How the Kurds might win their independence

On the day of the centenary of the Sykes-Picot agreement this week, the Kurdish Rudaw media network (for which I write a weekly column) asked me if David Cameron would advance the independence of Kurdistan. I suggested this was the wrong approach.

Britain and other great powers will not create a new Kurdish state. It may be seen as making up for imposing borders nearly a century back but Britain should not do that, even if it seems the better thing to do. Great powers value order and won’t proactively set precedents that could be emulated in places where volatility and violence would result. The President of the Catalonian Region was recently in London but emphatically not to canvass for independence which he considers to be an internal matter with Madrid.

Great powers are more likely to react to fait accomplis as in Kosovo and Croatia. The Kurds currently in Iraq (just) would find it easier to win eventual support for independence by continuing to resist and combat the common enemy of Daesh, and by pursuing thorough reform to ready their society for all possible futures – revived Iraqi federalism (improbable), independence, or confederation.

Kurdish success in driving Daesh out of Kurdistani lands speaks for itself as do comparisons with the failures of the Iraqi security forces, and the bloodthirstiness of the Shia militia. There has been a real effort spearheaded by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to reform the economy and a wider belief that the slump in oil prices has been a blessing in disguise. Oil prices above $100 would prevent creative moves to diversify the economy and further democratise Kurdistan. It would not be fit for purpose, let alone independence.

It is self-evident to me that after a century of misery and a decade of failed federalism in Iraq Kurds in Iraq need sovereignty. It is seen as fundamental to their survival in allowing them to borrow on international markets, buy arms, and attract assistance for rejuvenating their economy and turning quantity into quality in everything from education to governance. It will be instructive to see if the Kurdistan Region gets its fair share of the recently announced $5 billion loan from the IMF to Iraq.

But it’s also clear that Baghdad and Erbil must boost security co-operation in the immediate fight against Daesh as well as agree a raft of longer term agreements on the economy and natural resources such as water, as well as auditing and fairly dividing assets accrued commonly over decades.

The Kurds have to make their own pitch to those who matter most – leaders and people in Baghdad. Turkey and Iran also count considerably for a landlocked country. If that is achieved then external recognition will follow. America and Britain would stay their hand and not be the first in the field to recognise the new state. Turkey might be in the first few to do so.

And there are signs that leaders in Baghdad can also see that an amicable divorce is best. The Iraqi Oil Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi told a Kurdistan Independence Conference in Slemani this week that “People of Kurdistan have faced oppression and have been forced to confront others. I personally support aspirations of the Kurdish nation but its steps have to be pre-planned and they should know how they are taking the steps.”

Such words should be built upon. The KRG Prime Minister wishes to open up direct talks with Baghdad about how to manage the transition to break-up. There is much to discuss. One of the most vexed questions is the status of disputed territories such as Kirkuk. The southern borders need to be agreed, excluding potential revanchist hot spots if necessary, or they will be bloody borders for generations to come.

Talk of a referendum this Autumn on independence has faded. Domestic politics are in a holding pattern with a greater priority being given to defending Kurdistan and assisting, probably next year, in the drive to expel Daesh from Mosul.

It also seems likely that the process of overcoming internal divisions will pick up after the scheduled parliamentary elections in 2017. My guess is that an independence referendum, following referenda in disputed territories on whether they join the Kurdistan Region, will take place then or in 2018, both after the defeat of Daesh and the reconfiguration of domestic political structures and coalitions.

In the meantime, Baghdad needs to be won over to acceptance that an independent Kurdistan Region could be a better ally outside the boundaries of Iraq. It will not be easy to disentangle and manage popular and sectarian passions.

It would be wise if countries like the UK are open to the possibility and prepared to help broker complex agreements if and when the people of Kurdistan decide to take their destiny into their own hands.

Suppressing it is unthinkable given the Kurds’ new confidence, popularity and strategic importance. But expecting Cameron to cut through the work that should be done on the ground is a dangerous illusion that obstructs winning Iraqi consent for a necessary change.

Gary Kent is the Director of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and a columnist for Rudaw who has visited Kurdistan and Iraq many times since 2006. He writes in a personal capacity @garykent

This article originally appeared in the Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/kurdish-independence-is-coming-but-the-kurds-themselves-have-to-secure-it-a7040736.html

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KRG High Representative on Sykes-Picot centenary

You’ll be hearing a lot this week about Sykes-Picot, a secret agreement signed by British and French diplomats a hundred years ago. It aimed to carve up the collapsing Ottoman Empire between France and Britain but was overtaken by events. For us Kurds it has come to symbolise the decision to deny Kurds nationhood and to force us to be part of Iraq.

It was a different age and one that has gone. But our involuntary incorporation into what became Iraq has been a source of great misery for the Kurds. It may have looked like a good idea from afar for the Kurds to balance Shia and Sunni communities and for our more mountainous, water-rich and verdant geography to complement the hotter deserts of the south.

But the Kurds, who are not Arabs, were never really welcome as equals in the new Iraq. We were either neglected or repressed. That repression led to Saddam Hussein’s genocide at the end of the 20th century and our successful eviction of the genocidal dictatorship from most of the Kurdistan Region in 1991.

We only survived the Baathist backlash because Britain and other great powers set up a no-fly zone under which we managed to begin building a new autonomous region. Yet when Iraq was liberated, as we see it, from Saddam Hussein we decided to throw in our lot with Iraq and seek to make it work.

We helped put together functioning governments in Baghdad and Kurds supplied people for key posts such as Foreign Minister and President, as is still the case for a largely ceremonial position. We achieved a decent democratic and federal constitution in 2005 and it was endorsed by 80% of the people in a referendum. But it has been more like Stalin’s Soviet constitution of 1936 – great in theory and ignored in practice. Time and time again, we have been denied our rights. We never received our share of the budget and arms and training were denied to our Peshmerga, although officially recognised as part of the Iraqi defence forces.

All our budget entitlements were halted in 2014 at the whim of the then Iraqi Prime Minister, who even denied Turkish ministers the right to visit our capital, Erbil on one occasion. We tried to get a revenue-sharing agreement back and the deal worked for a few weeks. We now rely on our own independent oil exports and are trying to diversify the economy so we are not so reliant on oil whose prices have plummeted.

A decade of broken promises by Baghdad has now been added to nearly a century of repression. It is also clear that Iraq fell apart in 2014 when Daesh suddenly captured a third of Iraq. We had been warning for many months of the rise of the extremist organisation in Mosul. We specifically warned the Iraqi Prime Minister that it was about to be taken but he told us to mind our own business.

We will help take back Mosul but how that is done will be very important in reassuring Sunnis that they will not once again be ignored or repressed by a Shia dominated government in Baghdad – the cause of disaffection which drove many Sunnis into thinking that Daesh was the least worse option than Baghdad.

We must be candid and realistic. We tried to make Iraq work but were spurned. We certainly want to be independent not just to fly a flag but because sovereignty will give us more ability to solve our basic problems. But we will still share a space with the rest of Iraq and insist that the divorce is amicable. It is time for Kurdistan Region and Federal Government to honestly start negotiating this issue, and we will need to enter into agreements with Baghdad on water, economics, security and much more.

We may even end up in some sort of confederation. We may well find that we get on better as neighbours rather than reluctant subjects. Anniversaries have a neatness in history but the reality is bound to be more complex. It will take time and we will ask our friends in Britain, Europe, America, Turkey and Iran to help us. But the game is up for the old Iraq as much as the days when diplomats could decide the fates of other peoples at the stroke of a pen.

Karwan Jamal Tahir
Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK

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Kurdistan’s continuing journey to independence?

Twenty miles from Mosul, my driver hit the brakes but only because he had spotted a speed camera. Mundane here maybe but proof of a new determination to root out the reckless driving I have seen in a decade of criss-crossing Kurdistan.

We were travelling to the Kurdistani city of Duhok where you can see the lights of Iraq’s second city Mosul, occupied for two years by the jihadists of Daesh – the so-called Islamic State. As Kurdistani cops curb speeding, a few miles but light years away Daesh extorts locals to fuel a war machine based on systematic sexual slavery. The war with Daesh intrudes, of course. As we queued at the checkpoint a car pushed past us carrying a wounded Peshmerga to hospital.

Duhok is a colourful place whose dam reduces temperatures and which could become an even more popular tourist destination in time. I was there to present the all-party parliamentary group’s recent report at the new American University of Kurdistan.

The attractive university currently caters for 300 students but will grow. Eight years ago, I visited the American University of Iraq in the Kurdistani city of Slemani, on the other side of the country near Iran. It comprised several portacabins and 35 students but now has 1500 students on a gleaming campus. It nurtures new leaders and hosts vibrant political discussions to boost civil society. This is a place where politics once endangered people’s health until Saddam Hussein was evicted in 1991.

That year is the starting point of the new Kurdistan. The Kurds had been unhappily hitched to a unitary Iraqi state and endured decades of discrimination and genocide. They rose up, were beaten back but then saved by the British-initiated no fly zone. This allowed them to embrace democracy and expand education – from one to 28 universities today for five million people in normal times.

But their parliament is now in a state of suspended animation following street violence last year, the ejection of Gorran, the Change Movement, from government, and the expulsion from the capital, Erbil of one of its MPs as the Speaker. I’m told differences between the parties can be overcome but the calm, even as most state workers are not paid and have taken wage cuts, should not delay urgency in tackling political divisions. Kurdistani democracy is young, it is true, but cannot afford to stand still.

I visited Parliament to meet the Chair of the Health Committee, herself from Gorran. She wants to work with MPs here to increase British frontline medical facilities for the Peshmerga and send soldiers who have lost limbs and need specialist treatment in Britain.

I also saw evidence of the economic crisis – half-finished roads and buildings awaiting an upturn. The crisis was sparked by the war, a massive increase in refugees and displaced people that added a third to the population, and falling oil prices on which the statist economy is dangerously dependent. But I also saw signs of people setting up new businesses – car washes and chop shops, for instance.

A new Academy for Enterprise and Management at the European Technology and Training Centre (of which I am a Director) in Erbil could help incubate small businesses and diversify the economy. The government must take radical action to match revenue and spending, stop ballooning debt, and charge for power and water. It has already halved spending on salaries but the fiscal gap continues to add to debt while oil prices are low.

The splendid Middle East Research Institute (Meri) think-tank also brought together ministers and intellectuals to honestly debate economic reform, and tackling waste and corruption. Unemployment stands at 600,000 but 70,000 people graduate every year and this requires a dramatic increase in jobs in new sectors such as agriculture, tourism and light industry so that Kurdistan transforms itself from a passive rentier economy. British expertise in restructuring ministries is also vital.

As is immediate assistance. The Americans gave the Kurds nearly a billion dollars in weapons and wages for the Peshmerga while I was there. And Britain finally agreed to supply new ammunition for heavy machine guns it gifted in 2014, together with training. But the Kurds receive little or no funding from the federal government in Baghdad, despite facing a common enemy. Baghdad recently descended into farce when demonstrators briefly occupied the parliament. Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, who I visited there in 2009, cuts a lonely figure. Baghdad is losing its grip.

The chasm between Iraq and Kurdistan is widening but they must co-operate to expel Daesh from Mosul and work out how they coexist. The days of foreign powers insisting they stay as one country are fading. I met many diplomats and business people who privately concede Iraq is nearly over. Senior Turks say they could accept an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, which must prove they can run their own show, and demonstrate independence is benign. Western countries could help broker an amicable divorce.

British MPs once toured the airport as it was being built in Erbil. As we sped along its runway – the fifth largest in the world – we agreed to ask Top Gear to visit. The petrolheads popped over and pronounced it one of the safest and most beautiful places they had seen. It seems increasingly likely that Kurdistan is hastening its own journey towards independence.

Gary Kent is the Director of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region, has visited Kurdistan and Iraq 25 times in ten years and writes in a personal capacity. He is writing a book on the coming Kurdistani Republic. @garykent

This article originally appeared at http://www.newstatesman.com/print/node/302292

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KRG High Representative responds to the APPG report

Remarks by Karwan Jamal Tahir at the launch on 19 April 2016 in the Commons of the APPG Report on its delegation to the Kurdistan Region

The title of the report is most appropriate. The Kurdistan Region is indeed “The Land Between Two Anniversaries”

In the 100 years since the Sykes Picot agreement, we spent most of it living under suppression, denial, genocide and ethnic cleansing through the Anfal campaign but we have only enjoyed 25 years of freedom and democracy.

Thanks to Britain, which initiated the no-fly-zone in 1991, we had the opportunity to establish our democratic institutions and build prosperity in our Region.

I arrived in the UK to assume the position of KRG High Representative in June 2015 which coincided with reforming the APPG for the Kurdistan Region after the general election and the arrival of a new Parliament.

I had good relations with the previous APPG, its co-Chairs and members during my time as Deputy Head of the DFR. I have always valued and appreciated their support for the Kurdistan Region and its people. Since the new APPG was established, I have been working with them closely and I had an honour and privilege to accompany them to Kurdistan in November last year. They saw how the Kurdistan Region faces many tough and difficult challenges:

• War with Isis terrorism
• Humanitarian crisis
• Financial crisis

However, I am glad to say that Britain is among the few countries who have responded to the KRG’s urgent needs, thanks to the APPG, and British airstrikes in supporting Peshmerga, which saved the Kurdistan Region and its people one more time after 1991 and 2003.

Humanitarian issues

Again Britain is one of the significant donors in supporting the KRG in confronting the crisis. We are grateful but need more to save the Kurdistan Region. The APPG delegation to the Kurdistan Region in November last year witnessed our military, humanitarian and economic needs.

• It is important for us that the International Community to realise and appreciate that we are holding a massive frontline with ISIS, and we continue to hold this line.
• We are hosting 1.8 million refugee and IDPs
• At the same time we facing fiscal and economic challenges.

The report published by APPG recognises all these facts. We welcome the report and its recommendations, including:

• Supplying rounds for the gifted heavy machine guns.
• Providing mobile medical units.
• To continue and increase expertise in demining and IED.
• Urgent financial support to Peshmerga to sustain the fight with ISIS.
• The KRG to be seen as an essential part of the international coalition in fighting ISIS, and to be part of the international talks in counter-terror conferences and meetings.

The members of APPG delegation have witnessed the scale of the humanitarian crisis, met with the IDPs and heard their stories. The KRG is under huge pressure and needs to be rescued by providing more especially economically as we see it as a real threat to the KRG today.

There are clear fears that a prolonged crisis would undermine the KRG’s capacities.

In the end, I would like to say something about the referendum. There might be referendum at the end of this year or the next year, we need your support and understanding in this regard.
We accept the fact that stated at Foreign Affairs Committee report of January 2015: “If the Kurdistan Region is become independent, it should be with the consent of the rest of Iraq.”

That is what we are doing, seeking consent with the Federal Government, and creating mutual understanding.

In fact, we have opened this discussion with the Federal Government at the last visit took place two weeks ago led by the PM. We all desire the unity of Iraq, but if that doesn’t work, we have to find another way of living together peacefully.

It is in all our interests that Kurdistan Region defeat ISIS and overcome the financial challenges, so help us more and more.

Thank you.

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A domain of one’s own?

Kurdistan achieved its independence last week but you may not yet have noticed it. They now have a separate domain in cyberspace – Krd. The next question is whether or when that can become a two letter suffix with an independent Kurdistan flying its flag at the UN.

In the last decade I have been lucky enough to visit the Kurdistan Region in Iraq several times a year. The focus was helping federalism to flourish in Iraq as a whole but the prospect of that has faded to insignificance thanks to a resurgence of chauvinism in Baghdad and also the hammer blows of Daesh, which controls one third of Iraq.

We are nearing the centenary of the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement of May 1916 in which the dominant imperialist powers of Britain and France began a process that led to the denial of a Kurdish nation and imprisoning the Kurds in Iraq, who endured discrimination and eventually genocide in the 1980s.

In 1991 they won relative freedom from Saddam Hussein for twelve years and when Iraq was liberated in 2003 they achieved a democratic and federal settlement which worked for a few years.

But increasingly sectarian Shia leaders in Baghdad have ratted on the deal and the Kurdistan Region is now on the glide path to independence in the next few years. The continued participation of the Kurds may make Iraq better, though few leaders in Baghdad seem to make that case. But the clear failure of federalism has almost certainly made unity impossible.

Many Sunnis had also been alienated by a Shia dominated government in Baghdad which used barrel bombs against them and sold out on promises that Sunnis who played a major role in defeating Al Qaeda would be incorporated into the armed forces and paid.

Common sense would indicate that Iraq should stay together to overcome Daesh but the jihadist advance has divided Iraq which only really exists now in name. Sunnis who have collaborated or acquiesced in Daesh rule will not be convinced to turn on the new and even more barbaric version of Al Qaeda if all they have to look forward to is renewed rule by Shias from Baghdad. It’s sad but that, I suggest, is the new reality of what John Woodcock MP called the fundamental fiction of a unitary Iraq.

John joined an all-party parliamentary group delegation that visited Kurdistan in November and visited the frontline in Kirkuk where we were just four kilometres from Daesh positions. The delegation included Labour parliamentarians Mike Gapes, Liam Byrne and Maurice Glasman, along with Conservative MPs Jack Lopresti and Henry Smith as well as UUP MP Danny Kinahan and ConHome columnist, Garvan Walshe.

Their report details the economic heart attack facing the Kurdistan Region, which has been brought on by external factors and their own and now redundant model of relying on one commodity, oil, and a massive state sector. The report urges the UK and its allies to bolster reform and rush in aid to help the Kurds overcome their problems.

A decade back, no one knew anything about the Kurds. They are now flavour of the month as their Peshmerga are doing so much to resist Daesh. But they are in a hole and are asking for the Brits and others to step up to the plate for their sakes and for our own.

Gary Kent, who writes in a personal capacity, is the Director of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region. @garykent

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The story of Salah and Andy: from Kent to Kurdistan

Diplomacy and international relations are made by people and not just states. The force of this was impressed on me on a trade mission to the Kurdistan Region with a guy called Andy Parkinson. He was trying to win contracts for high-quality and counterfeit-proof paper for degree certificates and ballot forms. But it was much more than a commercial proposition – it was deeply personal.

Andy’s trip to Kurdistan started in a secondary school in the commuter suburb of Orpington near London in the 1970s where, he said, “I was bottom of the pecking order and often bullied. But at the start of my fourth year, a new boy arrived on the scene. No one knew where he was from – some said Iran and others said Iraq. He was wiry and strong but was immediately picked on by the bullies. Salah soon showed he could defend himself without becoming a bully himself. He obviously knew how to handle himself judging by the scars on his hands and he became my best friend. Being his friend meant I didn’t get bullied and I now realise that his friendship allowed me to meet my potential at school.”

They spent many hours in Salah’s large basement bedroom and Andy gradually discovered his exotic life story. His name was Salah Rahman from Iraqi Kurdistan. He briefly met his father, Sami Abdul Rahman but didn’t then know that he had been a Kurdish Minister in the Iraqi government before Saddam turned on the Kurds in 1975 and the family fled to the mountains. Or that Sami was a renowned Peshmerga leader before becoming Deputy Prime Minister after the liberation of Iraq in 2003. The family lived in Iran before seeking asylum in Britain. Salah’s mother, Fawzia, who was learning English, “tested my teenage grammar to extremes by asking not just for the correct answer but also why.”

Salah made a massive impact on Andy, who says “Salah was a wonderful friend. I learned so much from him about Kurdish cooking and culture, we laughed a lot and he changed my life completely. I cannot as a result stand how the lives and experiences of asylum seekers are so commonly ignored. I know from him about the sadness of exile and that those who settle here become great friends of the UK.”

But they lost touch as work took Andy to different parts of the country but when Andy tried to get back in touch with him he couldn’t find him on social media. He googled him and found that he and his father had been killed by an Al Qaeda bomb in the Kurdish capital of Erbil in February 2004.

Andy then made contact with his brother Sirwan and they made the journey to his grave in Duhok, near Mosul. Andy says “It was a moment of closure for a friend I loved and to whom I wish to repay a debt. Spending time with Sirwan reminded me of how charismatic, knowledgeable and honest the whole family is.”

Salah was only in Erbil to see his father and was murdered along with nearly 100 people in two simultaneous bombs. Andy says “I know Salah and his father would have been great assets to his country, judging by the success of the younger sister and daughter, whom I used to see in the 1970s. Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, then FT correspondent in Tokyo, dropped everything and volunteered for public service in Kurdistan. She became the face of Kurdistan in Britain for ten years and now flies the flag for Kurdistan as its Ambassador in America. Salah and the Rahmans had a profound influence on me and I am sure they will continue to be seen as beacons of a decent people who have been given a rotten hand by history but could yet prosper.”

After he visited Salah’s grave to pay his respects, he took part in the trade mission and met several ministers to pitch his company’s product. But, he said “my interest is not to take unfair advantage, but to help and I hope my knowledge will be of benefit. It would be great to give something back to the country of my dear and much missed friend. Just as he saved me as a teenager, I want to be able to say that I have honestly helped, in my small way, to rebuild Kurdistan which I know looks to Britain as an ally that has done so much to help Kurds like my friend Salah.”

Gary Kent is the Director in the British Parliament of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, has visited Kurdistan and Iraq over twenty times since 2006, and writes in a personal capacity. The APPG website is at appgkurdistan.org.uk and he tweets @garykent The article orginally appeared at http://thekurdishproject.org/stories/salah-andy-a-story-of-friendship/

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The Land Between Two Anniversaries

appg pdf

The APPG has launched a major report on its most recent delegation to the Kurdistan Region, which can be read in its entirety at the above PDF.

The Kurdistan Region is a valued ally whose religious pluralism is a powerful antidote to Daesh but severe economic crisis could hollow it out from inside without urgent external aid, according to a group of senior British parliamentarians.

The cross-party group visited Kurdistan late last year for high level meetings in Erbil, Slemani and Kirkuk, where they surveyed frontline Daesh positions two miles away.

Their report, “the Land between two anniversaries,” is being launched between the 25th anniversary of the Kurdish Uprising in March 1991 and the centenary in May of the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

An urgent recommendation is that the UK supplies rounds for the forty heavy machine guns it gifted but which have ran out several months ago. It also asks the UK to provide mobile medical units to cut “the unacceptably high proportion of Peshmerga deaths from treatable wounds.”

The parliamentarians also address the increasingly desperate state of Kurdistani finances, “which are straining to breaking point under the combined burdens of war and refugees and IDPs, as well as shortfalls in funding from the federal government in Baghdad.”

The report says “the KRG cannot go on like this without something giving. We need the KRG to be a strong ally and Britain and the wider international community should urgently consider extending loans to help them through. However, no one wants to throw good money after bad. Tough love on reform is reasonable.”

They focus on reforming Kurdistan’s “unproductive and state dominated economy, whose defects are now more evident thanks to the dramatic reduction in oil prices upon which the economies of the Kurdistan Region and of Iraq have long been far too dependent.”

As for the KRG’s “long-simmering internal disputes between the parties on the terms of the presidency, we take the point made by Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani that, in contrast to the terrible civil war of the 1990s, different parties have turned their pens rather than their guns on each other. We are hopeful that a period of calm, moderation and dialogue can allow a resolution of these issues.”

They support the need to diversify the economy “beyond reliance on energy” as well as further professionalising the Peshmerga as part of building the capacity of the KRG. They conclude that “austerity, fiscal resilience, restructuring and tackling corruption are all essential components of uniting the parties and people behind a new patriotic mission that encourages a new work ethic. A social contract based on taxation and fair utility charges can increase accountability and reduce waste of vital resources such as water, fuel and electricity.”

The report also examines what it calls “the failure of Iraqi federalism, the obstructive and insouciant approach of leaders in Baghdad, and what increasingly looks like the de facto partition of Iraq” and says they are driving moves to the independence of the Kurdistan Region.

The parliamentarians “support the right of the people of Iraqi Kurdistan to make that determination [for independence] before its leaders negotiate with the federal government in Baghdad, and win support for it from its neighbours and the great powers.

They add that “Iraqi unity may be desirable but any return to centralisation will both hobble the Kurds, as they regain their economic dynamism, and also make it harder to persuade Sunnis to break with Daesh. Without moves to end the marginalisation and alienation of Sunnis, there is a grave danger, as many Kurdistani leaders told us, of Daesh Mark Two being incubated by continuing hostility to Sunnis.”

They caution that “an amicable divorce” between Iraq and the Kurdistan Region “is not a prelude to a Greater Kurdistan. Kurdistani leaders are clear there are four separate Kurdistans, each at a different stage of development. The time for a Greater Kurdistan has been overtaken by history and there is no merit in hankering after the impossible.”

They urge British ministers to accept that “A strengthened KRG is necessary for either continued and genuine Iraqi federalism, smart regionalism, independence, or confederation. Official British fears about different futures should not be used to drip-feed the KRG at a time of its greatest need.”

Their overall conclusion is that “the Kurdistan Region must continue to sort out its own affairs and make itself match-fit for whatever future beckons but cannot as a strategic ally be expected to do that alone given the depth of external challenges and internal defects. It is in all our interests that it succeeds and we should not be found wanting.”

The report also contains a longer essay by APPG Director Gary Kent and a joint memo from the APPG and three major trade organisations on the working of the visa system for Kurds wishing to visit Britain, as well as a letter about new American visa rules that require all those who have visited Kurdistan to apply for visas rather than the current visa exemption system.

The delegation comprised Mike Gapes MP (Delegation Leader), Liam Byrne MP, Lord Glasman, Gary Kent (APPG Director), Danny Kinahan MP, Jack Lopresti MP, Henry Smith MP, Garvan Walshe (Conservative Home columnist), and John Woodcock MP. They were accompanied by the KRG High Representative to the UK, Karwan Jamal Tahir.

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Canadian MPs join solidarity with the Kurds in Iraq

CALGARY, April 13, 2016 – Today, Member of Parliament for Calgary Shepard, Tom Kmiec was elected chair of the Parliamentary Friends of the Kurds, an all-party caucus within Canada’s Parliament dedicated to supporting Kurdish refugees in their transition to life in Canada, promoting peace in the Kurdistan region, and promoting institutional, legislative, and parliamentary democratic education and reform within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

“There is a Kurdish proverb: A good companion shortens the longest road. I am encouraged by the feedback we have received from the community and the enthusiasm of the Kurdish Regional Government in working with us to enhance our understanding of the region”‎ says Tom Kmiec. “I am honoured to have been elected chair and look forward to enhancing our understanding of Kurdistan and promoting peace and democratic education in the region.”

Tom Kmiec was elected chair, while Gord Johns (NDP, Courtenay-Alberni) and Dan Albas (Conservative, Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola) were elected vice-chairs. The Parliamentary Friends of the Kurds includes 14 parliamentarians including members of all recognized parties in Parliament.

Organizations and individuals interested in Kurdish culture, history, and the peaceful resolution of the conflict(s) in the region are welcome to contact Mr. Kmiec to engage with the Parliamentary Friends of the Kurds.

http://www.tomkmiec.ca/parliamentary_friends_of_the_kurds_inaugurated

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British formally mark Anfal Day

The British Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, has paid tribute to the victims of the Anfal campaign on Anfal Day, 14 April.

The British Government refused to follow the example of the House of Commons in formally recognising Anfal as genocide in 2013 but agreed that it would mark Anfal Day each year.

The then Middle East Minister addressed a KRG event in London in 2014 and issued a statement last year as the anniversary fell during the British election campaign.

This year, the Minister has also issued a statement which appears on the Foreign Office website. The statement reads: “Today marks the anniversary of the Anfal – Saddam Hussein’s brutal campaign against the Kurdish people in Iraq. Between fifty and one hundred thousand men, women and children were slaughtered during the Anfal campaign. Many more were maimed, separated from their families or forced from their homes. It is not just the scale of the atrocities that is hard to comprehend. It is the chilling fact that people conceived the plans, discussed them and carried them out.

Today our thoughts are with those mourning lost loved ones. We must mark this day to honour the memories of those who died and to ensure that we never forget Saddam Hussein’s monstrous crimes against the Kurdish people. But we must also mark it because the Anfal campaign was a warning of what can happen when evil goes unchecked.

Now all the people of Iraq face a new evil, in the form of Daesh. Daesh seek to tear apart the multicultural society that has existed in Iraq for centuries. Ultimately, the only way to protect the Iraqi people from Daesh is by defeating this barbaric organisation and their poisonous and hateful ideology. The UK is committed to supporting the Iraqi people in this fight.”

Some years there will be statements and other years there may be meetings but the most important point is that marking Anfal Day is on the agenda every year. In an ideal world, the anniversary should be marked in a much more prominent manner.

The Prime Minister could be asked to mention it at the nearest Prime Minister’s Questions as he does for other significant anniversaries and events.

When the KRG High Representation and the all-party parliamentary group began its campaign to win official recognition of the genocide, many questioned the decision and said it was backward looking.

But within months of the 25th anniversary in 2013 of Halabja and Anfal Syrian Baathist soldiers were using chemical weapons in that country. And in 2014 Daesh was committing genocide against the Yezedis in Iraq. Marking the past is the best way of helping ensure Never Again or at least that it will not go unremarked and grow.

The international community failed to punish Assad for using chemical weapons in 2013 and they have been used again by the regime and by Daesh.

Gary Kent

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Three cheers for Sir John Major

A letter-writer in a national magazine in Britain recently demanded one example of a good British intervention in the Middle East. My reply cited two: the liberation of Kuwait and initiating a no-fly zone over the Kurdistan Region. 5 April saw the 25th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 688 which enabled the no-fly zone and protected the Kurds for twelve years.

Two million Kurds who fled from Saddam’s air force to the mountains overlooking Turkey and Iran then returned home from their frozen and barren eerie to rebuild society. British public opinion was crucial in answering appeals for blankets and food and encouraging British action. My small role was helping persuade Iran to provide a 747 to take such supplies to the Kurds.

The then British Prime Minister, John Major was also shocked and persuaded his Cabinet to support action – by coincidence on Kurdish new year in 1991 – and then took the lead internationally. He deserves credit for persuading a reluctant American administration to police the zone despite all enforcing aircraft being shot at almost every day by Saddam.

The current Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region, Jason McCartney MP was an RAF officer who visited Kurdish villages to reassure people that overhead planes were friendly. Those who served have every reason to be proud of what they did.

The Kurds had every reason to fear Saddam would have resumed his genocidal campaign. Instead, they were able to embrace democracy, and establish many new universities. Despite the harsh impact of sanctions enforced by the UN and by Saddam, and their own bloody civil war, they laid the foundations for a dynamic society that took off when Saddam was overthrown in 2003. Both Sir John Major and Tony Blair are widely revered in the Kurdistan Region.

This success story should make those who believe that our involvement with Iraq has been an unmitigated disaster think again. Liberal intervention averted genocide and saved the Kurds. They now play a pivotal role in helping roll back Daesh, whose forces face them along a 650 mile front with daily fighting. The Kurds have, with western airstrikes, secured their territory and will help push against Daesh in Mosul.

But their biggest enemy is now what one Kurdistani MP calls their economic heart attack. The cost of war and the strain of hosting nearly two million refugees and internally displaced people have combined in a perfect storm with the oil price slump, and an unsympathetic government in Baghdad cutting off budget payments.

Vast and fast economic growth has spluttered to a halt with civil servants enduring pay arrears and cuts. The cranes on city skylines that once symbolised massive investment in infrastructure are still while unemployment and poverty have soared.

In ten years of frequent fact-finding visits to Kurdistan, I have seen a massive disconnect in attitudes to liberal intervention between Kurdistan and the UK. The Kurds will fight for their survival and will get through, having suffered much worse in their history. They share western values of democracy, tolerance and pluralism – though they have major political divisions to overcome in unpromising conditions – and are embrace British intervention. Many British people despair about such intervention because they see it through the prism of the Iraq war in 2003 – deemed a disaster here but liberation in Kurdistan.

The lack of appetite for various interventions including, if necessary, the use of combat troops will elongate the rule of Daesh. In a massive over-reaction to Iraq 2003 we are neglecting the massive good we did in 1991 and in 2003, despite errors in the occupation, and could yet do.

We need a nuanced approach to British foreign policy in the Middle East rather than cherry picking to sustain a general theory. I could, for example, focus on Sykes-Picot, the secret agreement between representatives of British and French imperialism that led through twists and turns to denying Kurdish nationhood, and selfishly carving up countries. Or how great powers cynically used Kurds as pawns in the Cold War. Or how the West saw the monstrous Iran-Iraq war as one between two four-letter countries and hoped they would exhaust each other. Or the willingness, even when Saddam’s genocide was known, to sell arms to Iraq. In the balance, however, must be the decision to save the Kurds.

The anniversary allows us to reflect on that and how to help the Kurds we saved to save themselves now and construct stronger secular politics and economic dynamism that can defeat Daesh, and ensure it is not reinvented in some new form. Major’s successors should also be brave and far-sighted. The West does our friends no favours by believing we can never do the right thing.

Gary Kent

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