Kurdistan travelogue: beauty, safety, films, training. A personal view

Given half the population is under 20, I meet more and more Kurds who don’t recall much about the Kurdistan I first saw in 2006 and where I have just concluded my 29th visit.
So much has changed. My first delegation arrived in Erbil at a small airstrip with wooden cabins. We were greeted by the Speaker and a forest of cameras because our visit was so unusual. My positive take on Kurdistan led me to help form the APPG.

This time, the sixteenth delegation from the APPG arrived at a modern airport designed by a British company. An earlier delegation toured the airport as it was being built and its long runway inspired an MP to suggest that Top Gear go to Kurdistan. They did and their programme in 2010 praised Kurdistan’s beauty and safety to millions who watched one of the world’s most popular programmes.

There was no fanfare as we were just one of several delegations in town, including a large American trade delegation who are sussing out opportunities for trade and investment now Kurdistan is emerging from the trials of the last five terrible years.

It has never been easy to organise delegations for British MPs who have many offers of fact-finding visits elsewhere. We always try to combine newcomers with past visitors and this delegation consisted of veteran APPG Chairman Jack Lopresti MP, two novices – Labour MPs Steve Reed and Toby Perkins – and me.

It is also difficult for MPs to be away for long because the UK has a minority government plus Brexit and the Conservative leadership contest. We had just 90 hours from take off to touch down in London and made the most of it. Within hours of landing we mingled with academics, aides, aid workers and the British Consul-General at a reception at the European Technology and Training Centre. Full disclosure: I am its Deputy Chair but can say that since it was opened by Safeen Dizayee and the current German President ten years ago it has become the leading training agency in Kurdistan and has tutored thousands of civil servants.

Following a breakfast briefing with the outgoing UK Consul-General, Martyn Warr – the 8th I have met – we hit the road to Slemani. This always enables delegations to see the tremendous agricultural and tourist potential of the countryside, which defy their preconceptions, and showcases its beauty, solitude and hospitality.

Someone tweeted at me that we should Skype not fly. Sorry, but MPs must see the country first hand. You won’t learn online that foreign visitors are warmly welcomed by leaders and face no hostility whatsoever. It shows the massive disconnect between Brits who opposed the liberation of Iraq in 2003 and how it is seen in Kurdistan. Many Brits keep banging on about the invasion without bothering to examine actually-existing Iraq – the peaceful transitions from one Iraqi government to another and the success of Kurdistan speak volumes. True, the UK’s role in Iraq would be seen quite differently if British troops had, as originally planned, been able to use Kurdistan rather than Basra.

And no online conversation could replace our second visit to the Ashti camp for internally displaced people at Arbat. Among the thousands living there, we met a Sunni Arab family from Tikrit and a Yezedi family from Shingal who have been living in tents for five years. We will never forget the family who gathered around the stoical father and his twelve year old son who keep things together. Meeting them humanised the plight in ways that cannot be done remotely.

The Kurdistani authorities are doing wonders with little assistance from Baghdad. The Kurds are so generous because they have so often been displaced or refugees but urgent action is needed to allow people to go home. That means new homes and services but also a new political and security system to reassure people they are safe from Daesh and external militia.

Likewise, nothing can replace seeing the Red House museum, its record of Baathist brutality in a building designed by the East German Stasi, and its new Peshmerga museum and account of the genocide against the Yezedis.

We also visited the old Tobacco Factory in Slemani, which I first saw in 2008 as a deserted and decrepit wasteland, but which could now become a beating heart of film production in Kurdistan. That could attract international film-makers to use Kurdistan as a location and enable Kurds to tell their stories to the world. And we saw another major tourist/film attraction, the Citadel in Erbil, and the buzz of the bazaar, where we had the statutory kebabs.

Our central conclusion is that prospects 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.

We also concluded that 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, Masrour Barzani, told us they wish to see more British companies in Kurdistan.

War and economic crisis in recent years stopped most of that but, now things are beginning to look up, we need to overcome the obstacles to this in Kurdistan and in Britain. We learned much from meeting the governor of Slemani, together with the Slemani Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Chamber and the Governor in Erbil.

There is an old saying that Capital is a coward. Or at least highly cautious with many choices, and the key is confidence and stability. That will take time to re-establish but there is a willingness to make that happen. An official UK trade mission could increase the British appetite for this and identify impediments to investment. MPs will continue to argue for visa reform, easing the formal FCO travel advice, and encouraging direct flights. 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 came from Kurdistani MPs and we want to provide or facilitate expertise exchanges for our mutual benefit.

The British MPs also say that 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.

The MPs noted that 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.

APPG reports consistently detail Kurdistan’s need to end over-reliance on energy revenues and state employment, grow a larger private sector in agricultural, tourism and light industry sectors, and encourage innovation, enterprise and dynamism.

MPs also suggested greater efforts 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.

After the MPs left, I took part in a seminar organised by the Middle East Research Institute, run by my old friend Dlawer al-Alaldeen, which brought together influential people in and around government. Such robustly independent think-tanks are clearly vital to expanding civil society and it’s not surprising MERI has such a good reputation in research and providing a place where people can speak candidly.

As are quality universities. I am a visiting Professor at Soran University and went there with my friend, Nahro Zagros to lecture on Brexit to academics who clearly follow the issue in depth.

I also spoke to old friends about relations between Kurdistan and the UK. History hangs heavily over such discussions. Over the years I have often heard about Sykes-Picot. Kurdish divisions and Turkish strength proved most important. But I am worried about untrue conspiracy theories concerning the alleged importance of BP in Iraq’s seizure of Kirkuk.

I also picked up a new awareness that the great powers were too late in providing credible alternatives to the referendum and that the One Iraq policy is best described as an all-Iraq policy, a useful variant of the phrase about the need for a strong KRG within a unified Iraq.

The increasing seniority of our diplomats in Erbil and the UK’s hard work on Peshmerga reform and our wider Reform Partnership underlines the importance of Kurdistan in British foreign policy. Obviously, as is true elsewhere, Britain is bigger in Kurdistan than Kurdistan is in the UK.

This drives APPG efforts to highlight Kurdistan as a beacon of tolerance, moderation and increasing dynamism but that must be anchored in realism about the past, present and future of a place I have seen survive and thrive. As I say as we go from one meeting to another, Ba Broin – let’s go.

Gary Kent

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Annual Meeting

The AGM is on Tuesday 16 July at 6.30 in CR7 but only open to parliamentarians and invited guests.

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Tabled 12 June 2019

That this House warmly congratulates Nechivan Barzani on his election by Parliament and his inauguration as President of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq; wishes him the best in uniting the Kurdistan Region, advancing economic and political reform, and further improving relations with the federal government in Baghdad through the full implementation of the Iraqi federal constitution and the finalisation of the status of disputed territories as well as building even better bilateral relations with the UK; and hopes that he and colleagues will be able to pay an official visit to the UK in the near future to meet the Prime Minister.

Mary Glindon, Robert Halfon, Toby Perkins and Mike Gapes

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APPG Vice-Chair Mary Glindon MP urges official KRG visit to the UK

FCO Questions 14 May 2019

Mary Glindon MP

I welcome the new Minister and hope that he will visit Baghdad and Erbil. Will he finalise the long-delayed official visit by the Kurdistan Regional Government President and Prime Minister to boost our important bilateral relationship with a strong KRG in a federal Iraq?

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr Andrew Murrison)

I thank the hon. Lady. She can be sure that I will visit Iraq again—it is a long time since I was there, in 2003. I support the points she made. The thing with Iraq at the moment is that we appear to have rolled back Daesh, but there is a lot of work still to be done, particularly in and around Erbil, to ensure that those who perpetrated these dreadful crimes on the Iraqi people are brought to account. Work in that respect is ongoing. I look forward to seeing it on the ground.

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Happy Newroz and a case for better links between the UK and the Kurdistan Region

Nurses and doctors from Newcastle and Gateshead have been visiting the Kurdistan Region in Iraq for nearly a decade. In their holiday time, they have been doing knee and hip operations that are currently beyond the health system there and have literally put many Kurds back on their own two feet.

This initiative was the brainchild of a Kurdish-British professor, Deiary Kader who worked in Newcastle and part of a growing network of relations between Kurds and Brits.

UK soldiers are also directly training thousands of the Peshmerga, the Kurdistani army that did so much to beat our common enemy, the so-called Islamic State. These monsters horrifically executed some British citizens and carried out genocide in Iraqi and Syrian lands they once occupied outside Kurdistan. And their followers wish us harm on our own streets as we saw tragically in London and Manchester.

Companies like Jaguar Land Rover are selling cars and there are great opportunities for British companies and institutions such as universities to set up shop, make money, and put Kurdistan on its feet.

The altruism of Professor Kader’s Newcastle-Gateshead Medical Volunteers is an inspiring story from the North East but this is also about protecting our own interests. Instability and injustice in the Middle East never stays there but spreads.

It is not commonly known but the Kurds like and admire the Brits. Many of their leaders lived and studied here and have British passports. English is their second language and several of their universities teach in English only.

They want our commerce, culture, and political support in a troubled region. We did the right thing when two million Kurds were forced to flee to the freezing mountains in 1991 and were saved by Sir John Major’s no-fly zone that prevented Saddam Hussein’s jets from bombing them into oblivion.

They then set up a new autonomous region that embraced democracy and rebuilt society. They did so much to make Iraq work after the overthrow of Saddam and Iraq and Kurdistan are now in a much better place than for years.

And the Kurds are reliable and able allies in building a peaceful, prosperous and pluralistic Middle East. Kurdistan is mainly Muslim but moderate and deeply devoted to protecting non-Muslim minorities. Christians live there as equals, as I have seen in their ancient churches and cathedrals. Women’s rights are also a priority. All that is a great gain for the whole world.

Kurds have far to go in deepening democracy and reforming their economy so it is less reliant on one volatile commodity, oil, and on huge state employment. They can boost private sector jobs in their tremendous agricultural potential and in tourism with the help of British entrepreneurs.

They are also keen to learn from us. I have taken many MPs there to meet their MPs who recently asked us to help train them and have established an all-party parliamentary group on the UK, which shows their deep esteem for us.

British MPs, including North Tyneside’s Mary Glindon, recently proposed several practical measures in a Commons debate to deepen bilateral links. One of the most important is direct flights to Kurdistan that British Airways is pondering.

That will become easier if the Foreign Office relaxes its advice about only going there for essential purposes. Kurdistan is the safest part of Iraq and foreigners are respected and protected. Amending the formal advice can encourage more Brits to see this lovely, safe, and hospitable place for themselves.

Professor Kader and his medical colleagues from the North East are great humanitarians in the best British traditions. But it’s about much more than charity. A more dynamic, efficient and educated Kurdistan suits our hard-headed interests too.

We should proudly celebrate our many links with a decent and pro-British people and especially today which is Newroz, the Kurdish New Year and the beginning of Spring.

Gary Kent is secretary of the UK’s all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, has been there 31 times in 13 years, and writes in a personal capacity. @garykent

This article originally appeared in the Newcastle Journal on 21 March 2019.

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Mary Glindon MP: the success story of Kurdistan and the Christians

The trees and decorations have just been taken down and the joys of the Christmas break are receding for us here though diets will persist for some time.

But let’s remember that there are many parts of the world where Christians suffer great discrimination and death at the hands of extremists. For them happy Christmases are either a very distant memory or a mere aspiration.

Over 200 million Christians face persecution and about 3,000 were killed last year – 250 people each month. Such persecution is like the canary in the mine – an alarm signal for non-Christians too. Persecution of one community often leads to it being repeated with other groups as order collapses.

The Open Doors organisation puts North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Pakistan. Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Nigeria, Libya and India in the list of countries where Christians are most endangered.

The Pope highlights what he calls a new era of martyrdom and says that “It seems that the cruel and vicious persecution of the Roman empire has not yet ended.”

As a Christian myself and a democrat, I am, therefore, pleased that the UK Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has asked the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen to advise the government on what it could do to help those under threat and to report back by Easter.

The Bishop’s review will have to answer some tough questions for British foreign policy given that we have some influence in many of those countries.

And the Bishop could also reflect on a government failure – that the UK didn’t offer sanctuary to the Pakistani Christian, Asia Bibi, who was recently released from eight years on death row on false charges of blasphemy. She could be slaughtered along with her family by extremist mobs anytime if she weren’t still in protective custody.

I am sure the report will focus heavily on the Middle East, the birthplace of religions but where Christianity is facing extinction. In Iraq, the number of Christians has dwindled dramatically.

But all is not lost there. Many Christians who have fled from Iraq have settled in its autonomous Kurdistan Region, which is a beacon of religious moderation and tolerance that could be emulated elsewhere.

The Kurds have long suffered themselves as a persecuted ethnic minority. They are mainly Sunni and Shia Muslims but also include the pre-Christian Yazidis as well as Christians. And they see themselves as primarily Kurdistani and largely secular in their institutions.

I have attended several meetings at the Commons and heard Kurdistani representatives and MPs who have been there outline the deep and natural pluralism in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Their parliament consists of 100 MPs but there is an additional list of 11 MPs elected by Christian and ethnic minority groups. Churches and cathedrals are visible and active, with the main Cathedral in their capital dating back to the first century. It is said that the three wise men began their journey to Bethlehem from the Kurdistani city of Amedi.

The Kurds did much to look after Christians who fled from Mosul to avoid being murdered by the extremist jihadist group, Daesh. They and many displaced Arabs remain in Kurdistan even after Daesh has been defeated in battle because they have so far nothing to go back to. Kurdistan’s public services have suffered massively but they are all welcome and are being treated with generosity and humanity.

The Kurdistani story of aid to Christians and others is manna from heaven for those who strongly believe that faith communities can and should work together for the common good of humanity.

I will ask the Bishop and the Foreign Secretary to visit Kurdistan, see all this for themselves, and praise this in the review. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand that protecting Christians also promotes peace, democracy and prosperity for all. Happy new year.

This article originally appeared in the Newcastle Journal on 8 January 2019.

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The eternal cycle of genocide: inaction, followed by demands for international ‘justice.’ Jack Glower.

“Peace Through Justice”, reads the emblem of the International Criminal Court. It is a noble claim, but evidence suggests that international mechanisms of justice do not prevent war, or deter genocide. The liberators of the Nazi concentration camps thought it unimaginable that another genocide to occur a few decades later. Yet just thirty years later, the Cambodian genocide took place and ten years after that, Saddam Hussein’s genocide against the Kurds of Iraq began. Years later genocides took place in Rwanda and Bosnia and twenty years after these atrocities, Daesh terrorists swept through the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and committed out genocide against the Yazidis.

Such outrages spawn parliamentary motions, speeches and UN resolutions and righteous op-eds like this one. Watching the cycle is like being in Groundhog Day. The crimes happen: there is no adequate international military response while they are happening. After the genocide, there are calls for justice for the victims, largely in the form of prosecution of the perpetrators.

An event in Parliament this week about the Daesh genocide against the Yazidis showed that the quest for justice is beset with difficulty, that it does not deter future violence and can mask the abject failure to prevent atrocities in the first place.

The meeting, held by All-Party Parliamentary Group for Kurdistan, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) High Representative to the UK, the Conservative Middle East Council and the University of Bolton’s Centre for Opposition Studies, heard KRG politicians, a German academic and a Kurdish NGO expert discuss ‘accountability, justice and genocide recognition in the framework of international law regarding Daesh’s crimes against the Yazidis in Iraq’.

H.E. Mahmood Haji Salih, KRG Minister for Martyrs and Anfal Affairs, pointed out that Daesh’s barbaric actions against the Yazidis in Kurdistan – mass killing of civilians, separation of women from men to prevent them conceiving Yazidi children, forcing women to become sex slaves and the razing temples and villages – clearly met the legal definition of genocide.

As for justice and accountability, the Minister documented that, in addition to the Kurdish Peshmerga having bravely fought Daesh and protected the Yazidis, the KRG has established a High Committee for the Recognition of Crimes against Yazidis and their Kurdish Minorities, which has in turn launched a Commission to investigate the crimes. 5,000 cases have been prepared, 2,000 of which are ready to be prosecuted. It should be remembered that 6,500 Yazidis were taken by Daesh, with 3,117 still missing.

In addition to their swift domestic action, the KRG want to internationalise the process, both to bolster operational effectiveness by leveraging international investigative and legal expertise, and to reflect the gravity of crimes which directly affected Yazidis and Kurds but indirectly offend the conscience of humanity.
Given the mixed record of international legal action in cases of genocide, it was unsurprising to hear from the Minister that the International Criminal Court declined the KRG’s request for help due to Iraq proper not being a signatory to the Rome Statute that created the ICC. The minister set out that the options facing the KRG are asking Iraq to join the ICC, to seek the establishment of a special international tribunal as happened for Rwanda, or a local tribunal.

The KRG’s well-led diplomatic work in London and Washington appears to have borne fruit. KRG High Representative to the UK, Karwan Jamil Tahir, explained that the UK were the main co-sponsors of the September 2017 UN Security Council Resolution 2379 which created an independent Investigative Team headed by a Special Adviser, to support domestic efforts to hold Daesh accountable for Its actions in Iraq by including collecting evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by Daesh. The Special Adviser of the Investigative Team, Karim Khan QC, is British and has commenced work.

However, the KRG High Representative cautioned that the UN is moving very slowly and this will result in both the loss of key evidence and also damage the process of reconciliation, indicating that more should be done. The international community’s record on justice does not offer the KRG much hope.

Prosecutions normally occur many years, or decades after the crimes, and see a tiny number of perpetrators successfully prosecuted, relative to scale of the atrocities and the number of people who must have been involved. In Rwanda, only 93 people have been indicted, of whom only 62 have been convicted by the ICT, for a genocide which killed one million. Regarding former Yugoslavia, the figures are similar, with 90 people sentenced of the 161 tried. The evidence from Iraq would suggest that Daesh fighters were not deterred by the prospect of perhaps 0.1% of their number being arraigned before an international court, 10 or 20 years after their actions.

Such international criminal tribunals are necessary, but they are not sufficient. They are the epitome of the stuttering, weak and inadequate collective reaction that humans of good conscience take in the fact of abject evil committed against defenceless men, women and children because of their ethnicity.

The meeting heard a powerful speech by Sherri Kraham Talabany, the President of SEED, a Kurdistan-based charity promoting development and humanitarian assistance in Iraqi Kurdistan, painted the broader picture about the multi-faceted support – far beyond international or domestic justice and accountability – that is required to heal the immense damage done to individuals, families, communities, the economy and society due to the genocide by Daesh against the Yazidis and their malevolent effect throughout the Kurdistan region and wider Iraq.

Talabany set out the impressive work of SEED to help victims deal with past trauma and protect them from the risk of future abuse. She set out that it is not just about money; rather that deep-set societal problems must be addressed such as sectarianism, weak rule of law, disenfranchisement and violence that permeates social structures, particularly affecting women.

So the prioritisation of justice and accountability is a totally inadequate response. It is in inverse proportionality to the severity of the crimes. What counts is long-term investment in the societies at risk of or recovering from genocide. What is also needed is robust military action to prevent genocide. This is not a lost cause. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq epitomises what can be achieved given that the US/UK no fly zone curtailed Saddam’s genocide against the Kurds. In Yugoslavia, a few weeks of NATO bombing ended the conflict and prevented ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Let us not forget that President Clinton’s biggest regret in office was not deploying armed forces to prevent the Rwandan genocide, which he has admitted could have saved 300,000 lives.

The Secretary of the Kurdistan APPG, Gary Kent, spoke of the 15 delegations to Kurdistan made by the APPG which have shown that despite the many internal and external challenges and threats they face, the Kurds have built a functioning, if imperfect secular democracy that protects minorities, is tolerant, welcomes the outside world and has bravely taken on Daesh. He concluded the meeting with a reminder that the KRG deserves more support from the UK and the international community because this can have a multiplier effect in a troubled region.

Achieving domestic or international justice for victims of genocide is fraught with difficulty and does not deter future atrocities. It must not be allowed to become the post-factum card played by the international community to assuage its guilt about its inability or unwillingness to take robust action to prevent the genocide in the first place. The Kurds are right to seek help on justice and accountability, but in order to prevent future genocides there, or elsewhere in the world, world powers must do far more to bolster the societal, economic and political reforms that are needed.

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Jack Lopresti MP and APPG Chairman hails warmer relations between Erbil and Baghdad and urges further internal reform


Jack Lopresti MP (left) and Robert Halfon MP (right) with UK soldiers who are training the Peshmerga in Kurdistan.

Relations between the Kurdistan Region and the federal government in Baghdad are looking up after a dire year in which the former Iraqi Prime Minister blockaded Kurdistani airports and sought but failed to dissolve the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil.

Relations between Erbil and Baghdad have always been poor given decades of discrimination, second class citizenship, and even a genocide, officially recognised by the British parliament. Nearly 200,000 Kurds were eliminated and many will remember the dreadful attack on the town of Halabja by Iraqi jets carrying chemical weapons and in which 5,000 people died almost instantly. Several thousand villages were also razed to the ground.

The Kurdistan Region, which had been protected by Western aircraft from an uprising in 1991 following Saddam Hussein’s defeat in Kuwait, decided to rejoin Iraq on the strict condition that things would be different. Their rights were protected in theory but less and less so in practice by the provisions of the new Iraqi federal constitution agreed in a referendum across Iraq in 2005.

The neglect of federalism and especially the decision to completely cut off all fiscal federal transfers to Kurdistan in 2014 gave impetus to a drive for negotiated independence. This was endorsed by 93% of the Kurds in a peaceful referendum in September 2017, which I and colleagues from the APPG officially observed in Erbil, Kirkuk and Slemani. The central problem is that the Kurdistan Region is landlocked and neighbouring powers are more or less hostile to statehood.

The Prime Minister, who ordered the isolation of Kurdistan and then offensive operations, lost office in parliamentary elections in May 2018. His successor says he is committed to resolving all outstanding issues and has made a very good start with an agreement concerning the export of stranded oil from the disputed province and city of Kirkuk.

For the last year, about $8 billion worth of oil has either been trucked to Iran, in relatively small quantities or remained in the ground. Erbil and Baghdad have now agreed that some oil can be piped via the KRG’s pipeline to Turkey and then beyond.

If this means a wider settlement that respects a strong KRG within a unified Iraq then the impetus for independence will fade. Desperation not dogma drove independence and it remains a right in international law.

In the meantime, the Kurds need to urgently address their chronic internal problems. I’d be the first to acknowledge that they have made huge advances, some of which I have seen in my three visits in the last few years.

They deserve unalloyed praise for fully respecting religious minorities such as the Christians. They have done much to improve the status of women. They have made great sacrifices in looking after huge numbers of Syrian refugees and displaced people from Mosul, at a great cost to their budget and public services. They were also decisive in defeating our common enemy, Daesh. They are open-minded and outward looking and have turned many enemies into friends.

But there are several big buts. Their economy relies massively on oil revenues and state employment. Many of these jobs are unproductive and flow from serving the interests of state-parties which reward and sustain their supporters. The private sector is under-developed and opportunities for private businesses in agriculture, tourism and light industry are often talked about but lack momentum. Corruption is a theft of public resources and needs to be stamped out.

All this is the subject of open discussion in Kurdistan. The old leadership has done much to improve Kurdistan in the last generation but a large cohort of youth wants more than resting on the laurels of unfinished successful reform. They seek a modern, democratic, citizen-based economy and politics and that means tackling vested interests.

Kurds understand this and want to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and stand on their own two feet. I was bowled over by a meeting in Parliament where the Secretary had assembled MPs from many parties and ethnic and religious groups to meet us. They announced they were setting up an APPG on the UK and that would be a vehicle for us to organise a skills transfer programme.

Westminster of course doesn’t have all the answers but that MPs want to learn from us how to do their job better is a significant down-payment. Kurdistan enjoys great security, is a beautiful country that could be a magnet for tourism, is profoundly hospitable and keen to overcome its legacies of war, genocide and be a bulwark against any further rekindling of extremism.

They have come a long way, need to go much further. My hope is that the deal on stranded oil prefigures a lasting settlement that can enable the Kurds, for the first time, to thrive in what has so long been a cold house for them. That is a priority of British foreign policy and I want more British MPs and citizens, especially investors and public bodies such as universities, to play a part in that success story. A truly federal and equal Iraq can benefit the Kurds and revive Iraq as a whole.

Jack Lopresti is Chairman of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, and MP for Filton and Bradley Stoke.


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Cross-party Commons motion welcomes oil deal on Kirkuk between Baghdad and Erbil


Session: 2017-19
Date tabled: 19.11.2018
Primary sponsor: Glindon, Mary
Sponsors: Blackman, Bob Halfon, Robert

That this House warmly welcomes an initial deal between the federal Government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), as urged by the UK and others, that will allow 50-100,000 barrels per day of stranded oil in Kirkuk to be exported via the KRG pipeline to Turkey and the wider market; considers that this will restore billions of dollars of lost revenue to Iraq and that the KRG’s success in expanding the capacity of its pipeline can be used to export more oil in the future; further considers that this powerfully symbolises the desire of Iraq and the KRG to normalise their relations for mutual benefit; and hopes that this prefigures a wider settlement of all outstanding issues between Baghdad and Erbil based on the full implementation of the federal constitution.

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UK soft power, foreign policy and the Kurds

How Britain can wave the rules and help the Kurds

What a difference a year makes. This was the theme of my contribution to the APPG discussion in the Commons on our delegation to the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad in May.

Just a year ago the joy of the referendum was rapidly replaced by Baghdad’s illegal blockade, economic bleakness, and an opportunist and violent attempt to invade Kurdistan. The principal proponents of a punitive approach to Kurdistan have now been sidelined and the new Iraqi Prime Minister may be a man who once fought alongside the Peshmerga and resigned on principle when his efforts to do a deal on oil between Baghdad and Erbil were obstructed.

The referendum would not have taken place if federal rules had been honoured and, if it they this time, then independence will be kicked down the road and the referendum will be seen as an inflection point at which things started to get better.

I understand why some are sceptical, promises have been made before, but it’s worth a try. If Baghdad fails this time to get the point that the Kurds cannot be kicked around and are vital to the stability and prosperity of Iraq, with or without independence, then it is at least arguable that a future bid for statehood will become more feasible.

Likewise, Britain is reaching an inflection point of its own as we near the moment of destiny about Brexit. Either way, the UK needs to rethink its relations with its European neighbours and the rest of the world, and there are opportunities for the Kurds in this.

One of the most original and influential thinkers in this is the active Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP, who recently outlined his vision of UK foreign policy in the context of an international order that is breaking down.

He says that this is because the West, which he defines as “that group of nations stretching from San Francisco in the West to Seoul in the East, who value the rule of law, economic liberty, and human rights, seem to be losing interest in the rules-based international order that has done so much to keep us safe since the end of the Second World War.”

At root, he says “there is, perhaps, something more human going on – a collective amnesia. The terror and unrest of previous eras has drifted far from people’s minds, and the events that shaped the lives of past generations have become distant memories. Today, too few have looked the devil in the face, too few have seen what can happen when the rules collapse and anarchy reigns. Too many see peace as the ordinary state of affairs, when a cursory glance at history makes clear, peace is painstakingly constructed and easily lost. Peace is the exception, not the rule.”

In searching for “ideas for a new Conservative internationalism,” although his thinking can be applied more widely, he asks fundamental questions about the importance of the nation-state in fostering multilateralism and cites how the EU’s centralising, supranational instinct is out of kilter with the temper of our times. He quotes a senior European prime minister who told him that “it’s a real shame about the European Commission. If we’d just been a group of nation states in Europe, we could have made this work.”

Because, he says, Britain’s history should not make us curators of a crumbling international order he asks “an urgent question of British foreign policy: how can we help design what is needed – an international system for today’s world?”

Dismissing what he calls the Davos view that that ever greater economic interconnectedness would melt borders away and make old national frontiers disappear he insists that “in an uncertain world we need to remember that the rock breaching the choppy waters is the state.”

Tugendhat lists the elements of the British state’s strong position as a heavyweight in foreign policy: the penetrating insight of its diplomatic and intelligence networks, its soft power from its trusted media and a generous aid programme that helps project influence, political stability, financial markets, and reputation that attract investment and enable trade, membership of many global clubs, and the capacity, as a last resort, to project power through the convincing threat of force.

He concludes by stressing that a chief British asset is the rule of law “because these islands, by accidents of geography, history and war have a long, unbroken tradition of justice” and that “English law and British justice are prized as the gold standard around the world.”

The rule of law, firm institutions, and centuries of developing them are why the proposed programme of skills transfer from British MPs to the Kurdistani Parliament and to youth and student organisations can be so important in helping the Kurds adapt lessons from elsewhere.

Imperial Britain used to rule the waves and waived the rules to do so but now, perhaps, waving the rules that have made it successful can do more to allow others to navigate storms in this transition to a new international order and lift all boats, including those of the landlocked Kurds.

* The full text of Tom Tugendhat’s speech is at https://rusi.org/event/tom-tugendhat-defending-rules

Gary Kent writes in a personal capacity

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