APPG Chair Jack Lopresti MP’s introduction in full to the Commons debate on the bilateral relationship between the UK and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Extract

Reform requires peace and stability, which Kurdistan lacks. I must end with a blunt warning about its current perilous plight. Kurdistan is completely defenceless, with no means of detecting or deterring missile and drone attacks or even of evacuating target areas. Iran and its proxies are victimising and attacking Kurdistan. The UK should help to stand up for and protect our dear friends, so that we have a strong KRG within a peaceful, stable, federal Iraq.

Jack Lopresti
(Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)
I beg to move,

That this House has considered the relationship between the UK and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. The relationship between Iraqi Kurdistanis and the UK—people and Governments—goes back many decades but has emerged as a more enduring and vital alliance in the last third of a century, for great mutual benefit. Before that, Kurdistanis, as they prefer to be called, were long demonised in Iraq as second-class citizens. That developed into genocide in the 1980s, which was formally recognised by the House of Commons on the 25th anniversary of the tragic gassing in 1988 by Saddam Hussein’s air force of the town of Halabja, with the instant death of 5,000 people and many maimed for life. Overall, nearly 200,000 people were murdered in a systematic genocide that also razed thousands of villages to the ground and destroyed the backbone of the rural economy.

Many Kurdistanis were exiled here before returning. That drives a great affinity with the UK and the widespread use of English. That living link was boosted when Saddam, defeated in Kuwait in 1991, turned on the Kurdistanis with genocidal intent. They revolted, and about 2 million people fled to the freezing mountains to escape Saddam’s revenge. I am immensely proud that Sir John Major showed fantastic leadership and moral courage by establishing with America and France a no-fly zone. I am delighted that the Kurdistan Regional Government agreed to name a major thoroughfare in Irbil after Sir John, and very much hope that they do the same for Sir Tony Blair.

The creation of the safe haven, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) participated as an RAF officer, averted further genocide and helped to usher in an autonomous region. Kurdistanis elected their first Parliament in 1992 and, despite harsh Iraq and UN sanctions, laid the basis of a new society that bettered Saddam’s Iraq in, for instance, one key area: infant mortality. Sadly, civil war marred that fresh start.

Iraqi Kurdistan won a place at the forefront of our foreign policy, which was a great advantage when Iraq was liberated in 2003. Kurdistani leaders stabilised the new Iraq with peaceful elections and a landmark constitution in 2005, based on federalism and rights for the officially recognised autonomous region. Kurdistan enjoyed a golden decade in which new oil, long denied by Saddam, boosted living standards and infrastructure in “the Other Iraq”. However, there were difficult challenges; most important was Baghdad’s refusal to implement a settlement by 2007 in which the people of Kirkuk and other disputed territories could choose to join Iraq or the autonomous region. That is unfinished business and requires greater attention, and I ask the Minister to comment on it in his remarks.

Worse was to come with the complete and unilateral suspension of budget payments from Baghdad to Irbil in early 2014, the sudden seizure by ISIS of Mosul in June 2014 and its broader attack on Kurdistan. The Kurdistanis took the brunt of the defence of Iraq by saving Kirkuk and, with a refreshed Iraqi army and coalition forces, by helping to liberate Mosul in 2017. I saw the Kurdistani army—the peshmerga, which means “those who defy death”—in action in Kirkuk and Mosul. The peshmerga were valiant allies in fighting a foul fascism, with British help, especially from the RAF. Kurdistani action reduced a serious threat to our own people in the United Kingdom.

It was deeply disappointing that the Iraqi Prime Minister “forgot” to thank the peshmerga at the UN, and that his reaction to a peaceful referendum in 2017 on the principle of independence, which I observed in three cities, was to violently seize Kirkuk, killing peshmerga. Baghdad closed international flights and even tried, unsuccessfully, to invade the autonomous region. All of that was a tragic indictment and demonstration of the very dysfunctional nature of the relationship between Baghdad and the KRG at the time, to say the least.

The all-party group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq returned in 2018 to Kurdistan and for the first time visited Baghdad, where there was a stated desire to seek reconciliation. Sadly, the momentum has stalled due to the undue influence of Iran and its proxy militias and terrorist organisations.

Warfare and lawfare via a supreme court that has not been constitutionally established is destabilising and suffocating Kurdistan, and Shi’a militia attacks have targeted British and American military facilities at the main airport in Irbil.

Mr Gregory Campbell
(East Londonderry) (DUP)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we must not allow those elements, particularly in Iraq and in other locations, to replace what most of us want to see, which is democratic accountability in each of these regions and nations? They try to make it seem as though these are western values, thereby devaluing the independence of regions such as Kurdistan.

Jack Lopresti
I absolutely agree. We have to look only across the broader middle east, where we have seen in recent and historical events the malign influence of Iran, with its wish to diminish and extinguish any country or region that exemplifies the western values of freedom and democracy.

Chris Stephens
(Glasgow South West) (SNP)
The hon. Gentleman’s expertise in and knowledge of the area of Kurdistan is always a joy to listen to. He has mentioned Iran and recent attacks. Does he agree that we, as a House, should show full solidarity with the Kurdish people against those attacks from Iran? Does he also agree that we need to start showing solidarity with a people who did more than anything else and had boots on the ground to take on Daesh and roll it back?

Jack Lopresti
Again, I completely agree. As we speak, we are seeing action being taken against Iran and its proxies. I will continue to elaborate on the fact that we must continue to support our Kurdish friends and allies.

Iran has attacked Iranian Kurdish camps and, more recently, the houses of two prominent businessmen on the laughable grounds that they were Mossad bases. In January, Iranian missiles killed Peshraw Dizayee, whose skyscrapers in Irbil symbolise his ambition to emulate Dubai. His baby daughter was killed, and more than two dozen were killed or injured. Iran is the main menace, so let us hope for regime change from below in Iran. I will come back to Iran at the end.

It does not help that the PKK terror group is taking actions to kill peshmerga, scupper good governance in key areas and attract Turkish military action. It would be better—and I think this is crucial—if British, American and other international allies stayed in Iraq with a military footprint of some measure, with Baghdad’s agreement, clearly, which would help to counter and deter ISIS and stabilise the country. We could also further train the peshmerga, as we are doing, and underpin the confidence of external investors. Negotiations on that began last year.

Baghdad is also drip-feeding budget payments to Kurdistan below the amounts stipulated by a clear political agreement. Its vital oil pipeline to Turkey remains closed after nearly a year, with the loss of billions. Teachers, police officers, nurses and the peshmerga are not being paid.

The UK supports a strong KRG within Iraq. Our excellent diplomatic mission has gone from strength to strength, with senior appointments and more staff, which makes it bigger than in many sovereign countries. Our Army and others are seeking to professionalise and unify the peshmerga so that it is completely controlled by the KRG and not by the two main political parties, which is a hangover from the civil war. Government control over the military and security apparatus is essential.

Bilateral relationships depend on people who are active over many years. Kurdistan’s high representatives in London, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman and now Karwan Jamal Tahir, who is here today, have helped to inform us. Our now-voluntary APPG secretary Gary Kent has been active on this for nearly 20 years, and I pay tribute to his excellent work and fantastic contribution to UK-Kurdistan relations.

The diaspora is an asset, as are Anglo-Kurdistani activities such as those of the Gulan charity on culture. Trade bodies have encouraged investments in areas where our companies can add niche value. The University of London is set to establish a campus in Irbil and join three universities that teach in English, in a testament to the soft power of our language, history and higher education.

The Kurdistan region is only 32 years old and has further to go in overcoming the economic and political pathologies of its past and of the wider middle east. For more than half its existence, we have closely observed the ebbs and flows in Kurdistan’s fortune. It is too small to go it alone and too big to be ignored, but it operates in what its leaders call a tough neighbourhood, and even as a landlocked nation surrounded by sharks. It has previously overcome chauvinism towards it as a square peg in the round hole of Iraq, many of whose leaders do not accept the concept of a binational and federal state but prefer centralisation. For now, the centralisers, buttressed and supported by the malign Iranian regime, have the upper hand, but they need not triumph. That depends on Kurdistani diplomacy, crucial western support and internal reforms so that Kurdistan can be a subject rather than an object of history. However, we should not, and must not, put Kurdistan on an impossible pedestal where vice and virtue do not co-exist; we should be candid friends.

I will start with the pros. First, given its experience of exile and oppression, Kurdistan is open to those who flee from neighbouring areas. In 2014, its population soared by a third to accommodate 2 million displaced people from Mosul as well as Syrian refugees. One million remain in Kurdistan, whose generous care is exemplary. Secondly, Kurdistan upholds peaceful co-existence for people of all faiths, including Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others. Its state institutions are secular and its religious faith moderate. Thirdly, Kurdistan is in the vanguard of women’s rights in the middle east. Firm action was taken to stamp out female genital mutilation and domestic violence, but it still often looks like a man’s world, which should change faster if Kurdistan is to unleash its fantastic potential. Fourthly, there is its modernised road network and digital highway. A railway from the Gulf to Turkey could one day boost jobs, trade and peacebuilding.

The cons apply across the middle east, where Kurdistan fares better in reality, but these defects are drag anchors on making Kurdistan match fit. First, the youth, as a majority of the population, seem disaffected, judging by falling electoral turnout. They have to be part of a patriotic renewal. Better higher and vocational education can prepare them for jobs that do not currently exist and opportunities that are coming. Secondly, the economy is dangerously dependent, for more than 80% of revenues, on oil and gas reserves and a bloated and unproductive public sector. The energy reserves are of strategic interest to the UK and the west generally, and I hope the Minister will comment on that. Thirdly, reliance on a volatile commodity crowds out a dynamic private sector, which can complement democracy and a thriving civil society. Fourthly, the scourge of corruption, in a region less industrial than the south, must be eliminated. The judicial system and dispute resolution—important for foreign investors—are immature, and there is an authoritarian approach to dissent and the media. That needs to be more professional and reliable. Britain could provide Kurdistan with more judicial, media, policing and commercial training.

The crisis in relations with Baghdad and the material basis of public services are driving more determined reform. The KRG seek to diversify their economy through more agriculture, tourism and light industry. Visitors marvel at the beautiful vast plains, rivers and mountains in the Iraqi breadbasket, plus the vibrant, growing cities. Kurdistanis say that they have “no friends but the mountains”. The APPG has sought to disprove that through 15 delegations with 50 parliamentarians and others. This is about not just solidarity, but a pragmatic calculation of the allies we need and who share our values. Kurdistan could have sided with Iran but has stuck with us in these very difficult and dangerous times.

Reform requires peace and stability, which Kurdistan lacks. I must end with a blunt warning about its current perilous plight. Kurdistan is completely defenceless, with no means of detecting or deterring missile and drone attacks or even of evacuating target areas. Iran and its proxies are victimising and attacking Kurdistan. The UK should help to stand up for and protect our dear friends, so that we have a strong KRG within a peaceful, stable, federal Iraq.

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Mary Glindon MP: My call for solidarity with our allies in Iraqi Kurdistan

Iraqi Kurdistan has been one of the brightest spots in the Middle East for many years. The autonomous region was essentially created by justified British military action in 1991.

Sir John Major pioneered a no-fly zone that protected the Kurds from further genocide at the hands of Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi Kurdistan is a major friend of the UK thanks to this and because many of its leaders spent their youth in exile here.

It has been a firm ally in promoting peaceful and pluralistic politics. It is proud to be a home to Muslims, Christians and others. It was and is a key part of the coalition to defeat the Isis death cult, which killed people on our streets.

I have met many Kurds in meetings organised by the all-party parliamentary group.

Its capital, Erbil has been a largely safe and stable place for many years. Sadly, however, Iran decided this week to target the capital with missiles.

They were cruelly aimed at the home of a prominent businessman and killed him and his ten month old daughter.

It was a shocking and vile act, which has been widely condemned. I raised the issue in the Commons. I urged a debate on how the Government can best assist our allies and support Iraq’s formal complaint at the United Nations about Iranian aggression.

I also asked the Commons Leader to prompt the Foreign Secretary to meet the Kurdish Prime Minister in Davos. That meeting took place about an hour later though I’m not claiming as a result.

The Commons Leader thanked me for shining a spotlight on that particularly brutal attack which, she said, is highly consistent with the Iranian regime’s standard operating procedure in many places around the world.

Events abroad rarely stay abroad. Iran’s actions will continue unless exposed and checked.

This article originally appeared in the Northumberland Gazette

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APPG Vice-Chair Mary Glindon slams “vile and illegal” Iranian attack on Erbil in the Commons

Mary Glindon

Hon. Members who visited Iraqi Kurdistan with the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq know that it is a firm ally against extremism, and they will be disgusted that the Iranian regime has targeted the capital, Erbil, with missiles, killing a prominent businessman, his baby daughter and others in a vile and illegal act. May we have a debate in Government time on how the Government can best assist our allies and support Iraq’s complaint at the United Nations about Iranian aggression? Could the Leader of the House prompt the Foreign Secretary to discuss the issue with the Kurdish Prime Minister in Davos?

Penny Mordaunt

I will certainly make sure that the Foreign Secretary has heard what the hon. Lady has said. She will know that the next Foreign Office questions are on 30 January, and she may also wish to raise it then. I thank her for shining a spotlight on that particularly brutal attack. Again, it is highly consistent with the Iranian regime’s standard operating procedure in many places around the world.

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We cannot abandon our ally in their moment of urgent need. Jack Lopresti MP, Chair APPG

Iran has killed four people and injured more in missile strikes against our ally, the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. Iran ludicrously asserts that the home of a prominent businessman was a Zionist spy centre but this is just an excuse for a blatant attempt to intimidate a strong ally of the UK and the West. Iraqi Kurds have been key to the defeat of the Isis caliphate in Iraq and their strong beliefs in moderate politics and religious tolerance and pluralism offend Iran, which also sees their existence as an autonomous region as blocking a military arc from Tehran to the Mediterranean. Iran is trying to reduce as much opposition as it can to expelling America from Iraq, including Kurdistan, and Syria which would give free rein to Iran’s aggressive expansionism. The Iraqi Kurds need solidarity and practical means to defend themselves. We cannot abandon our ally in their moment of urgent need.

Jack Lopresti MP, Chair

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Useful Parliamentary Questions from Wayne David MP, Shadow Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, on Kurdish rights in Iraq

Question: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what recent discussions his Department has had with the (a) Federal Government of Iraq and (b) Kurdistan Regional Government on the implementation in (i) Kirkuk and (ii) other disputed territories of Article 140 of the 2005 Iraqi constitution.

Tabled on: 18 September 2023

This question was grouped with the following question(s) for answer: 1. To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what recent discussions his Department has had with the (a) Federal Government of Iraq and (b) Kurdistan Regional Government on the operation of the 2005 Iraqi constitution.

Tabled on: 18 September 2023

Answer: David Rutley:

The UK regularly engages with leaders of Federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), including during the recent visit of the Security Minister, Tom Tughendhat, in August. Following the incident in Kirkuk the British Embassy in Iraq met a range of Iraqi counterparts and continues to encourage cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil to resolve outstanding issues. The UK supports all efforts to ensure a secure, stable and thriving KRI exists within a peaceful and prosperous Iraq. The British Consulate General Erbil regularly meets with stakeholders from the disputed territories to understand the situation on the ground and how the disputed nature of these areas is causing challenges for Iraqi citizens. The UK hopes to see provincial council elections go ahead peacefully on 18 December, following the unrest in early September.

The answer was submitted on 16 Oct 2023 at 12:35.

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Questions on Kirkuk

Jack Lopresti MP, the Chair of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, tabled these written questions on events in Kirkuk. It’s pleasing to see that the UK government says it supports all efforts to ensure a secure, stable, and thriving KRI exists within a peaceful and prosperous Iraq. Gary Kent

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what representations he has made to the Iraqi government on (a) the recent deaths of Kurds in Kirkuk and (b) potential mediation by the United Nations.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the role of Shia militia groups in recent disturbances in Kirkuk.

22 September 2023 David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The UK regularly engages with leaders of Federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), including during the recent visit of the Security Minister, Tom Tugendhat in August. Following the recent incident in Kirkuk the British Embassy in Iraq has met a range of Iraqi counterparts and continues to encourage cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil to resolve outstanding issues. The UK supports all efforts to ensure a secure, stable, and thriving KRI exists within a peaceful and prosperous Iraq.

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AGM Minutes

Minutes of the AGM of the APPG Kurdistan Region in Iraq in W2 on 21 March 2023

Attendance. Jack Lopresti MP, Mary Glindon MP, Stephen Metcalfe MP, Royston Smith MP, Lillian Greenwood MP, Mark Tami MP, John Spellar MP. Canberk Sirmen (for Baroness Nicholson). Nick Watts (with Jack
Lopresti MP), Gary Kent, Secretariat.

Apologies. Wayne David MP, Lord Austin of Dudley, Alicia Kearns MP, Feryal Clark MP, Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale, Jason McCartney MP, Henry Smith MP, Steve Reed MP.

Election of Chair. Jack Lopresti MP was elected and Alicia Kearns MP was thanked for her service.

Election of Vice-Chairs. The following were elected. Mary Glindon MP, Wayne David MP, Lord Austin of Dudley.

Election of other officers. The following were approved. Alicia Kearns MP, Feryal Clark MP, Stephen Metcalfe MP, Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale, Jason McCartney MP, Henry Smith MP, Steve Reed MP.

Gary Kent was agreed as the Unpaid Secretariat.

Income and Expenditure Statement. It was noted that none was necessary.

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AGM

The AGM of the APPG is on Tuesday 21 March at 10.30am in W2 in the Commons and for parliamentarians only.

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APPG Vice-Chair Mary Glindon advocates improved Erbil/Baghdad links and economic and political reform.

APPG Vice Chair Mary Glindon today asked the following question of the Foreign Secretary in the Commons.

Mary Glindon

Does the Minister agree that unjustifiable Iranian bombardments on Iraqi Kurdistan and other attacks require resolving disputes between Baghdad and Erbil plus accelerating economic and political reform, and that these should continue to be key themes for our excellent diplomats there?

James Cleverly

I met the President and Foreign Minister of the newly installed Iraqi Government when I was in Egypt, and we of course have a very good working relationship with both Erbil and Baghdad. It is in the interests of all Iraqis that the relationship between Irbil and Baghdad is fruitful and we will continue to invest diplomatic effort to ensure that continues.

Comment. This question helps keep important issues on the agenda and help illustrate that MPs are aware of the key issues facing the Kurdistan Region and the need for a new relationship based on the principles of the federal Iraqi constitution.

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Minutes of the AGM of the APPG held on 17 March 2022.

1 Attendance. Wayne David MP, Mary Glindon MP, Lord Austin of Dudley, Feryal Clark MP, Henry Smith MP, Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale. David Hunt, UK Consul-General. Gary Kent (Secretariat). Chair. Feryal Clark.

2 Apologies. Jason McCartney MP, Alicia Kearns MP, Jack Lopresti MP, Alexander Stafford MP, Steve Reed MP, Toby Perkins MP, and Lord Clement-Jones.

3 Elections. Alicia Kearns was re-elected as Chair. Wayne David, Jack Lopresti, Mary Glindon, and Lord Austin of Dudley were elected as Co-Chairs. Feryal Clark, Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale, Jason McCartney, Henry Smith, Steve Reed, and Alexander Stafford were elected as Vice Chairs.

4 Income and Expenditure Statement for the last year. Formally approved.*

It was noted that that the sponsorship expired in December and agreed that Gary Kent is now our unpaid, voluntary Secretariat.

5 Future Business. It was agreed that the Secretariat brings forward plans to organise a) a delegation after scheduled parliamentary elections in the last quarter of this year including an annual summit of Kurdish and British MPs, some training of MPs, a report, and Westminster Hall Debate and b) a reception for the Sheik Mahmoud Foundation, a charity formed by the family of the last King of Kurdistan. It is keen to chart the Anglo/Kurdistani history from war and peace to alliance over the last century. They want to speak about this and exhibit some of their archive at a reception in the Commons and to help build the bilateral relationship.

6 Guest speaker. David Hunt, UK Consul-General for the Kurdistan Region and northern Iraq gave an overview of the current situation and the priorities and profile of our diplomatic mission before taking questions and comments.

* Income and Expenditure Statement in full.
Name of group. APPG Kurdistan Region in Iraq
Period covered by this statement: 14 January 2021-15 January 2022
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
Signed by Chair of Group: Alicia Kearns MP
Date: 17 March 2022

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