on 1 November

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)

Last month I was in the Kurdistan region of Iraq—I refer the House to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—where I saw people’s enthusiasm for independence and a fresh dialogue with Baghdad. The subsequent military actions against the peshmerga by Iranian-backed militia and the Iraqi army are wholly unjust and completely unacceptable. Will the Prime Minister accept that the peshmerga and the Kurdistan region, to whom we owe so much both for resisting Daesh when the Iraqi army dumped their weapons and ran and for helping to keep our own streets safe, remain vital to our security? Will she do all she can to encourage a resolution based on full respect for the Iraqi constitution and the democratic will of the Kurdish people?

The Prime Minister

It is right that we are working with our international partners in the region to defeat Daesh together with the global coalition. Daesh is losing territory. The action being taken is having an impact on it; its finances have been hit, its leadership is being killed and its fighters are demoralised. But we do want to see political reconciliation in Iraq and a political settlement to the Syria conflict to deny Daesh safe space and prevent its re-emergence. My hon. Friend raises a particular point about Iraq and the Kurdistan region. The Government have always been clear that any political process towards independence should be agreed with the Government of Iraq. We want political reconciliation in Iraq and we have been urging all parties to promote calm, to pursue dialogue and to take this issue forward through dialogue.

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