A domain of one’s own?

Kurdistan achieved its independence last week but you may not yet have noticed it. They now have a separate domain in cyberspace – Krd. The next question is whether or when that can become a two letter suffix with an independent Kurdistan flying its flag at the UN.

In the last decade I have been lucky enough to visit the Kurdistan Region in Iraq several times a year. The focus was helping federalism to flourish in Iraq as a whole but the prospect of that has faded to insignificance thanks to a resurgence of chauvinism in Baghdad and also the hammer blows of Daesh, which controls one third of Iraq.

We are nearing the centenary of the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement of May 1916 in which the dominant imperialist powers of Britain and France began a process that led to the denial of a Kurdish nation and imprisoning the Kurds in Iraq, who endured discrimination and eventually genocide in the 1980s.

In 1991 they won relative freedom from Saddam Hussein for twelve years and when Iraq was liberated in 2003 they achieved a democratic and federal settlement which worked for a few years.

But increasingly sectarian Shia leaders in Baghdad have ratted on the deal and the Kurdistan Region is now on the glide path to independence in the next few years. The continued participation of the Kurds may make Iraq better, though few leaders in Baghdad seem to make that case. But the clear failure of federalism has almost certainly made unity impossible.

Many Sunnis had also been alienated by a Shia dominated government in Baghdad which used barrel bombs against them and sold out on promises that Sunnis who played a major role in defeating Al Qaeda would be incorporated into the armed forces and paid.

Common sense would indicate that Iraq should stay together to overcome Daesh but the jihadist advance has divided Iraq which only really exists now in name. Sunnis who have collaborated or acquiesced in Daesh rule will not be convinced to turn on the new and even more barbaric version of Al Qaeda if all they have to look forward to is renewed rule by Shias from Baghdad. It’s sad but that, I suggest, is the new reality of what John Woodcock MP called the fundamental fiction of a unitary Iraq.

John joined an all-party parliamentary group delegation that visited Kurdistan in November and visited the frontline in Kirkuk where we were just four kilometres from Daesh positions. The delegation included Labour parliamentarians Mike Gapes, Liam Byrne and Maurice Glasman, along with Conservative MPs Jack Lopresti and Henry Smith as well as UUP MP Danny Kinahan and ConHome columnist, Garvan Walshe.

Their report details the economic heart attack facing the Kurdistan Region, which has been brought on by external factors and their own and now redundant model of relying on one commodity, oil, and a massive state sector. The report urges the UK and its allies to bolster reform and rush in aid to help the Kurds overcome their problems.

A decade back, no one knew anything about the Kurds. They are now flavour of the month as their Peshmerga are doing so much to resist Daesh. But they are in a hole and are asking for the Brits and others to step up to the plate for their sakes and for our own.

Gary Kent, who writes in a personal capacity, is the Director of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region. @garykent

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