Geography and column inches

The Kurdistan Region in Iraq inevitably faces problems arising from its geography and related political pathologies because it nestles between Turkey, Iran, Arab Iraq, and Syria. Kurds in four enclaves are widely related but the Kurdistan Region is the only internationally recognised autonomous region in this “tough neighbourhood,” as its leaders regularly describe it to visitors. Their leaders do their best to amplify Kurdistani conundrums and aspirations with international media coverage being vital to its successes or failures.

Few British people have yet visited Iraqi Kurdistan but public opinion here has occasionally boosted its existence, and underpins the UK’s popularity there. The public outrage over Saddam Hussein’s suppression of the Kurds in 1991 was one such moment. President Bush senior encouraged the Kurds, and Shias in the south, to rise up after Saddam’s defeat in Kuwait. When the Baathist regime turned on them, two million fled to the mountains on the borders with Iran and Turkey where many froze to death. Public opinion was shocked and many people contributed food and blankets. My first connection to the Kurds was persuading Iran to supply a 747 to carry donations to the Kurds.

The then Prime Minister, Sir John Major answered the outrage by initiating the no-fly zone that provided a safe haven, policed every day by Western jets, that prevented further genocide and attacks until Saddam was overthrown in 2003.

In the Red House in the middle of Slemani, once a notorious torture centre, you can watch a short video of moving reports from Charles Wheeler, Boris Johnson’s former father-in law as it happens, exposing the misery faced by the Kurds and their pleas for help. The bleak bullet-pocked building is now a museum dedicated to Saddam’s crimes, the history of the Peshmerga, and the war with Daesh including the genocide against the Yezedis. In 2006, I remember the powerfully poignant sight of museum guards watching the live trial of Saddam Hussein.

After taking Mosul, Daesh turned on Kurdistan in August 2014. The then Mayor of London, one Boris Johnson, travelled to Erbil in January 2015 and cradled an AK47 alongside a Peshmerga. The picture was wired around the world and was worth a million words.

The defeat of Daesh as a territorial entity meant that the story slipped from the main news as a job done, although it is far from finished: four Kurdistani security officers were recently killed. Slipping from public view was to have unfortunate consequences.

Following the referendum on independence from Iraq in September 2017, Iran, for its own strategic reasons, bolstered Iraqi attempts to diminish the territory and powers of the Kurdistan Region.

Baghdad’s backlash was sadly obscured in the column inches by a referendum in a better known place: the bid by Catalonia for statehood and the consequent crackdown by Madrid. This allowed Baghdad to seize Kirkuk with little coverage and therefore potentially decisive external intervention. The dearth of hard information made it difficult to persuade senior MPs to make statements because they had so little to go on.

Iraq taking control of Kirkuk and other disputed territories was wrongly seen as a routine adjustment, although it caused the deaths of about 100 Peshmerga. Kirkuk and the other disputed territories could have been under KRG, federal government or joint control pending the long delayed finalization of their status via mechanisms in the 2005 Iraqi constitution.

Sparse coverage emboldened Iraq to press its hand and to seek to invade undisputed Kurdistan and taking the main airport. The Peshmerga resisted and Baghdad failed. New governments in Baghdad and in Erbil are now resetting their relations.

And then something else makes the news – the recent assassination of a Turkish diplomat in the capital, Erbil by those who appear to be from an external force. News is the deviation from the norm and coverage was completely correct because the murder of diplomats breaks a basic rule of international relations and Erbil has long been an oasis of security and stability.

I feared the news would chill the fresh start that requires investors and tourists to boost economic prospects but it has been absorbed by those who understand that the Kurdistan Region has long proved resilient in keeping the show on the road. And the Kurdistan authorities were quick off the mark in capturing the alleged perpetrators.

The Kurds in Iraq have developed the knack of surviving and thriving but the hard truth, as other countries know, is that a few column inches can make all the difference.

Gary Kent is the Secretary of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, a visiting professor at Soran University, and has visited the Kurdistan Region 29 times since 2006. He writes in a personal capacity.

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AGM

Minutes of the AGM of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq held on 16 July 2019 in the Commons.

Attendance: Jack Lopresti, Mary Glindon, Ian Austin, Baroness Ramsay, Mike Gapes, Henry Smith, Lord Clement-Jones, Henry Smith, Chris Stephens, Toby Perkins, Steve Reed. Gary Kent (Administrator).

Apologies: Tom Brake, Lady Hodgson, Graham Jones, Dan Carden, Robert Halfon

Election of officers. The statutory officers elected were: Mary Glindon as Chair and Registered Contact, Lady Hodgson as Co-Chair, and Henry Smith and Lord Clement-Jones as Vice-Chairs.
Other officers are Jack Lopresti, Ian Austin, Baroness Ramsay, Mike Gapes, Chris Stephens, Toby Perkins, Steve Reed.

Mary Glindon thanked Jack for his long and invaluable work as the Chairman and this was endorsed by attendees.

The Income and Expenditure Statement was agreed.

Gary Kent, Jack Lopresti, Toby Perkins, and Steve Reed reported on the recent delegation to Kurdistan.

Income and Expenditure Statement
Name of group. APPG Kurdistan Region in Iraq
Period covered by this statement: 26 June 2018 to 26 June 2019
A. Balance brought forward from previous year: nil
B. Income received during the year:
i. Membership subscriptions (parliamentarians) nil
ii. Monetary donations (including external subscriptions and sponsorship) nil
iii. Trading income nil
iv. Interest received nil
v. Other (please explain) nil
TOTAL income nil
C. Expenditure during the year:
i. Employment costs (salaries, NI, pensions costs ) nil
ii. Costs of contractors and freelance staff nil
iii. Visits and events (UK) nil
iv. Visits and events (abroad) nil
v. Cost of generating income nil
vi. Office and communications costs nil
vii. Other (please explain) nil
TOTAL expenditure 0
D. Balance carried forward ( A+ total B-total C) 0
E. Value of benefits in kind received from each source during the reporting year (in bands of up to £1,500; £1,501- £3,000; £3,001 to £4,500; £4,501 to £6,000 etc )
Please itemise according to the source and band
Kar Group payment for Secretariat. 57001-58500
Delegation to the Kurdistan Region in June 2019. Travel sponsored by the Sardar Group of Companies, Gulan Street Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq (£12,000). Hotels in Erbil and Slemani sponsored by the Erbil Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Slemani Chamber of Commerce and Industry (£2400). Total £14001-15500
Signed by Chair of Group: Mary Glindon
Date: 16 July 2019

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Initial report of the 16th fact-finding delegation by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region in June 2019.

“Prospects in the Kurdistan Region for greater unity and reform, better relations with Baghdad, and increased bilateral relations with the UK are much improved after five years of
near-existential crises although many roots and consequences of those crises need resolving.”

This is the key conclusion of a fact-finding visit by UK MPs to the Kurdistan Region, the 16th organised by the all-party parliamentary group since 2008. Two members have clocked up 35 visits while the other two were new to the Region. The delegation consisted of APPG Chairman and Conservative MP, Jack Lopresti, Labour MPs Toby Perkins and Steve Reed, and APPG Secretary, Gary Kent. The delegation also makes the following initial observations.

“Kurds clearly value the UK’s political and military expertise, the English language, higher education, and our quality goods and services. The Chambers of Commerce and the Prime Minister-designate told us they wish to see more British companies in Kurdistan. War and economic crisis in recent years stopped most of that but now that things are beginning to look up we need to overcome the obstacles to this in Kurdistan and in Britain.

An official UK trade mission could increase the British appetite for this and identify impediments to investment.

The APPG will continue to argue for visa reform, easing the formal FCO travel advice, and encouraging direct flights to facilitate business and tourist links.

Bilateral relations would also be enhanced by an official visit to the UK by the new KRG President and Prime Minister.

We were honoured to meet leaders of the Kurdistani parliament and its main parties to discuss a skills transfer programme to boost the capacity of Parliament. The initiative for this came from Kurdistani MPs and we will do our best to provide and facilitate expertise exchanges for our mutual benefit.

Kurdistan deserves great praise for consistent efforts to advance religious pluralism and tolerance as well as women’s rights. A Muslim-majority place committed to inclusiveness versus extremism is a great asset for the whole world.

We visited a camp for thousands of displaced Sunni Arabs and Yezedis. They have been living in tents for five years and they cannot go home any time soon. The Kurdistani authorities are doing their best to shoulder this burden although their economy has been under intense pressure and with little assistance from Baghdad. The Kurds are so generous because they have so often been displaced or refugees themselves but urgent action is needed to allow people to go home. That means physical reconstruction of homes and services but also a new political and security system to reassure people they are safe from Daesh as well as external militia in those areas.

Erbil/Baghdad relations are markedly improving but respect for Kurdistani rights in a binational Iraq needs to be deepened and dependable. That and Kurdistani reform can increase security, investor confidence, and living standards.

As previous APPG reports have detailed, Kurdistan also needs to end over-reliance on energy revenues and state employment and grow a larger private sector in agricultural, tourism and light industry sectors. This can encourage innovation, enterprise and dynamism.

Greater efforts are also needed to encourage the participation of the younger generation and develop civil society. The keys to that are higher education and technical/vocational systems fit for purpose. That can avert brain drains and train cadres capable of building a stronger economy, and smarter political debate.

We visited the Slemani Culture Factory which could be a base for a film production sector. That could attract film-makers to use Kurdistan as a location and enable Kurds to tell their stories to the world and win sustained support for advancing democracy and preventing the return of genocide and war we saw in moving detail in the Red House museum in Slemani.”

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Meetings this year

The APPG held a briefing meeting with Dr. Haval Aboubakr, Governor of Slemani Province (Gorran Party) on Wednesday 3 April in the Commons.

The APPG organised a unique parliamentary briefing on Iraq and the Kurdistan Region on Wednesday 13 March in the Commons. It was chaired by Jack Lopresti MP, and the Speakers were the Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, the Deputy Ambassador of the Republic of Iraq, and the Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK, Karwan Jamal Tahir.

The APPG held a meeting in the Commons on Government review on Tuesday 22 January on how the UK can address global persecution of Christians and the positive example of the Kurdistan Region. It was chaired by Jack Lopresti MP, and the Speaker was the. Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK, Karwan Jamal Tahir.

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Kurdistan travelogue: beauty, safety, films, training. A personal view

Given half the population is under 20, I meet more and more Kurds who don’t recall much about the Kurdistan I first saw in 2006 and where I have just concluded my 29th visit.
So much has changed. My first delegation arrived in Erbil at a small airstrip with wooden cabins. We were greeted by the Speaker and a forest of cameras because our visit was so unusual. My positive take on Kurdistan led me to help form the APPG.

This time, the sixteenth delegation from the APPG arrived at a modern airport designed by a British company. An earlier delegation toured the airport as it was being built and its long runway inspired an MP to suggest that Top Gear go to Kurdistan. They did and their programme in 2010 praised Kurdistan’s beauty and safety to millions who watched one of the world’s most popular programmes.

There was no fanfare as we were just one of several delegations in town, including a large American trade delegation who are sussing out opportunities for trade and investment now Kurdistan is emerging from the trials of the last five terrible years.

It has never been easy to organise delegations for British MPs who have many offers of fact-finding visits elsewhere. We always try to combine newcomers with past visitors and this delegation consisted of veteran APPG Chairman Jack Lopresti MP, two novices – Labour MPs Steve Reed and Toby Perkins – and me.

It is also difficult for MPs to be away for long because the UK has a minority government plus Brexit and the Conservative leadership contest. We had just 90 hours from take off to touch down in London and made the most of it. Within hours of landing we mingled with academics, aides, aid workers and the British Consul-General at a reception at the European Technology and Training Centre. Full disclosure: I am its Deputy Chair but can say that since it was opened by Safeen Dizayee and the current German President ten years ago it has become the leading training agency in Kurdistan and has tutored thousands of civil servants.

Following a breakfast briefing with the outgoing UK Consul-General, Martyn Warr – the 8th I have met – we hit the road to Slemani. This always enables delegations to see the tremendous agricultural and tourist potential of the countryside, which defy their preconceptions, and showcases its beauty, solitude and hospitality.

Someone tweeted at me that we should Skype not fly. Sorry, but MPs must see the country first hand. You won’t learn online that foreign visitors are warmly welcomed by leaders and face no hostility whatsoever. It shows the massive disconnect between Brits who opposed the liberation of Iraq in 2003 and how it is seen in Kurdistan. Many Brits keep banging on about the invasion without bothering to examine actually-existing Iraq – the peaceful transitions from one Iraqi government to another and the success of Kurdistan speak volumes. True, the UK’s role in Iraq would be seen quite differently if British troops had, as originally planned, been able to use Kurdistan rather than Basra.

And no online conversation could replace our second visit to the Ashti camp for internally displaced people at Arbat. Among the thousands living there, we met a Sunni Arab family from Tikrit and a Yezedi family from Shingal who have been living in tents for five years. We will never forget the family who gathered around the stoical father and his twelve year old son who keep things together. Meeting them humanised the plight in ways that cannot be done remotely.

The Kurdistani authorities are doing wonders with little assistance from Baghdad. The Kurds are so generous because they have so often been displaced or refugees but urgent action is needed to allow people to go home. That means new homes and services but also a new political and security system to reassure people they are safe from Daesh and external militia.

Likewise, nothing can replace seeing the Red House museum, its record of Baathist brutality in a building designed by the East German Stasi, and its new Peshmerga museum and account of the genocide against the Yezedis.

We also visited the old Tobacco Factory in Slemani, which I first saw in 2008 as a deserted and decrepit wasteland, but which could now become a beating heart of film production in Kurdistan. That could attract international film-makers to use Kurdistan as a location and enable Kurds to tell their stories to the world. And we saw another major tourist/film attraction, the Citadel in Erbil, and the buzz of the bazaar, where we had the statutory kebabs.

Our central conclusion is that prospects for greater unity and reform, better relations with Baghdad, and increased bilateral relations with the UK are much improved after five years of near-existential crises although many roots and consequences of those crises need resolving.

We also concluded that Kurds clearly value the UK’s political and military expertise, the English language, higher education, and our quality goods and services. The Chambers of Commerce and the Prime Minister-designate, Masrour Barzani, told us they wish to see more British companies in Kurdistan.

War and economic crisis in recent years stopped most of that but, now things are beginning to look up, we need to overcome the obstacles to this in Kurdistan and in Britain. We learned much from meeting the governor of Slemani, together with the Slemani Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Chamber and the Governor in Erbil.

There is an old saying that Capital is a coward. Or at least highly cautious with many choices, and the key is confidence and stability. That will take time to re-establish but there is a willingness to make that happen. An official UK trade mission could increase the British appetite for this and identify impediments to investment. MPs will continue to argue for visa reform, easing the formal FCO travel advice, and encouraging direct flights. Bilateral relations would also be enhanced by an official visit to the UK by the new KRG President and Prime Minister.

We were honoured to meet leaders of the Kurdistani parliament and its main parties to discuss a skills transfer programme to boost the capacity of Parliament. The initiative came from Kurdistani MPs and we want to provide or facilitate expertise exchanges for our mutual benefit.

The British MPs also say that Kurdistan deserves great praise for consistent efforts to advance religious pluralism and tolerance as well as women’s rights. A Muslim-majority place committed to inclusiveness versus extremism is a great asset for the whole world.

The MPs noted that Erbil/Baghdad relations are markedly improving but respect for Kurdistani rights in a binational Iraq needs to be deepened and dependable. That and Kurdistani reform can increase security, investor confidence, and living standards.

APPG reports consistently detail Kurdistan’s need to end over-reliance on energy revenues and state employment, grow a larger private sector in agricultural, tourism and light industry sectors, and encourage innovation, enterprise and dynamism.

MPs also suggested greater efforts to encourage the participation of the younger generation and develop civil society. The keys to that are higher education and technical/vocational systems fit for purpose. That can avert brain drains and train cadres capable of building a stronger economy, and smarter political debate.

After the MPs left, I took part in a seminar organised by the Middle East Research Institute, run by my old friend Dlawer al-Alaldeen, which brought together influential people in and around government. Such robustly independent think-tanks are clearly vital to expanding civil society and it’s not surprising MERI has such a good reputation in research and providing a place where people can speak candidly.

As are quality universities. I am a visiting Professor at Soran University and went there with my friend, Nahro Zagros to lecture on Brexit to academics who clearly follow the issue in depth.

I also spoke to old friends about relations between Kurdistan and the UK. History hangs heavily over such discussions. Over the years I have often heard about Sykes-Picot. Kurdish divisions and Turkish strength proved most important. But I am worried about untrue conspiracy theories concerning the alleged importance of BP in Iraq’s seizure of Kirkuk.

I also picked up a new awareness that the great powers were too late in providing credible alternatives to the referendum and that the One Iraq policy is best described as an all-Iraq policy, a useful variant of the phrase about the need for a strong KRG within a unified Iraq.

The increasing seniority of our diplomats in Erbil and the UK’s hard work on Peshmerga reform and our wider Reform Partnership underlines the importance of Kurdistan in British foreign policy. Obviously, as is true elsewhere, Britain is bigger in Kurdistan than Kurdistan is in the UK.

This drives APPG efforts to highlight Kurdistan as a beacon of tolerance, moderation and increasing dynamism but that must be anchored in realism about the past, present and future of a place I have seen survive and thrive. As I say as we go from one meeting to another, Ba Broin – let’s go.

Gary Kent

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Annual Meeting

The AGM is on Tuesday 16 July at 6.30 in CR7 but only open to parliamentarians and invited guests.

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NEW PRESIDENT OF THE KURDISTAN REGION IN IRAQ. Commons motion

Tabled 12 June 2019

That this House warmly congratulates Nechivan Barzani on his election by Parliament and his inauguration as President of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq; wishes him the best in uniting the Kurdistan Region, advancing economic and political reform, and further improving relations with the federal government in Baghdad through the full implementation of the Iraqi federal constitution and the finalisation of the status of disputed territories as well as building even better bilateral relations with the UK; and hopes that he and colleagues will be able to pay an official visit to the UK in the near future to meet the Prime Minister.

Mary Glindon, Robert Halfon, Toby Perkins and Mike Gapes

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APPG Vice-Chair Mary Glindon MP urges official KRG visit to the UK

FCO Questions 14 May 2019

Mary Glindon MP

I welcome the new Minister and hope that he will visit Baghdad and Erbil. Will he finalise the long-delayed official visit by the Kurdistan Regional Government President and Prime Minister to boost our important bilateral relationship with a strong KRG in a federal Iraq?

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr Andrew Murrison)

I thank the hon. Lady. She can be sure that I will visit Iraq again—it is a long time since I was there, in 2003. I support the points she made. The thing with Iraq at the moment is that we appear to have rolled back Daesh, but there is a lot of work still to be done, particularly in and around Erbil, to ensure that those who perpetrated these dreadful crimes on the Iraqi people are brought to account. Work in that respect is ongoing. I look forward to seeing it on the ground.

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Happy Newroz and a case for better links between the UK and the Kurdistan Region

Nurses and doctors from Newcastle and Gateshead have been visiting the Kurdistan Region in Iraq for nearly a decade. In their holiday time, they have been doing knee and hip operations that are currently beyond the health system there and have literally put many Kurds back on their own two feet.

This initiative was the brainchild of a Kurdish-British professor, Deiary Kader who worked in Newcastle and part of a growing network of relations between Kurds and Brits.

UK soldiers are also directly training thousands of the Peshmerga, the Kurdistani army that did so much to beat our common enemy, the so-called Islamic State. These monsters horrifically executed some British citizens and carried out genocide in Iraqi and Syrian lands they once occupied outside Kurdistan. And their followers wish us harm on our own streets as we saw tragically in London and Manchester.

Companies like Jaguar Land Rover are selling cars and there are great opportunities for British companies and institutions such as universities to set up shop, make money, and put Kurdistan on its feet.

The altruism of Professor Kader’s Newcastle-Gateshead Medical Volunteers is an inspiring story from the North East but this is also about protecting our own interests. Instability and injustice in the Middle East never stays there but spreads.

It is not commonly known but the Kurds like and admire the Brits. Many of their leaders lived and studied here and have British passports. English is their second language and several of their universities teach in English only.

They want our commerce, culture, and political support in a troubled region. We did the right thing when two million Kurds were forced to flee to the freezing mountains in 1991 and were saved by Sir John Major’s no-fly zone that prevented Saddam Hussein’s jets from bombing them into oblivion.

They then set up a new autonomous region that embraced democracy and rebuilt society. They did so much to make Iraq work after the overthrow of Saddam and Iraq and Kurdistan are now in a much better place than for years.

And the Kurds are reliable and able allies in building a peaceful, prosperous and pluralistic Middle East. Kurdistan is mainly Muslim but moderate and deeply devoted to protecting non-Muslim minorities. Christians live there as equals, as I have seen in their ancient churches and cathedrals. Women’s rights are also a priority. All that is a great gain for the whole world.

Kurds have far to go in deepening democracy and reforming their economy so it is less reliant on one volatile commodity, oil, and on huge state employment. They can boost private sector jobs in their tremendous agricultural potential and in tourism with the help of British entrepreneurs.

They are also keen to learn from us. I have taken many MPs there to meet their MPs who recently asked us to help train them and have established an all-party parliamentary group on the UK, which shows their deep esteem for us.

British MPs, including North Tyneside’s Mary Glindon, recently proposed several practical measures in a Commons debate to deepen bilateral links. One of the most important is direct flights to Kurdistan that British Airways is pondering.

That will become easier if the Foreign Office relaxes its advice about only going there for essential purposes. Kurdistan is the safest part of Iraq and foreigners are respected and protected. Amending the formal advice can encourage more Brits to see this lovely, safe, and hospitable place for themselves.

Professor Kader and his medical colleagues from the North East are great humanitarians in the best British traditions. But it’s about much more than charity. A more dynamic, efficient and educated Kurdistan suits our hard-headed interests too.

We should proudly celebrate our many links with a decent and pro-British people and especially today which is Newroz, the Kurdish New Year and the beginning of Spring.

Gary Kent is secretary of the UK’s all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, has been there 31 times in 13 years, and writes in a personal capacity. @garykent

This article originally appeared in the Newcastle Journal on 21 March 2019.

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Mary Glindon MP: the success story of Kurdistan and the Christians

The trees and decorations have just been taken down and the joys of the Christmas break are receding for us here though diets will persist for some time.

But let’s remember that there are many parts of the world where Christians suffer great discrimination and death at the hands of extremists. For them happy Christmases are either a very distant memory or a mere aspiration.

Over 200 million Christians face persecution and about 3,000 were killed last year – 250 people each month. Such persecution is like the canary in the mine – an alarm signal for non-Christians too. Persecution of one community often leads to it being repeated with other groups as order collapses.

The Open Doors organisation puts North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Pakistan. Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Nigeria, Libya and India in the list of countries where Christians are most endangered.

The Pope highlights what he calls a new era of martyrdom and says that “It seems that the cruel and vicious persecution of the Roman empire has not yet ended.”

As a Christian myself and a democrat, I am, therefore, pleased that the UK Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has asked the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen to advise the government on what it could do to help those under threat and to report back by Easter.

The Bishop’s review will have to answer some tough questions for British foreign policy given that we have some influence in many of those countries.

And the Bishop could also reflect on a government failure – that the UK didn’t offer sanctuary to the Pakistani Christian, Asia Bibi, who was recently released from eight years on death row on false charges of blasphemy. She could be slaughtered along with her family by extremist mobs anytime if she weren’t still in protective custody.

I am sure the report will focus heavily on the Middle East, the birthplace of religions but where Christianity is facing extinction. In Iraq, the number of Christians has dwindled dramatically.

But all is not lost there. Many Christians who have fled from Iraq have settled in its autonomous Kurdistan Region, which is a beacon of religious moderation and tolerance that could be emulated elsewhere.

The Kurds have long suffered themselves as a persecuted ethnic minority. They are mainly Sunni and Shia Muslims but also include the pre-Christian Yazidis as well as Christians. And they see themselves as primarily Kurdistani and largely secular in their institutions.

I have attended several meetings at the Commons and heard Kurdistani representatives and MPs who have been there outline the deep and natural pluralism in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Their parliament consists of 100 MPs but there is an additional list of 11 MPs elected by Christian and ethnic minority groups. Churches and cathedrals are visible and active, with the main Cathedral in their capital dating back to the first century. It is said that the three wise men began their journey to Bethlehem from the Kurdistani city of Amedi.

The Kurds did much to look after Christians who fled from Mosul to avoid being murdered by the extremist jihadist group, Daesh. They and many displaced Arabs remain in Kurdistan even after Daesh has been defeated in battle because they have so far nothing to go back to. Kurdistan’s public services have suffered massively but they are all welcome and are being treated with generosity and humanity.

The Kurdistani story of aid to Christians and others is manna from heaven for those who strongly believe that faith communities can and should work together for the common good of humanity.

I will ask the Bishop and the Foreign Secretary to visit Kurdistan, see all this for themselves, and praise this in the review. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand that protecting Christians also promotes peace, democracy and prosperity for all. Happy new year.

This article originally appeared in the Newcastle Journal on 8 January 2019.

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