North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon urges solidarity with the Kurds

What happens in the Middle East rarely stays there and, in an ever smaller world, our fates are intertwined. Yes, because turmoil affects oil prices on which our economy depends. But also because nihilistic extremism attracts some gullible and fanatical young people to the self-declared Islamic State which plans operations such as that in Tunisia, where 30 British citizens including a woman from Blaydon were massacred. And more atrocities are likely.

But in the debate about what the West should do, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 clearly makes us wary of intervention. Hopefully, Sir John Chilcot will soon release his report on the invasion so we can properly learn lessons but one major beneficiary of overthrowing Saddam Hussein was certainly the Kurdish people of Iraq.

For decades they endured brutality which culminated in a genocidal effort to erase them. Thousands of villages were razed, people in the countryside were moved to urban concentration camps and nearly 200,000 men, women and children were murdered. Saddam used weapons of mass destruction against them, most infamously in a chemical weapons attack on Halabja in 1988.

The Iraqi Kurds then rose against Saddam and evicted him from their homeland and were protected by RAF jets for a further 12 years until Saddam was ousted. They then won official recognition as an autonomous region of Iraq and have built fledgling democratic institutions, universities and achieved greater prosperity by developing long-neglected and huge energy reserves.

Things changed for the worst in June 2014 when Isis swept into Mosul and overnight established a 650 mile border with the Kurdistan Region. Isis then turned on the Kurds and came within thirty miles of the capital. Again, RAF and US war planes have been essential in halting Isis and making the Kurds safer. The Kurds in Syria delivered a massive psychological defeat on Isis when it took back the town of Kobane.

But they face a determined enemy with masses of sophisticated American equipment captured from the Iraqi Army. Isis suicide bombers drive heavily armoured American Humvees and tankers filled with explosives at the Kurds whose light machine guns cannot stop them in time. The Kurds have been asking the West for heavy machine guns and missiles to stop these attacks in their tracks. Britain has given 40 such weapons. But it is not enough and I have joined with others in Parliament to pressurise the government to send more supplies.

I recently attended a Commons briefing with the Kurdish Ambassador here and his British counterpart in Kurdistan. The Ambassador told us that the federal government in Baghdad has been obstructive although the normally 5 million strong Kurdistan Region has taken in nearly two million refugees, mainly Arabs and Christians, who fled for their lives from Isis. Last year, Kurdish budget payments from Baghdad were cut altogether and they are currently receiving less than half of their constitutional entitlements. They cannot pay their Peshmerga soldiers and civil servants and their economy has stalled. I am glad that Turkey has finally joined the fight against Isis but it has combined this with attacking Turkish-Kurdish forces for domestic reasons. The Kurds deserve much better than this.

The British envoy in Kurdistan told us about British companies and public institutions working in Kurdistan, in line with Kurdish wishes for quality British products and interests. The Kurds have a deep affection for the British – English is the second language – and I hope that more British and North East companies make their way there in due course.

The Kurds are also a beacon of religious pluralism that can counter the fascism of Isis. We need all the allies we can get in the Middle East and the Kurds could show the way in building a peaceful and dynamic country. Their success is a vital part of defeating Isis, which helps us and the whole world. We should back the Iraqi Kurds.

Mary Glindon is the Labour MP for North Tyneside

This article originally appeared in the Newcastle Journal on 4 August 2015.

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