MPs in the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq have been assiduous after the fall of Kirkuk this week in raising key issues in the Commons and we also organised a briefing in Parliament with Karwan Jamal Tahir, the KRG High Representative to the UK.
The British-Kurdish MP, Nadhim Zahawi was the first to raise the issue in the Commons in the wake of the referendum and military action in Kirkuk. He asked: ‘Will the Foreign Secretary join me in thanking Ambassador Frank Baker for all his tireless work in Iraq? He has worked with the Foreign Secretary, Secretary Tillerson and the Iraqi Prime Minister to put together a deal that would have avoided the catastrophic situation that now plagues the country between the Kurds and Baghdad. Will the Foreign Secretary urge all sides to come back together around the negotiating table on that framework and negotiate a deal?’
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson thanked Zahawi for his work as ‘there is no one who knows the Kurdistan Regional Government or Kurdistan better than he does.’ He added that ‘Clearly, to a great extent the troubles that are now befalling that area were anticipated. We saw this coming, and we warned our friends in Kurdistan that it would happen. [Zahawi] also did a great job of warning them. We now have to manage a very difficult situation, and it calls for calm heads and negotiation.’
This raises the notion of returning Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi to the position of just over three weeks ago when, by my reading of the letter from US Secretary of State to President Barzani on 23rd September, he was willing to discuss all disputes with Erbil and to contemplate the possibility of a referendum if those talks failed or Baghdad showed bad faith.
Labour MP Ian Austin, who was on the recent delegation to Kurdistan to witness the referendum, then posed the following question: ‘We should all be very worried about the malevolent involvement of the Iranian hard-line al-Quds force using American heavy weapons against our brave allies the Kurds. Will the Minister make it clear that Iraqi forces must not enter the four provinces of the Kurdistan region, and that the only way forward is co-operation in Kirkuk and wider dialogue based on the Iraqi federal constitution, which is supposed to guarantee Kurdish rights?’
The Middle East Minister, Alistair Burt urged caution on all sides, and to continue a careful dialogue to make sure that there is no possibility of a miscalculation leading to conflict. It is essential that matters are pursued on a constitutional basis, but there is a difficulty at the moment in getting accurate information about precisely what is happening in the region. We are doing all we can to verify all stories, but we are also doing all we can to cool down the situation.’
APPG Chairman and Conservative MP Jack Lopresti, who led the delegation last month, asked: ‘Given the grave situation in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, what does my right hon. Friend think will be the impact on our currently deployed British Army teams who are training the Peshmerga as we speak?’
Burt replied that ‘At present, I do not think there is any reason to change the arrangements of the armed forces who have worked with the Peshmerga and have done such an outstanding job to push back Daesh. What we are all hoping for is that there will be no conflict in the area and that the determination already expressed by both sides to prevent any conflict will lead to a peaceful resolution of the current difficulties.’
My own contribution at the briefing was to point out that Kirkuk was not taken by the Kurds in 2014 but saved from Daesh when the Iraqi Army left its positions and at the request of the then Iraqi Prime Minister. I also said that the budget deal between Abadi and the KRG in December 2014 accepted that Kirkuk’s oil would be piped through the KRG to Turkey.
I also argued that if the Iraqi constitution had been respected since 2005 there would probably not have been a push to seeking independence. When I first visited Kurdistan in 2006 it was seen as The Other Iraq and its leaders were helping to stabilise Iraq as a whole with great success. Yet the abandonment of the Article 140 process in 2007 and the complete cut in the budget in 2014 propelled the push for independence.
The assessment that the neighbours were weaker than for some time was wrong, clearly, and Kurdistan faces a long haul in renewing itself for being a part of Iraq, hopefully on the terms promised in the constitution and which Abadi selectively quotes to defend his actions. These are some of the necessary, reactive positions to take in this crisis and I expect further interventions in parliament.
Gary Kent is the Secretary of the APPG and writes in a personal capacity