APPG Chair urges urgent UN action on Erbil/Baghdad relations

The Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the APPG, today raised the issue of Kurdistan/Iraq relations in the Commons.

He said “Covid is bankrupting Iraq and the Kurdistan region. A stalled budget deal between Erbil and Baghdad is bleeding the Kurds dry, and public servants were not paid for half of last year. A Barnett-style revenue sharing formula and progress to resolve the status of the disputed territories are vital, as ISIL is regrouping in the no man’s land between Kurdistan and Iraq. Could the UK urge the United Nations to take a more active role between Erbil and Baghdad to help break the logjam so that they can stabilise their relations—and quickly?”

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, James Duddridge, replied.

“I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. We recognise the importance of securing a budget deal between Erbil and Baghdad. The UK continues to encourage both sides to work towards resolving their issues to get a sustainable budget solution, but also to solve internal boundary disputes. The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa discussed this with the Governments of Iraq and of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq during his visit in November and December. We regularly raise this in the United Nations and will continue to do so.”

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APPG Chair puts official UK trade mission to the Kurdistan Region on ministerial agenda

APPG Chair, Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, today asked the Trade Ministry the following question.

“The recent report from the all-party group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, which I chair, identifies opportunities for British bodies in energy, solar power, film production, higher education and agriculture, including quality pomegranates from Halabja, and it states that the Government should organise a second official trade mission once covid allows. Will the Minister talk with his colleagues, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the APPG to consider how such a trade mission could boost investment and trade with our allies, who constantly seek British expertise, goods and services?”

The Minister, Mr Jayawardena, replied: “Sadly, such travel is somewhat restricted at this moment in time, but my right hon. Friend is right to highlight the opportunities across the whole middle east region. For instance, in the education sector, which I know is a particular passion of his, my Department has supported companies to win more than 30 contracts in the middle east, worth more than £58 million over the past year. I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend to take that forward.”

The minister is right to highlight the UK’s educational soft power in the Middle East and more widely. There is a hunger for learning in the Kurdistan Region but many universities need reforming so they offer better courses and help educate a workforce for the new economics that will see a lesser place in revenue streams for oil, thanks to currently lower prices and the prospect of reduced global demand as the world reduces its reliance on hydrocarbons.

The APPG has suggested the UK sends a fact-finding mission to scope the potential for reform of higher education.

We have also suggested a second trade mission so that British investors and public bodies can see Kurdistan for themselves and, we hope, invest there.

Covid makes that impossible for now but Robert Halfon has put the issue on the agenda for when times improve.

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UK supports a strong and successful Kurdistan Region of Iraq within a thriving Iraq

APPG Chair, Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP asked the FCDO Minister for his assessment of the implications for his policies of his visit to the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

The Minister for the Middle East, Rt Hon James Cleverly replied in a written answer that “The UK supports a strong a successful Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) within a thriving Iraq. During my December visit to Erbil, I discussed the mutual desire to deepen the UK-KRI partnership with the leadership of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The UK looks forward to continued close engagement with the KRG as a critical and valued partner in the region; progressing security cooperation, increasing our business links, and supporting sustainable economic reform that delivers for all Iraqis.”

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Minister says “much to welcome in the APPG’s report on the bilateral relationship between the UK and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.”

Robert Halfon MP asked the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the report by the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq on bilateral relations; and if he will make a statement.

The answer from the Middle East Minister, James Cleverly, said: “As I [Minister Cleverly] discussed with the APPG on 7 December, there is much to welcome in the APPG’s report on the bilateral relationship between the UK and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. During my [Minister Cleverly] December visit to Erbil, I [Minister Cleverly] discussed the mutual desire to deepen our partnership with the leadership of the Kurdistan Regional Government. The UK will continue to work closely with both the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to urge a sustainable budget settlement, increase business cooperation, and to support economic reform that delivers for all Iraqis.”

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Message from British parliamentary friends to the people and government of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq on peaceful protest, Baghdad’s responsibility for public salary crisis, the need for unity, and the urgency of faster reform.

Ending the recent violence in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and ensuring that valid and peaceful protest is fairly and respectfully policed are vital.

Public servants are feeling the squeeze on their salaries which have been stopped and cut so many times in the last six years.

Baghdad’s Government insists that Kurds are Iraqi, but its past treatment of them was inequitable and neither delivered on the Iraqi Government’s constitutional responsibilities to the region nor its rhetoric on the matter.

Punitive actions and insufficient funding for many years by Baghdad are largely responsible for salary arrears and cuts and for increasing the scale and costs of borrowing.

But corruption in Kurdistan is also corroding social cohesion and confidence. The amount of money being skimmed by vested interests is significant, but not enough by itself to plug the fiscal gap between falling revenues and excessive spending.

Further and faster action to curb corruption, eliminate illegitimate and fake salaries, and gain full state control of the borders is urgently needed. Such actions can increase non-oil revenues, reduce public anger and discontent, undermine external exploitation of discontent, deprive sworn sectarian foes in Baghdad of malign narratives, bolster agreement with the Iraqi Prime Minister, and help put the KRG on the front foot.

We fear that the fiscal crisis caused by the diktats of previous governments in Baghdad, the nosedive in oil prices on which Kurdistan had become dangerously reliant, and continuing corruption are sapping the morale of our dear friends.

We call on the Kurdistan Regional Government to establish a one-off solidarity fund to provide swift material support to hard-pressed public sector employees.

Kurdistan’s economic woes are deep-rooted, and it will take time and common purpose to diversify the economy, encourage small businesses to blossom, and allow Kurdistan to embrace all it can be.

We say to our dear friends in Kurdistan that disunity can only benefit your enemies and undermine the continuing fight against Daesh and extremism.

As long-term friends and admirers of the many positive aspects of the Kurdistan Region, we wish you the very best and urge every effort to be focused on swift and visible reform, and ensuring that the voices of peaceful demonstrators are heard, respected, and acted on.

APPG Kurdistan Region in Iraq Chair Robert Halfon MP and officers Feryal Clark MP and Alicia Kearns MP.

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Groundbreaking link forged between APPG and the Kurdistan Parliament’s External Relations and Diaspora Select Committee

The External Relations and Diaspora Committee of the Kurdistan Parliament and the APPG on the Kurdistan Region have met formally for the first time on Zoom in a new bid to deepen and widen bilateral relations.

The unique meeting started with comments from Dr. Rebwar Babkayi MP, Chair of the Kurdistan Committee, and APPG Chair, Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP.

The two MPs were joined by 7 other parliamentarians, the KRG’s High Representative to the UK and the Representation’s Director of Political Affairs, Karwan Jamal Tahir and Khasro Ajgayi respectively, parliamentary aides, and APPG Secretary, Gary Kent.

They discussed the recent reports of the APPG’s virtual delegation to Kurdistan. The Chair of the Kurdistan Committee agreed to raise the APPG recommendations with the relevant authorities in Kurdistan while the APPG is seeking to do the same in the UK.

The meeting agreed that the Kurdistan Region currently faces many serious economic, health, and security challenges for which British engagement and expertise is particularly needed.

The APPG and the Committee also discussed how to improve relations between our respective parliaments. The APPG will put the Committee in touch with the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Committee and the APPG will meet more regularly to advance friendship and encourage greater political engagement by the UK Government with the Kurdistan Region.

zoom meeting november

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APPG Chair Robert Halfon MP tables Commons motion summarising findings of recent virtual delegation

That this House notes reports from the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq on a virtual delegation to meet Kurdistani leaders; fully acknowledges the crucial role of the Peshmerga in resisting the so-called Islamic State, that Kurdistan’s model of peaceful co-existence and equality are vital in continuing efforts to eradicate extremism, and that this is a vital UK interest; stresses the profound impact of covid-19 on oil revenues, which have fallen dramatically and may fade further as a proportion of the region’s income; further notes Kurdistan’s need to reform its public services and increase income from agriculture, tourism, and light industry with a bigger private sector and tackling corruption; wishes the KRG and the Iraqi Government the best in resolving their long-standing differences through the full implementation of Iraq’s federal constitution; believes that the APPG’s recommendations to the UK Government accord with its policy of supporting a strong Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in a unified Iraq; further believes that the UK Government should organise an official trade mission to encourage investment by private companies and public institutions; recognises the central importance of universities to the new economy; commends the suggestion that the UK Government send experts to Kurdistan to assess higher education and make recommendations for reform; endorses the APPG’s recommendation for skills transfer to Kurdistani MPs; and urges the Foreign Secretary to visit Kurdistan as soon as possible and organise an official visit by the KRG leadership to London to advance bilateral relations.

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APPG Chair Robert Halfon raises issue of attack on Kurdistani party and flag in Baghdad with UK minister

Question from Robert Halfon MP

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what steps his Department has taken in response to the burning on 17 October 2020 in Baghdad of a Kurdish party office and the flag of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq; and if he will make a statement. Tabled on: 20 October 2020

Answer from James Cleverly MP: We strongly condemned the attack on the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s office in Baghdad and made clear that addressing political difference through dialogue not violence was a fundamental element of a functioning democracy. The UK has welcomed steps taken to hold those responsible to account. We continue to work with the Government of Iraq on enhancing security measures, including through discussions during the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Guest of Government visit to the UK on 22 October.

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APPG Chair Robert Halfon MP condemns attack in Baghdad on Kurdistani party and flag

The APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq completely condemns the attack on a Kurdistani political party office in Baghdad and the desecration of the Kurdistani flag, sadly while Iraqi security forces watched but failed to intervene.

The Kurdistani political parties play an important role in the Iraqi coalition government and are doing all they can to overcome differences with Iraqi parties so there can be a full resolution of their disputes. I am pleased that the Iraqi cabinet has condemned this outrageous and provocative attack.

Countries that believe the Kurds should be a strong influence in a unified and federal Iraq must also condemn this attack, this will reduce the majorities fear for this behaviour becoming a norm for settling the differences. I also hope there will be prosecutions of those responsible.

I understand the anger of the Kurdistanis but know they are determined not to allow this to obstruct efforts to keep building peaceful co-existence between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP. Chair

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The case for the UK Foreign Secretary going to the Kurdistan Region in Iraq

Thanks to Jack Lopresti MP, an APPG member, for his written parliamentary question below. It’s good that there are such conversations but recent reports from the APPG suggest that it is time for the Foreign Secretary to visit Kurdistan in real life and then invite the KRG leadership to pay an official visit to London. Other countries have sent ministers to Kurdistan and met its leadership. Moving to such visits would symbolise the importance to the UK of the Kurdistan Region and convey an important diplomatic message.

Question. “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what meetings Ministers of his Department had with representatives of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq in (a) 2018 and (b) 2019; and if he will make a statement.”

Answer from James Cleverly, the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa. “The UK continues to have a close relationship with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, and our ministers and diplomatic representatives maintained regular contact with representatives of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq in 2018 and 2019. Current and former Foreign Secretaries and Ministers for the Middle East and North Africa have spoken with the KRG leadership including President Nechirvan Barzani. Most recently, I spoke to Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq Masrour Barzani on 23rd September. The UK looks forward to continued close engagement with the KRG as a critical and valued partner in the region.”

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