Concerted efforts over the last year by Kurdish and British campaigners have scored a major result. The British Parliament will discuss the genocide against the Iraqi Kurds in a special and historic debate from about 2.15-5pm on Thursday 28 February.
The title of the debate is “the 25th anniversary of the Kurdish genocide and its contemporary relevance.” The motion says that Parliament “formally recognises the Genocide against the people of Iraqi Kurdistan and encourages governments, the EU and UN to do likewise.
It adds that “that this will enable Kurdish people, many in the UK, to achieve justice for their considerable loss” and also enable Britain, the home of democracy and freedom, to send out a message of support for international conventions and human rights, which is made even more pressing by the slaughter in Syria and the possible use of chemical arsenals.”
The motion will be moved by Nadhim Zahawi and other members of the all-party group will pitch in. The floor is also open to any other MP who wishes to argue for or against the motion.
MPs will outline how the genocide began 50 years ago and culminated in the obscenity of Halabja and also put on record the testimonies of survivors and witnesses.
The terms of the motion deliberately include the contemporary relevance of the genocide. This is to enable MPs to make the point that the end of the genocidal threat from Saddam, first through the uprising and the no fly zone in 1991 and then through the liberation of Iraq in 2003, have enabled the Kurdistan Region to rebuild its society and economy.
They can also point out that, while the Kurds are forward-looking, they are lumbered with a lethal legacy from the crimes of Saddam.
First, there are many survivors and relatives who need continuing support and who rightly demand that those who committed these crimes are brought to book.
Second, the physical legacy of the genocide can be seen chiefly in the under-development of agriculture, once such a bountiful resource. The British public and MPs can hear about how Saddam turned the countryside into a free-fire zone and forcibly removed people to concentration camps in the towns. They can be told about how thousands of villages were ground into the dust and wells capped or poisoned.
My hope is that this illustrates that agriculture should be revived and that foreign companies and institutes can play a major role in helping Kurdistan become self-sufficient.
The reference to Syria in the motion allows MPs to discuss the lessons of the no-fly zone and humanitarian intervention in Syria to stem the bloodshed of the Syrian people. MPs can bear witness to the slaughter and urge the international community to prevent another Ba’athist dictator using chemical weapons.
But the appetite for intervention has been reduced by the widespread notion that the intervention in Iraq was wrong or even not worth it. This debate is returning in force with the tenth anniversary of the invasion which, like the anniversary of Halabja, takes place a few weeks after this debate.
Some MPs will argue that the plight of the Kurds was sufficient to justify the intervention and indeed to ask why it took so long. It constantly amazes me how little many people know about the reality of fascism under Saddam and the scale of the slaughter of the Kurds and other Iraqis, as well as Iranian and Kuwaiti people.
All in all, this debate is a golden opportunity to vent all these issues and put the Kurdistan Region – past, present and future – on the map.
At the end of the debate there could be a vote but this seems unlikely as the Government will not want to oppose Parliament recognising the genocide. The standard procedure is that Parliament approves such a motion without a physical vote.
We can then say that Parliament has recognised the genocide. However, the motion is not binding on the Government whose current position is that it believes that it should wait for an international judicial body to recognise the genocide first.
However, the debate and parliamentary recognition provide a new impetus for a continuing campaign and for the Government to change its mind. It would also enable other Parliaments in the UK and more widely to follow the example of Westminster.