Two steps forward, one step back in Kurdistan

The report of the latest APPG delegation to Kurdistan and Baghdad is here at appg kurdistan delegation report may 2018 website

Introduction to the report of the APPG delegation to Kurdistan and Baghdad, with the participation of Jack Lopresti MP and Robert Halfon MP, and others

The Kurds in Iraq are amongst our foremost friends in the Middle East and have been to hell and back in the last four years but have survived.

They were also decisive in defeating Daesh and remain crucial to our own national security because Daesh is still ideologically potent, and has not evaporated as a guerrilla force, which could morph into a new and even more vicious group.

The Kurds were entitled to hold a peaceful referendum on the principle of independence. Baghdad’s vicious and violent reaction to a peaceful vote of intention made a mockery of the first article of the Iraqi constitution which insists that Iraq is a voluntary union: the Kurds can check out but never leave, it seems.

It is shameful that Baghdad opportunistically tried to dismantle the internationally recognised Kurdistan Regional Government and suffocate their economy. Baghdad failed and whilst I cannot forgive them for killing Peshmerga, senior leaders in Baghdad recognise the need to row back from violence and reset relations with the Kurds, although it should be based firmly on the federalism in the Iraqi constitution and the Kurds need robust pragmatism in dealing with Baghdad.

The report of our latest fact-finding delegation – the 15th in a decade – argues that the Kurds are geopolitically pivotal, with the expertise and experience to challenge extremism, and encourage peace-making. The Kurds are a bridge between Europe, Turkey and Iraq. They could again be a magnet for investment and through that to the wider market in Iraq. Kurdistan could be a base for those reconstructing Mosul. Kurds in Iraq could help ease antagonism between neighbouring governments and other Kurdistans.

The Kurds also know they need to reform their own systems, the fault lines and flaws of which have been cruelly exposed in recent years. Our latest report highlights the need for thorough reform of its top-heavy and oil dependent rentier economy. We say that Kurdistan needs to adopt a capitalist model with the balance between market and state and individual and collective rights suiting Kurdistani needs. A new tax system could include a wealth tax so that sacrifices are shared more equally and funds are raised for a welfare state.

We also argue that Kurdistan also relies too heavily on state employment, that the size of the state strangles independent private businesses, and that massive opportunities to develop agriculture, tourism, light industry and more have yet to gain traction.

In all this there is a major and mutually beneficial political and commercial role for the UK, which is keenly desired by the Kurds. It’s a great symbol of the popular esteem for the UK that Kurdistani MPs have formed an all-party group on the UK, the first such group. They want MPs and others here to train their MPs and deepen their young democracy. We can also cultivate youth and student organisations.

Our initial audit of the British footprint in Kurdistan includes support for modernising the Peshmerga, more links between our universities, cultivating a film industry so Kurds can better tell their stories, and reforming the visa system for Kurds who need to come here for business and other purposes. The UK should organise an official trade mission to Kurdistan.

The report of the delegation, which included an observer from the Catholic Church in England and Wales, highlights Kurdistan’s religious pluralism, which we say is all too rare throughout the Middle East and something which we should not take for granted.

Political engagement in the Middle East sounds alarms for many but it would be short-sighted to ignore the need to help reliable allies there stand on their own two feet. This enables them to avoid further conflicts that create refugee flows and destabilise the world economy. A dynamic and reforming Iraqi Kurdistan should be a major UK goal.

Gary Kent
APPG Secretary

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