“Prospects in the Kurdistan Region for greater unity and reform, better relations with Baghdad, and increased bilateral relations with the UK are much improved after five years of
near-existential crises although many roots and consequences of those crises need resolving.”
This is the key conclusion of a fact-finding visit by UK MPs to the Kurdistan Region, the 16th organised by the all-party parliamentary group since 2008. Two members have clocked up 35 visits while the other two were new to the Region. The delegation consisted of APPG Chairman and Conservative MP, Jack Lopresti, Labour MPs Toby Perkins and Steve Reed, and APPG Secretary, Gary Kent. The delegation also makes the following initial observations.
“Kurds clearly value the UK’s political and military expertise, the English language, higher education, and our quality goods and services. The Chambers of Commerce and the Prime Minister-designate told us they wish to see more British companies in Kurdistan. War and economic crisis in recent years stopped most of that but now that things are beginning to look up we need to overcome the obstacles to this in Kurdistan and in Britain.
An official UK trade mission could increase the British appetite for this and identify impediments to investment.
The APPG will continue to argue for visa reform, easing the formal FCO travel advice, and encouraging direct flights to facilitate business and tourist links.
Bilateral relations would also be enhanced by an official visit to the UK by the new KRG President and Prime Minister.
We were honoured to meet leaders of the Kurdistani parliament and its main parties to discuss a skills transfer programme to boost the capacity of Parliament. The initiative for this came from Kurdistani MPs and we will do our best to provide and facilitate expertise exchanges for our mutual benefit.
Kurdistan deserves great praise for consistent efforts to advance religious pluralism and tolerance as well as women’s rights. A Muslim-majority place committed to inclusiveness versus extremism is a great asset for the whole world.
We visited a camp for thousands of displaced Sunni Arabs and Yezedis. They have been living in tents for five years and they cannot go home any time soon. The Kurdistani authorities are doing their best to shoulder this burden although their economy has been under intense pressure and with little assistance from Baghdad. The Kurds are so generous because they have so often been displaced or refugees themselves but urgent action is needed to allow people to go home. That means physical reconstruction of homes and services but also a new political and security system to reassure people they are safe from Daesh as well as external militia in those areas.
Erbil/Baghdad relations are markedly improving but respect for Kurdistani rights in a binational Iraq needs to be deepened and dependable. That and Kurdistani reform can increase security, investor confidence, and living standards.
As previous APPG reports have detailed, Kurdistan also needs to end over-reliance on energy revenues and state employment and grow a larger private sector in agricultural, tourism and light industry sectors. This can encourage innovation, enterprise and dynamism.
Greater efforts are also needed to encourage the participation of the younger generation and develop civil society. The keys to that are higher education and technical/vocational systems fit for purpose. That can avert brain drains and train cadres capable of building a stronger economy, and smarter political debate.
We visited the Slemani Culture Factory which could be a base for a film production sector. That could attract film-makers to use Kurdistan as a location and enable Kurds to tell their stories to the world and win sustained support for advancing democracy and preventing the return of genocide and war we saw in moving detail in the Red House museum in Slemani.”