Full report of November 2016 delegation to Kurdistan including Mosul

Who and what the delegation saw

The delegation visited the cities of Erbil, Slemani and Duhok as well as Bartella, a newly liberated Christian suburb twelve miles from the centre of Mosul. And five camps for internally displaced people and one camp for Syrian refugees to grasp the experience of nearly two million people who have fled to the Kurdistan Region. We also visited the Lalish temple, the spiritual home of the Yezedis, who have borne the brunt of genocide in the last three years.

We saw senior representatives of the three main parties and spoke to Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leaders including the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament and ministers for Foreign Affairs, Interior/Peshmerga, and Natural Resources as well as cabinet-ranking Chiefs of Staff to the President and the Prime Minister. We also met the Head of the Provincial Council and members in Slemani, and talked with the Governors of Erbil and Duhok provinces. We engaged with fellows from the respected and independent think tank – the Middle East Research Institute.

Members toured the Red House Museum in Slemani, which graphically records the horrors of the Anfal genocide, and heard how an old cigarette factory nearby could become a base for the film industry. Kurds telling stories of their tragic past and their hopeful future should be a vital money-spinner, given awesome locations that could easily suit a Bond or Bourne action sequence, and also a powerful means to woo the world about their past, present and future.

We joined tourists at the ancient Citadel, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. We took in the views at Lake Dukan and saw the so far under-utilised yet fertile and astounding countryside between the cities. Members had a useful discussion with the British acting Consul-General and met others at a networking reception at the European Technology and Training Centre in Erbil. We also visited a powerful symbol of Anglo-Kurdistani trade – the Jaguar showroom in Erbil.

Thanks are due to the KRG High Representative to the UK, Karwan Jamal Tahir, the KRG’s Protocol Department, our drivers and security officers for their hard work in providing and facilitating the itinerary requested.

The delegation consisted of Jack Lopresti MP (APPG officer and team leader), Rosie Winterton MP, Graham Jones MP, Tracy Brabin MP, author Jonathan Foreman, and Gary Kent, the Director of the APPG.

The start of the crisis in 2014

This report builds on insights gathered in APPG fact-finding delegations since 2008 since when progress has ebbed and flowed. At the beginning, Kurdistan’s oil and gas reserves lay largely untouched and Turkey seemed likely to invade. The energy sector was quickly turned into the world’s latest oil frontier while Turkey became a valued partner to the KRG with which it has a 50 year economic agreement. The KRG seeks to be a good partner in what Kurdistani leaders usually describe as “a tough neighbourhood.”

Oil revenues funded a construction and infrastructure boom and average wages soared tenfold. But poverty and unemployment have increased since February 2014 when Baghdad completely severed budget transfers to the KRG. The dramatic drop in oil prices worsened things. The capital, Erbil is littered with half-finished buildings and idle cranes on the skyline as thousands of public projects were stalled.

And then came the resistible rise of the so-called Islamic State – Daesh as they say in the Middle East. Kurdistani leaders first told us of this new group in late 2013. In June 2014 they vainly offered to send the Peshmerga to protect Mosul before it fell and the Iraqi army retreated leaving copious amounts of American equipment to Daesh, which also captured Syrian Army kit.

Mass influx of displaced people into Kurdistan

Overnight an exodus of internally displaced people (IDPs) fled to Kurdistan in June 2014. A senior leader told us last November that “Baghdad has not given a dime in support” to the KRG for the IDPs. The Erbil Governor said that 700,000 IDPs live in his province but Baghdad has not increased medicines to the governorate. Yet officials at the West Erbil Emergency Hospital told us that it was planning to receive many Iraqi Army and Peshmerga casualties. We talked to those there and sadly saw an Iranian woman Peshmerga in the throes of death.

The Kurds know well what life as a refugee is like and have generously made great efforts to accommodate them, although many are Sunni Arabs whose legacy includes support for Saddam’s genocide against the Kurds. As we toured a makeshift and barren camp near the Iraqi border, the accompanying Peshmerga General told us that many were Daesh supporters in the groups of sullen men eyeing us suspiciously.

There appears to be little tension between Arab Sunnis and Kurds, although some Kurdistani towns have been transformed. Human rights organisations have criticised the KRG for alleged ethnic cleansing of Sunni Arabs in villages captured from Daesh. The team was not able to judge these claims but the KRG contests them and highlights the wider positive treatment of Sunni IDPs. We will examine these claims on a future visit and urge the KRG to swiftly reply to such allegations, rebut them, or admit culpability and make any necessary changes.

Internal security

The Kurds have prevented persistent Daesh attempts to smuggle in sleeper cells. Many commend their tip-top internal security and note that Duhok, which could be the tourist capital when stability returns and its airport is completed, has suffered no attacks since 2003.

Attacks in Erbil have been rare although the delegation paid its respects at the monument to the biggest single atrocity when 99 people were killed by two Al Qaeda bombs in 2004. The monument is in Sami Abdul Rahman Park, named after the former Deputy Prime Minister who was murdered on that day.

The delegation bumped into his daughter, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman at the airport. After her father and brother’s murder she left the Financial Times to become the KRG’s High Representative to London, a close partner of the APPG, and now represents the Kurds in Washington. She asked why Iraq has always been a “theatre of massacres.” Another senior leader said that Iraq has been “a failed state since the beginning” and that “the world has long tried to put a square peg in a round hole” given the increasing lack of a national identity in Iraq, whose social fabric has been torn apart.

Psychological impact

The physical damage can in time be repaired. Psychological damage is a different matter, especially for the Yezedis and the Christians. Many were slaughtered and many women repeatedly raped as sex slaves. They suffer continuing post-traumatic stress disorder without sufficient resources to care for them and to manage their nightmares and flashbacks. Women are at the sharp end of this long-term psychological crisis.

The trauma of Saddam’s “Anfal” (spoils of war) genocide, in which 200,000 Kurds were exterminated in the 1980s was less of a priority as Kurds rebuilt society in the safe haven afforded by the British-led no fly zone and after the ousting of Saddam in 2003. The latest traumas of Yezedis and Christians cannot be ignored and we recommend a major injection of funds and psychological expertise. It requires a Marshall Plan of the Mind.

Even if the Syrian war ended tomorrow and Daesh-occupied lands were liberated, cleansed of IEDs, and reconstructed, many would find it difficult to return home – their natural and widespread desire. Fellows from the Meri think tank explained the complex dynamics of peoples in the Nineveh province who once lived together but now cannot trust each other. Building a new governance there could employ a truth and reconciliation process and concerted international efforts to rebuild the physical, psychological and political fabric of this tortured territory, prevent the return of jihadist extremism, and cultivate peaceful co-existence.

The case for economic reform

Oil returning to anything like its hundred dollar level will not solve the KRG’s structural problems. One senior party figure said he had originally advised against developing oil because Kurdistan would be better off without it – an echo of the famous Dutch disease whereby reliance on one revenue distorts development. The Natural Resources Minister candidly conceded that the drop in prices “exposed our illnesses.” He said unsustainable income and expenditure imbalances presented a greater long-term threat than Daesh.

It is a testament to the business-like candour of Kurdistani leaders that we explored the pathologies of patronage and corruption that underpin the KRG’s dysfunctional and unproductive economy. There is no avoiding these Mesopotamian Pachyderms.

The state is too dominant – “a sort of big brother state” as one leader dubbed it – and too many of its vast workforce don’t work, even exist, or do too little. This has developed over decades as the two main parties paid “salaries for votes,” as the Erbil Governor put it.

The KRG has rightly looked after the relatives of martyrs, and those wounded in war but one senior leader said “just because you’ve lost your finger does not mean you cannot work.” The bloated state has also done little to ration resources such as electricity and water, which are in shorter supply after the influx of so many IDPs. The Duhok Governor said they have six hours of water every three days.

Many Kurds are feeling the pinch and there have been teachers’ strikes in the region. But the KRG must fairly close the deficit, increase taxes and charges, and pay down the debt including monies owed to international oil companies without which they cannot be expected to develop substantial untapped energy reserves.

The KRG is pioneering the use of biometrics to ensure that people are legitimately employed and to smarten the state. In December 2016, Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani delivered a speech at Chatham House in which he explained that “biometric registration represents a first step down this road that answers the question: who are we paying and how much? This will open the way to more complex questions of ‘why and to do what’ under subsequent civil service reforms.”

Reform could also unleash an essential enterprise revolution. Kurds have survived for centuries between large empires as an entrepot. But entrepreneurial skills need to be recultivated for new generations, and that in turn requires a transformation of education from quantity to quality, and more vocational education.

They have long made the most of their non-oil resources but agriculture was destroyed in a scorched earth policy by Saddam Hussein. Kurds now produce maybe 10% of their food and farming skills have been lost. APPG delegations have often heard of the quality of pomegranates from Halabja and elsewhere. High value superfoods are cherished by Western consumers. Halabja being identified with pomegranates rather than genocide would be a powerful symbol of a new Kurdistan, as part of boosting agriculture and tourism.

Internal political disputes

The Kurds chose to adopt democracy after their uprising in 1991 and established a parliament in 1992. Later they chose a President first through parliament and then in direct elections but have yet to agree a constitution for the region.

The presidential term expired in 2013 and was extended by agreement between the two leading parties for a further two years. The extended term ran out last year without resolution of the differences between the parties on the terms of the presidency. The single biggest party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), prefers direct elections while other parties favour indirect elections. The relative powers of the two institutions and those of governorates and mayoralties can best be established in a draft constitution. The APPG takes no view on these choices but the final deal should be endorsed in a referendum.

There was street violence in Slemani in October 2015 and the torching of five KDP buildings with the loss of life. The President’s Chief of Staff, Dr Fuad Hussein, who was conducting inter-party negotiations, told us he had remonstrated with Gorran about a plot to attack him in front of the cameras at a hotel in Slemani the day before KDP offices were attacked. The Speaker, whose Gorran (the Change) party was also blamed by the KDP for the violence, was banned from entering Erbil province and hence taking his post in Parliament, which has been in deep freeze since then.

The APPG met the Speaker in London and accepted his invitation to meet him in Slemani. We believe that his reinstatement is essential, if only perhaps briefly before Parliament decides to confirm him or elect a new Speaker. His reinstatement is the only red line for Gorran, which did not mention reinstating their ministers whose expulsion was within the parameters of acceptable action by any Prime Minister.

Kurdistani leaders should know that failure to end this dispute will make it more difficult for them to engage with Western parties, and institutions such as the Council of Europe. We hope that the paralysis of parliament is a temporary interruption on the road to further embracing democracy and the rule of law. The hiatus should not long outlast the direct military phase of the war against Daesh and would increasingly undermine KRG credibility.

We also believe that the emergence of Gorran, first as an opposition, then in government – where its ministers were widely judged to have done a good job – is a big bonus in developing democratic norms and accountability of those in power, and rare in the Middle East. We suggest offering Gorran training in how to be a loyal opposition.

Parliament and the KRG have long played second fiddle to the politburos of the political parties. We heard that in the nearly two years before its suspension Parliament had only considered eight Bills and there is now a logjam of legislation. Parliament could become the cockpit of national debate in due course. Its reinstatement should lead to increased support from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and others.

Auditing oil revenues

We note the Speaker’s reliance in our meeting on unsubstantiated allegations by a news channel, NRT, about missing oil revenues to the tune of $500 million a month. A previous delegation visited the NRT studios in Slemani in solidarity after it was outrageously burnt to the ground in 2011 by armed and uniformed men.

We take the point made by the Natural Resources Minister that international oil companies in Kurdistan are accountable to their shareholders and that this drives transparency. His ministry also produces monthly export and sale figures. The UK offered to fund the auditing of oil export and revenue figures but the KRG decided to proceed on its own account and tender for contracts to audit historic and current figures. Two major companies won the contracts.

We urge the KRG to fully publish the reports given the pressing need to boost the confidence of Kurdistani public opinion in such figures, which was the main reason for seeking third party validation of these often contested figures in the first place. Oil revenues are the main source of the KRG budget but most citizens do not understand the economics of the oil sector and distrust official statistics. Anything short of full disclosure would fuel such scepticism and cynicism, although we have no doubt about the probity of the auditing companies.

Media rights and responsibilities

Distrust is deepened by unsourced and sensationalist reporting, a lack of professional ethics, and alleged repression of journalists, including several murders. Kurdistan is in transition from what they call mountain journalism and politics. This refers to when they were fighting either a common enemy in Saddam Hussein or then, sadly, each other in their bitter and bloody civil war in the 1990s. A free but responsible media can cultivate a more coherent and diverse national conversation rather than a partial, atomised, and unrealistic dialogue.

Several journalists have been murdered in recent years with reports saying that some had previously been harassed by security personnel. We cannot judge such murders but the principle of the matter is utterly clear: all murders must be investigated with the utmost rigour, prosecutions brought, and those found guilty punished. Anything else will tarnish the reputation of the Kurdistan Region. Kurdistani leaders must overcome behaviours that taint them and make their claim to independence less credible.

Pluralism and women’s rights

But we also salute their clear dedication to building a progressive and pluralist country. They are part of the Middle East with all its pathologies about corruption, influence, and a lesser role for women. Kurdistan is largely a man’s world but less so than other countries in the region and we note a determination to increase female participation in work and public life. We applaud their insistence on legislation to combat domestic violence, so-called honour killings, FGM and polygamy – sometimes imaginatively within the constraints of the less progressive Iraqi constitution.

We saw a moderately religious Muslim country whose state institutions are secular. We commend the fact they have a minimum number of women in parliament – a higher proportion than in ours – and a list of 11 out of 111 members from Christian and national minorities.

The Speaker spoke for all in saying that the Kurds want “to keep Christians in our country – they are part of our past, present and future.” The Foreign Minister stressed the need to ideologically challenge extreme Mosques and jihadist ideology after Daesh is despatched. Kurdistani leaders scotched the myth that the invasion of Iraq had created the jihadist menace which they see as home-grown – “not from another planet” according to the Prime Minister.

Various organisations could help the KRG counter extremist messages from within and from Arab countries. There are two relatively moderate Islamist parties but some hundreds of Kurds from Halabja have joined Daesh and we should not be complacent about the ability of Islamism to attract support in the event of the failure of state-building in Kurdistan.

“We get the breakfast but are not sure of lunch let alone dinner.”

We were struck by the positive assessment of British military intervention both in 1991 and in 2003, and in the current fight against Daesh. It has, they said, been a positive force for the good. We envisage a continuing role for the British military in assisting the Peshmerga. Disengagement would be dangerous. We assume that Mosul will be taken within the next few months and the administration of Donald Trump will then face a decision on whether it wishes to maintain the coalition to ensure that there is no revival of jihadism. President Obama’s premature withdrawal in 2011 helped fuel the rise of Daesh.

One major issue is the need to unite and professionalise the Peshmerga as a full state institution rather than partly controlled by the two historic parties, although all Peshmerga are directed by the government. We were assured that party influence has not undermined their unity against Daesh. In fact, we heard that the Peshmerga represent a greater popular unity and can be a guarantor that the Kurds will not return to killing each other. Leaders on all sides stressed that those days have gone but that cannot be taken for granted.

We were told that 70% of the fight against Daesh had been carried out by the Peshmerga and pay our respects to the Peshmerga who have lost 1600 members and nearly ten thousand injured in resisting Daesh. We joined the Peshmerga on the frontline and also visited a hospital in Erbil to express solidarity with wounded members of the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army. The APPG delegation in November 2015 urged the British government to supply free beds for the most seriously wounded Peshmerga at its specialist hospital in Birmingham. Other countries have done this and it is the least we can do to help those whose lives have been massively altered by fighting Daesh for the sake of their own homeland and as part of the frontline between global civilisation and barbarism.

The Foreign Minister told us he had informed the Americans that the KRG has zero weapons or ammunition in their warehouses while another leader talked of hand to mouth supplies. The Interior/Peshmerga Minister illustrated the imbalance between Daesh and the Peshmerga on the battlefield – “we send over 5 or 6 shells and they reply with 200.” He added that it is always better to have stocks of ammo in case they are needed and quickly. They need more military support including heavy weapons to reduce their casualties against an often better equipped enemy and longer-term threats.

Externally provided military training has done much to transform the Peshmerga from a force using guerrilla tactics in the mountains to one capable of fighting on the plains and in urban areas. But the Prime Minister memorably argued that “We get the breakfast but are not sure of lunch let alone dinner.”

Shia militia, the PKK and Iran

Kurdistani leaders are wary about the intentions of the Shia militia, the Hashd al Shabi or Popular Mobilisation Units which supplement the Iraqi Army. The Kurds, Iraq and the Americans have agreed that the militias and the Peshmerga stay out of the city of Mosul in case this leads to violent sectarian retaliation by the militia or sparks Arab/Kurdistani tensions.

Instead, the militias have been tasked to areas west of Mosul and are particularly interested in Tal Afer, a Sunni Turkmen city which has long been a base for Baathist and jihadists. One Shia militia leader has declared the aim of avenging Sunni defeats of 1400 years ago. The city is also on the strategic route for Iran through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean and may become a major flash point between Sunnis and Iran. We also heard that the PKK is illegitimately laying down roots in the Shingal area and wants to build a base on the town’s long mountain. Iran has long nursed the desire for a route to the Mediterranean and one KRG leader said they had been punished in the 1990s for resisting the plan.

Amicable Divorce?

Deteriorating relations with Baghdad have put independence on the agenda. The main arguments for sovereignty are allowing the KRG to borrow on international markets, receive the full non-discounted price for oil, attract more foreign investment, diversify its economy, and deprive those who resist reform of excuses for profound economic and political change.

It would also allow Kurdistan full access to global financial institutions such as the IMF. The KRG says it has not received a penny of funds from international financial institutions that have gone to Baghdad. Any similarly positioned country such as Kurdistan would, if it were not a sub-sovereign entity in a middle-income country, be a priority for national and international development, capacity-building and political exchange programmes.

There is no doubting the depth of Kurdish leaders’ criticisms of Baghdad’s broken promises but they also accept that the relationship with Baghdad is the priority whether Kurdistan remains in Iraq or not. They have not been urging external powers to force the pace of separation and have instead insisted it must be negotiated with the federal government. Agreement with Baghdad would allow the international community to recognise independence and better help stabilise and reform the country.

The enormous scale of “Kurdexit” compares to Brexit. It will require extensive technical expertise but also great political skills in framing agreements that command popular support across Iraq.

One of the most vexed issues will be the southern border of the Kurdistan Region and the status of Kirkuk. The border of the Kurdistan Region was unilaterally set by Saddam Hussein who excluded nearly half the region from what became the autonomous region in 1991. The collapse of the Iraqi Army in Kirkuk forced the KRG to reinforce its military presence there and the liberation last year of Shingal brought it into the region.

The US, Baghdad and Erbil agreed that the KRG’s defence lines at 17 October – the day of the beginning of the joint offensive to take Mosul – will be respected and the Peshmerga will fall back to those lines. The agreement has not been published and some suspect a temporary fudge which will be contested after Mosul. The KRG stresses it will not cede lands for which blood has been sacrificed.

The argument that such lands have been taken illegally will be countered by recognising that the historic Kurdistani province of Kirkuk was forcibly Arabised. But new borders have to be agreed or irredentism will follow, perhaps for decades. We are worried that the Shia militia will contest Kurdistan’s new borders and that emphasises the need for a lasting agreement between Erbil and Baghdad.

Foreign powers still express a formal preference for a united Iraq. But this is becoming a position of neither obstructing nor advocating it. It is not for foreign powers to insist that independence is necessary, or to rule it out. The people of the Kurdistan Region have the right to self-determination. We believe that while the UK will not proactively recommend separation it should be prepared in due course to assist the process of amicable divorce.

In the event of independence, an American military base in Kurdistan would be in Western interests as could the dollarisation of the economy. An independent Kurdistani Republic might also seek to join Nato and perhaps even the Commonwealth.

Bilateral relations

The KRG clearly values the bilateral relationship with the UK, where many leaders spent years in exile, and in a country where English is the second language. The APPG has helped improve Anglo-Kurdistani links and we note agreements during the Prime Minister’s visit to Britain in May 2014 to establish a joint High Committee have understandably been delayed by the war. The purpose of the committee was to meet every quarter and mobilise technical assistance to help reforms, fight corruption and restructure the Peshmerga.

Conclusion

Kurdistan has made huge advances in a generation but has gone backwards in important respects in the last two years. Kurdistani leaders have set high standards for themselves and their society is open to foreign visitors, both of which magnify contrasts between rhetoric and reality.

One of the most attractive aspects of the Kurdistan Region is its stated commitment to shared values of democracy and the rule of law, which has made it stand out from much of the rest of the Middle East and has underpinned wide public sympathy in America and Europe towards it, not least given the palpable bravery of the Peshmerga in fighting Daesh. If that commitment proves to be paper-thin, Kurdistan will lose its political advantage and could become just another “Stan,” with diminishing public sympathy and support.

We are concerned that discussion of strategic political change is confined to a narrow circle. Developing political activity and policy-making is crucial, not least given that the vast majority of Kurds were born after the tumultuous events of the uprising in 1991 and the liberation of Iraq in 2003.

The new generation is impatient for change and will not allow political leaders to rest on their laurels. Whilst Kurdistani society is heavily politicised, too few young people are involved in politics. Opening up political debate is essential in itself and to prevent youth despairing. A very small minority of Kurds has embraced Daesh but radicalisation could grow if secular politics is further gridlocked. We are not suggesting that jihadism could build a big base because most Kurds know that Daesh is their enemy. But nor should one be complacent.

The bigger danger is that more people who have returned from exile in the West could decide that Kurdistan offers them little hope and return to the West. Their skills should be nurtured and those who stay in Nashville, the biggest single Kurdistani gathering in America, or in Croydon, Birmingham or Manchester have a vital role too in bolstering Anglo-Kurdistani relations .

We welcome Kurdistani leaders’ straight-talking and hope they welcome ours as a good friend. We are deeply respectful of their sacrifice in pushing back Daesh – a common enemy which will come for us more in Europe if they are not fully defeated, militarily and ideologically. Their defeat on the battlefield is now certain thanks to the Kurds and their unprecedented unity with the Iraqi Army.

The Prime Minister told us that he was cautiously optimistic that this newfound military unity could have positive political dividends. There have been new signs of that since we returned. We cannot hold a candle for independence or renewed federalism – that is up to the Kurds – but it’s increasingly difficult to resist the likelihood that the Kurds in Iraq will achieve their dream and that this can be done on a co-operative basis with Arab Iraq. As part of Iraq or as a sovereign nation, the Kurds will, we are sure, remain staunch friends. We owe them much and their progressive, tolerant and creative people have much to offer the Middle East.

But settling domestic political divisions is of the utmost importance as is continuing and bold economic reform. As ever, the Kurds face potentially tumultuous changes in the Middle East, with uncertainty about the role of the USA, and need, above all else, to ensure their divisions do not obstruct major opportunities to secure lasting gains whether they become a valued part of Iraq, or embrace sovereignty and a new and closer relationship with a new Iraq.

Kurdistan has come far since 1991 and is still on a long journey in a wider region that teeters on a wider Sunni/Shia war. We hope recent setbacks can be overcome and we ask the UK and the West to be candid friends and show tough love and conditionality in helping Kurds drive thorough reform that most Kurds want.

Jack Lopresti MP and Gary Kent

Parliamentary disclaimer and funding sources

This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or any of its committees. All-Party Parliamentary Groups are informal groups of members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this report are those of APPG Director Gary Kent, who was then paid to be the Secretariat by Petoil Chia Surkh Ltd, and is based on a fact-finding delegation in November 2016 funded by the Kar Group and the Kurdistan Regional Government. We thank our sponsors for their generosity in funding the delegation but they have had no influence over this independent report.

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Can the Kurds pull off Kurdexit?

Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani grabs a book about Kurdish independence written in 1905 to demonstrate the pedigree of their struggle. He also tells me how Winston Churchill and the Iraqi King chewed the cud about Arab-Kurd equality rather than an Arab Iraqi empire. But Baghdad constantly spurned Kurdish equality and the record of discrimination and genocide weighs heavily as the Kurds approach an independence referendum on 25 September.

Barzani sketches the vision behind the vote: ‘the referendum is for the people as the source of legitimacy, not individuals or parties, to give a mandate not for independence the next day but for the leadership to undertake serious and meaningful negotiations [with Baghdad]. We oppose violence and are ready to show flexibility over the timescale but not the principle. We cannot be stable or subordinate in Iraq. It is shameful to keep making the same mistakes.’

Asked about benefits to the West, he replies that ‘I am proudest of our peaceful co-existence, the way we have dealt with women’s emancipation and national rights, and opposed extremism and racism. Kurdistan can be a factor for security and stability and that is best done through an understanding with Iraq.’

Government spokesman, Safeen Dizayee says sovereignty means survival: ‘a people that are part of a sovereign state don’t have international protection. Yes, people express their concerns – the Kurds are being gassed to death – but authorities in the West said it was an internal matter. If you’re sovereign you’re in a position to protect the destiny and well-being of your people.’ Foreign Minister Falah Mustafa slams the Islamicisation of Iraq and says Kurds ‘cannot accept a ban on alcohol, forcing the segregation of students, and other violations of individual rights.’

The Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) point man for ‘the referendum movement’ is Hoshyar Zebari, who was the international face of Iraq as foreign minister after 2003. Zebari argues ‘we can do it, it is within our reach, and we cannot find better international and regional conditions.’
Landlocked Kurds in Iraq often feel encircled by the four ‘wolves’ of Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq itself. Zebari starts his Cook’s tour with Syria which ‘will not be fixed for a long time’ before moving to Turkey, whose opposition is commonly assumed. But Zebari details how ‘President Erdogan’s reaction, contrary to many perceptions, is reasonable.’

As a seasoned diplomat, Zebari emphasises strategic interests. For Turkey, he says, ‘Kurdistan is the only place from which they can ensure energy supplies,’ and is ‘a buffer between them and the expansionism of Shia militants.’ Furthermore, Erdogan’s recent victory in a controversial constitutional referendum relied on millions of Kurds in Turkey.

Kurdistan’s second biggest trade partner, Iran, he says, is ‘opposed vehemently and has the tools to derail and sabotage’ independence but is itself under ‘intense economic and military pressure’ from America and the Gulf States.

As for Iraq, Zebari says the Kurds ‘gave the new Iraq our best shot for 14 years’ but ‘nothing is moving between Erbil and Baghdad apart from military co-ordination.’ The once senior Baghdad insider, Zebari bluntly concludes that ‘we have given up on Iraq because it is going back on everything we agreed in 2005,’ when the federal constitution was overwhelmingly endorsed by Iraqis. The Kurds sought consensual democracy and partnership but that ship has sailed.

Furthermore, he says, Shia ruling elites want majority rule although ‘Iraq is not a normal democracy – you cannot rule by 50% plus one in a divided society, or you get tyranny.’
Zebari insists that ‘we don’t want a complete break up with Baghdad [because] Baghdad will still need us and we will still need Baghdad’ in continuing commercial, cultural and security links. He highlights the Iraqi Prime Minister’s comment that the Kurds have a natural right to independence. The major sticking point to an amicable divorce is the formal incorporation into Kurdistan of disputed territories such as Kirkuk, an emotive issue for Kurds and Arabs alike, and whose oil and strategic position are vital.

Zebari acknowledges American fears but says Kurdistan is ‘the only trusted ally of the Americans,’ and that their ‘almost bases’ in Kurdistan supply the military effort in Syria more than Nato’s air base in Incirlik in Turkey. He adds that ‘the Shia are not America’s friends, Iran is domineering every aspect of Iraq’s political, security and military life’ and that Kurds worry about Shia militia which are ‘expanding and encroaching’ on Kurdistan.

The Kurds are under pressure on the timing of the referendum and Zebari says Britain asked that the Iraqi Parliament approve the referendum, as Scotland’s was by the Commons. He retorts that Iraq lacks a Westminster. But so does Kurdistan. Its parliament was suspended in 2015 when security forces controversially prevented the Speaker from returning to Erbil after violence in the second city of Slemani amid deep disputes about the status of the Presidency.

Differences were amplified by war and the influx of nearly two million refugees which increased the population by a third. Collapsing oil prices sank its dysfunctional economy into a crisis of unpaid wages, increasing debt and deficit, increased unemployment and poverty, and stalled investment. Economic reforms are balancing the books but more is needed and that requires a Kurdistani consensus to ease the political pain.

Some say an internal political deal should precede the referendum, and it may, but Zebari insists that ‘if we wait for all the problems to be resolved we will have to wait forever’ but adds that ‘as we move towards this bigger goal party leaders have to sacrifice something for the greater good of the people.’

The international community will urge more reform once Daesh is defeated. The menu is well-known and Kurdistan’s friends should offer tough love conditional on thorough reform. It needs less state employment and less reliance on energy exports. It needs more income from agriculture and tourism in a beautiful landscape that already attracts Arabs in their millions. All this requires a much bigger private sector to boost dynamism and underpin political pluralism.

Above all, people have to work harder and smarter. I once asked a senior leader if the average working day in the bloated state sector was 25 or 45 minutes – he plumped for the former. Zebari chuckles and says ‘our biggest problem is that we are not accustomed to the culture of work, things go slowly and people don’t know how to operationalise ideas but independence is a huge project, your future. I tell many of my friends and colleagues – how can you build a state when you close your door at 2pm.’

It’s nearly 2pm and our time is up as Zebari heads to Europe for a conference as part of increasing efforts to persuade the world that they are deadly serious about commencing the countdown to Kurdexit in September.

Gary Kent has been the director of the all party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region for ten years and has travelled to Iraq and Kurdistan 26 times since 2006. He is Deputy Chairman in Erbil of the European Technology and Training Centre, where he is setting up an Academy for Enterprise and Management. He writes a weekly column for the Kurdish Rudaw outlet and is also writing a book about Kurdish independence. This article is based on a fortnight in Kurdistan in May 2017 and is in a personal capacity.

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After Mosul: independence for the Kurdistan Region?

Introduction to APPG on the Kurdistan Region report of its delegation to Kurdistan in November 2016 by Jack Lopresti MP (Delegation Leader and Chairman of the APPG)

The Kurdistan Region in Iraq has made massive strides since its uprising against Saddam in 1991 first won a perilous autonomy that was protected by Sir John Major’s No Fly Zone until the liberation of Iraq in 2003. In a generation, it has endured genocide and civil war, was formally recognised in Iraq’s federal constitution before becoming the world’s new oil frontier with soaring living standards, and then suffered an economic tsunami, and near catastrophic military calamities.

The Kurds have survived, are on the global political map, and may now be on the cusp of statehood if they secure a yes vote in the referendum on 25 September, which they see as providing a mandate for negotiating divorce terms with the government of Baghdad.

The APPG, which celebrates a decade of active solidarity with the Kurdistani people this year, has highlighted the achievements of Kurdistan and sought support for them. We persuaded the Commons in 2013 to formally recognise the genocide carried out by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds in the 1980s. We also encouraged Top Gear to film a high-profile programme in Kurdistan and its presenters’ remarks on its beauty and safety put it on the map for many.

The watchwords of our dozen delegations have been to witness Kurdistan without any restrictions and show ‘tough love’ towards our Kurdistani friends. Those form the spirit of this latest report. We would not be good friends if we failed to highlight an economic model that sustains poor productivity and imperils its potential to increase the well-being of its people.

Kurdistani leaders welcome our approach because advice from trusted friends – they formally consider the British as ‘a partner of choice’ – helps bolster arguments for change. The President of the independent Middle East Research Institute put it very well in a briefing to us at the Commons. Dlawer al Alaldeen’s message to Kurdistan’s Western friends is ‘you should help the Kurds become the partner you deserve.’

This report focuses on a whirlwind delegation just after the start of the operation to free Mosul when MPs visited the three main cities of the Kurdistan Region and Mosul. We have waited until now to release the report because the all-consuming fight against Daesh had frozen developments in Iraq, which will now move centre stage.

John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the UN, wrote in April 2017 that ‘complex, seemingly intractable issues lie ahead, as the post-First World War Middle East order collapses, but they cannot be ignored under the complacent assumption that Syria and Iraq will simply re-emerge..and that ‘the Kurds are already de facto independent from Iraq and no one will force them back into Iraq against their will.’

The Daesh crisis was accompanied by a hibernation in internal Kurdistani politics but its aftermath allows and requires resolution of its rifts and ailments. These are deep-seated but have been exacerbated and exposed by recent crises.

Kurdistan’s economic problems have also been analysed very well. Last year, the World Bank Group released a roadmap, Reforming the Economy for Shared Prosperity and Protecting the Vulnerable, which serves as an economic guide to help policy makers address both immediate and longer term challenges in Kurdistan.

Before that, the APPG urged the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) in 2013 to undertake an inquiry into the state of UK-Kurdistan Relations, and it conducted a major investigation, which reported in January 2015. Our initial expectation was that it would concentrate on issues that marred and restricted the Anglo-Kurdistani relationship: the need for improvements in visa processing, direct aviation links, and more efforts to encourage British trade and investment, for example. These remain vital issues.

Yet the context of that inquiry rapidly changed. After the inquiry began, profound events pummelled Kurdistan in 2014: the complete and unconstitutional cut in federal budget transfers, the rise of Daesh and their capture of one third of Iraq, the dramatic decline in oil prices, and the influx of now nearly two million refugees and internally displaced people. Daesh came within 20 miles of the capital, Erbil and the menace was averted by American air action in August 2014. Otherwise, many thousands would have been killed.

The final and substantial report of the FAC provides a detailed guide to Kurdistan’s problems and potential as well as a menu for improved Anglo-Kurdistani relations but also broke new ground with its sympathetic understanding of the possibilities of independence.

I am not talking about the century old dream of a Greater Kurdistan carved out of territories in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. That could now spark inter-state war and/or a civil war between Kurds whose interests and leaders have diverged. There may be a virtual Kurdistan but it is certain there will be four distinct Kurdistans, just as there are many separate Arab nations, and Kurdish leaders in all four regions recognise this.

Kurdistan’s divisions, political defects and economic dysfunctionality could be a bigger impediment to independence than international opposition. Even if oil prices returned to levels above $100, it would leave an economy that is dangerously over-reliant on energy exports and state employment. The largely rentier economy needs to be rebalanced and diversified in any case for its long-term health.

Tough love and candid dialogue from friends are, therefore, more essential to encourage the Kurds to make their society match fit whether they stay in or leave Iraq, although persuading Kurds to remain part of Iraq would require credible guarantees given the litany of broken promises and arbitrary behaviour by leaders in Baghdad.

Kurdistani leaders stress that they want to negotiate a deal with Baghdad, which would enable foreign powers to more easily accept the outcome. They also emphasise that an amicable divorce could vastly improve relations between Erbil and Baghdad in what I call a special relationship.

Independence is a matter for discussion between Erbil and Baghdad in the first place and ultimately for the Kurds in Iraq. Their contribution is also essential to the complex process of reconstruction, demining, deradicalisation, and devising protections for minorities who bore the brunt of the Daesh genocide. The Kurds have no territorial designs on Mosul but are keen to have a say on the stabilisation of their near neighbour.

Another major issue is resolving the status of the disputed territories, now back in Kurdistani hands after the Peshmerga protected Kirkuk from Daesh, as the Iraqi Army retreated, and after they liberated Shingal in November 2015. The Kurdistan Region needs fixed borders to avoid revanchism stretching for generations ahead. They are rightly wary of the potential for violence from the Shia militia on this. They also know they have to reassure their neighbours that independence would present no threat to them.

But I agree with the FAC that independence for the Kurds in Iraq should be accepted and respected by the UK and its international allies if Erbil and Baghdad achieve an amicable divorce. Sovereignty could unlock international funds and development assistance so far denied a sub-sovereign state and assist reform. It would enable the new republic to take control of its defence and destiny, which I believe could be a bonus for the free world.

There is less full-throttled opposition by many foreign powers to the independence of the Kurds in Iraq because they have proved themselves to be a valiant and vital ally in the fight against fascism. They held the line when the Iraqi Army was in crisis following its humiliating defeat by Daesh, without a shot being fired.

Yet the Kurds have accomplished this with too few arms – especially heavy weapons – and at the cost of a huge sacrifice in Peshmerga deaths and injuries. The APPG will continue to make the case for the British and other governments supplying heavy weapons and also providing free beds, as other countries do, in our specialist hospital in Birmingham for some of the most seriously injured Peshmerga.

Above all, the West must not walk away once Daesh is defeated in Mosul and Raqqa. President Obama did that after the success of President Bush’s surge in 2007 and the Obama retreat was a major factor in the formation of Daesh.

The conditions that cultivated the Daesh death cult have yet to be resolved. Kurdistani leaders have repeatedly warned British MPs and the international community that failure to tackle the alienation of Sunnis could lead to the emergence of Daesh Mark 3. It will take huge efforts to reconcile Sunnis in Mosul, who have suffered three years of severe repression and brutality.

The Kurds in Iraq, with their longer experience of state-building and greater coherence, can make a major difference. They have maintained their integrity in their dealings with their neighbours and the rapprochement with Turkey is testament to their diplomatic skills. Before the rise of Daesh there were also encouraging signs of co-operation between Sunni neighbouring Sunni dominated provinces and the then economically dynamic Kurdistan Region, which exported spare electricity to them. This was despite Sunnis being a key component of the genocidal actions of the Saddam Hussein regime.

But playing a constructive role externally requires settling internal issues. There are promising signs of a thaw in Kurdistan’s needlessly divided internal politics. The Kurdistani commitment to democracy, pluralism, tolerance and secularism has been its most attractive feature. Any move to independence is best accompanied by the revival of the role of their Parliament, frozen since October 2015.

The second party, Gorran (the Change movement) which is a breakaway from an established party could become the formal Opposition and that role, essential to vibrant democracies, could be cultivated by external assistance.

Kurdistan is a strong ally of the West with the potential to be a powerful example to the rest of the Middle East. If it were to achieve statehood, it could be welcomed into international alliances such as Nato and the Commonwealth. My view is that Kurdistan and the West would also benefit from an American base in Kurdistan, and the dollarisation of the economy.

But the Kurds should get their act together, nurture a new patriotic work ethic and entrepreneuliasm, and refuse to be their own worst enemies in the dramatically changing geopolitics of the Middle East. And in return the Kurds deserve much more support from the UK and the West.

Jack Lopresti MP

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KRG UK Representation Statement on attack on Reker Ahmed

We deeply condemn the shocking and despicable attack on Mr Reker Ahmmed, the Kurdish teenage Asylum Seeker, in Croydon on Friday 31 March 2017.

Mr Ahmmed was attacked just because he is a Kurd and refugee in this culturally diverse and democratic country.

This hate crime, has been widely deplored and seen by very few as any part of the response to the recent atrocities in Westminster.

Indeed, the Kurdish people and our Peshmerga forces are in the forefront of fighting extremism, battling Daesh and sacrificing their lives to protect the world from this transnational threat.

The Kurdistan Regional Government urges the authorities to work closely with communities to prevent further attacks on peaceful people.

Thanks to all those who contacted us and sent messages of sympathy to this case. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr Rekan Ahmed and we wish him a speedy recovery. We hope that Mr Reker Ahmed will receive a appropriate support and protection. Critical to this is making sure that perpetrators of this brutal act are held accountable and brought to justice.

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KRG Foreign Relations Minister attends launch of University of Leicester’s Kurdistan International Studies Unit.

Minister Falah Mustafa, Head of the KRG’s Department for Foreign Relations, joined the Heads of British and Kurdistani universities, academics and students at the launch of the Kurdistan International Studies Unit at the University of Leicester, and its first annual symposium on the role of Kurds in the Middle East.

Professor Iain Gillespie, Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at Leicester University, thanked the History, Politics and International Relations Department and said: “Kurds have a long history in the Region, and the developments in the Region have made them important players. This unit and the annual symposium focus on gathering intellectuals to exchange views and to shed light on the most important research on Kurds and the Middle East.”

Organiser, Dr. Mariana Charountaki said that the unit’s aim is to carry out more academic research on Kurds and Kurdistan, and added: “We chose the 29th anniversary of the chemical bombardment of Halabja to launch this centre and to dedicate our work to the victims of Halabja”

In his speech, Minister Falah Mustafa, expressed his sorrow and gratitude to the people of Halabja on the 29th anniversary of the Halabja catastrophe and the victims of the later Daesh genocide. He said: “The history of the Kurds is often written by non-Kurds. This unit is very important for the Kurds and international academics in order to carry out joint research projects on relevant issues.”
The Minister also highlighted the victories of the Peshmerga and the Iraqi army in the liberation of Mosul and added. “All components of Iraq have the right to decide a better future, justice, and a political agreement on coexistence in Iraq.”

Minister Falah Mustafa also pointed out the impact of the economic and financial crisis on the Kurdistan Region, and its government’s reforms, and said that economic independence is an important part of Kurdistan’s future. He said the Kurdistan Region has made many achievements but needs to do more, with more support and assistance from the international community. He thanked the University of Leicester’s Department for History and International Relations for establishing the unit, which could do much to lift understanding of the role of Kurds and Kurdistan. The Presidents of the Kurdistani and British universities stressed the need for joint projects.

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Kurdistan Regional Government’s Foreign Relations Minister meets Amal Clooney

London, United Kingdom, (dfr.gov.krd)- How to arrest and prosecute those who carried out the genocide against Yazidis and committed international crimes against other communities was discussed in detail in a recent meeting between Minister Falah Mustafa, head of the KRG’s Department for Foreign Relations, Mr. Karwan Jamal Tahir, the KRG High Representative to the UK and Mrs. Amal Clooney, barrister and specialist in International Law and Human Rights.

Minister Falah Mustafa briefed Amal Clooney on the KRG’s attempts to bring the perpetrators of genocide to justice and to recognize Daesh crimes as genocide and explained that although some evidence of crimes against the Yazidis had been collected, no prosecutions had taken place in KRG courts to date. He said: “The Kurdistan Regional Government is making all efforts to find a legal solution to take the atrocities against Yazidis and others to the International Criminal Court or other international court. To achieve that, we need the support of the international community and all those with expertise in international law.” He thanked Amal Clooney, who is counsel to a number of Yazidi victims, for her continuous support in this regard.

Amal Clooney briefed the Minister on ongoing efforts to pursue accountability for crimes committed by ISIS in Iraq and the urgent need to collect evidence before it disappears. Mrs Clooney and the Minister discussed various options for prosecution including domestic courts, ad hoc international courts, the ICC or a hybrid court.

Minister Falah Mustafa invited Amal Clooney to provide further advice and pursue discussions with the relevant KRG authorities including legal advisors at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice.

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KRG High Representative attends Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial unveiled by Her Majesty the Queen

KRG UK Press Release

Karwan Jamal Tahir, the Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK joined senior members of the Royal Family, UK ministers, diplomats, and the families of those who lost their loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan at the unveiling of a Memorial by Her Majesty the Queen.

On the margins of the event, the High Representative to the United Kingdom met senior officials, former Prime Ministers Sir John Major and Tony Blair, HRH Prince Charles, Prince Harry, and many men and women who served in Iraq.

Mr. Karwan Tahir said “The formal ceremony to mark the contribution of British service personnel and others in Iraq and Afghanistan was an opportunity for me as the representative in this country of the Kurds in Iraq to add the profound thanks of the people of Kurdistan Region of Iraq.”

He added “It was a privilege to salute the contribution of the British in Kurdistan and Iraq and to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom. I was also deeply heartened to be told by so many senior figures that they appreciate the bravery of our Peshmerga in resisting Daesh. One said we will work together with the Peshmerga to get rid of Daesh.”

The KRG High Representative also discussed matters with former Prime Ministers Sir John Major and Tony Blair, and the reiterated the people of Kurdistan Region and its Government’s absolute appreciation to them as they are considered heroes in the Kurdistan Region: “the no fly zone in 1991 and the liberation of Iraq in 2003 definitely saved the Kurds from further genocide at the hands of Saddam’s fascist regime.”

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Speech by Karwan Jamal Tahir, KRG High Representative to Rally marking Halabja and Anfal

On behalf of the Kurdistan Regional Government United Kingdom Representation I welcome you all and thank you for your participation at this Rally to mark the 29th anniversary of the chemical bombardment of Halabja and the Anfal campaign.Your participation this evening is a testament to your solidarity and support for the victims of genocides.

Like all other nations and languages, Kurds’ history goes back thousands of years. The colliding interests of major powers resulted in this nation being forcibly integrated against their will within four countries nearly a century ago.

As history betrayed the Kurds and denied its own state, those countries heavily oppressed, denied and discriminated against the Kurds and refused them equality. As far as the Kurdistan Region is concerned, successive regimes in Iraq, especially the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, have treated the Kurds in the cruellest and most savage manner in order to ethnically cleanse our nation.

Of the many crimes committed, Halabja was the single worst atrocity. In March 1988, Saddam chose the month of the Kurdish NEW YEAR – Nawroz – to commit this barbaric crime against our people, with the aim of not just killing thousands but also to turn this happy month into the darkest and saddest time of the year for the Kurds. He hoped that NAWROZ would be consumed ONLY with the sorrow and heartache of losing 5,000 loved ones covered in black.

But that was not the end of his despicable crimes as Halabja was connected to the wider genocidal Anfal (spoils of war) campaign in which over 180,000 Kurds were murdered in the name of the Quran (Sorat ………..).

But because the Kurdish nation is an indigenous and strong people with an ancient history, the dictatorship failed to destroy our nation. On the contrary, we have become an emerging democracy in the Middle East after the uprising of 1991 whose 26th anniversary we celebrated yesterday.

Today as we mark the 29th anniversary of genocidal crimes committed against Kurds in the name of Quran, I am saddened to say, once again, that the people of Iraq of all its parts, especially our valued Yazidis and Christians, have became the target of genocidal campaigns of yet another chauvinist ideology in the form of the barbarous terror organisation Daesh, this time in the name of Islam.

These two approaches, first using the Quran (Sorat) and then the name of Islam to savagely suppress peaceful people, tell us the murderous motives of the fascist Ba’athist and Daesh mindset that still poses great threats to our nation and the future of Kurdistan Region.

That is why it is vital for all political parties in Kurdistan Region to unite in efforts to protect the nation and all minorities. It is also a responsibility for the International Community to state their ethical responsibility and strengthen the notion of “responsibility to protect,” to bring the perpetrators to justice through the ICC, and recognise all crimes committed against our people as Genocide.

Recognition of the crimes committed against the Kurdish people and other minorities by the international community as an act of genocide is not only for our benefit. We want to ensure such inhuman and cruel acts of terror never happen again, and to get international protection for our people, while our brave Peshmergas – fighting on behalf of world civilisation against global terror, are helped by international recognition of the genocides we have faced.

Finally, I thank the APPG on Kurdistan Region for their continuous support. They have been instrumental in so many positive steps between the UK and Kurdistan and one of them was the formal recognition by the Commons of the Anfal genocide in February 2013.

I also thank MPs who unanimously recognised genocide against Yazidis, Christians and other minorities in Iraq and urge the British government to use its status as a permanent member of the Security Council to refer the case to the ICC.

Here at the House of Commons, I echo the positive steps by British MPs and on behalf of the KRG call the British government to follow their example. Formally recognising genocides allows the victims’ souls to rest in peace. And comforts their relatives and the survivors. And underpins the solidarity we still need in rebuilding our society for the benefit of Kurds and the world as a whole.

Once again thank you very much for your participation.

House of Commons, London
6th March 2017

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Never Again – Rally to mark Halabja and the Anfal Genocide

The APPG and the KRG UK held a large rally in the House of Commons on Monday 6 March to mark the chemical bombardment of Halabja on 16 March 1988 and the Anfal genocide. It was chaired by Nadhim Zahawi MP and by Gary Kent with contributions from Jason McCartney MP, Henry Smith MP and Ann McLaughlin MP as well as Karwan Jamal Tahir, KRG High Representative to the UK, the Minister for Anfal and Martyrs in the KRG and the Iraqi Ambassador. The following are from MPs who were unable to attend but wished to extend their solidarity.

Jack Lopresti MP: Halabja hangs heavy over the history of the Kurds and humanity as a whole. The atrocity was and remains one of the worst ever single atrocities in world history. We continue to struggle against such barbarism but the starting point in the present for preventing history repeating itself is to mark the memories of the victims and their loved ones.

HALABJA DAY LETTER FROM ANN CLWYD MP

The 16th of March 1988 has become a dark day in the history of the Kurdish people. It was on this day that the regime of Saddam Hussein attacked the town of Halabja with chemical weapons. Halabja has become a symbol of the atrocities committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein against the Kurds, in the genocidal campaign known as ‘Operation Anfal’.

Over 5000 Kurdish civilians were gassed to death between the 15th to the 19th of March; thousands more acquired cancers and deformities. They carry the scars of this attack, both physical and emotional, to this day.

The long term medical effects on the people of Halabja include permanent blindness, disfigurement, respiratory, digestive, and neurological disorders, leukaemia, lymphoma, and colon, breast, lung, skin, and other cancers, increased miscarriages and infertility and severe congenital malformations and other birth defects. Livestock and pets were killed, and the earth became contaminated by the poison gas.

However, to most Kurds, Halabja is not solely about the actions of Saddam Hussein, but the silence and inaction of the international community. World leaders failed to intervene in the horrors, atrocities, and genocides of the twentieth century, including Cambodia, Rwanda, Kosovo and Halabja. This is despite the body of law that has been developed since World War Two to protect those who face persecution, including the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

While British, Swedish, Norwegian and South Korean parliaments have all recognised the al-Anfal campaign as constituting genocide, no governments have done so – except for that of Iraq. We believe that states do have a responsibility to protect those whose rights are threatened, whether at home or abroad.

This is why Kurdish communities around the world have made the 16th of March a day of remembrance for Halabja, and a day of action to remind the world community of their responsibility to act to prevent any future acts of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Lord Clement-Jones CBE: As one who has often visited the Kurdistan Region, I am well aware of the enormous damage done to people and the economy by the Anfal genocide which was linked to the horrendous Halabja atrocity. Yet many people have forgotten or are too young to recall the misery and massacres of Saddam Hussein. It is right that the Kurds face the future but marking the past makes it more likely they will never again face genocide and mass murder.

Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP: Having seen the Kurdistan Region. for myself I ally myself with those who say Halabja and the wider genocide need to be marked and remembered for the sake of the victims but also to seek to prevent it happening again.

Rt Hon Pat McFadden MP: Halabja, where Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against his own people, is one of the most appalling atrocities of the 20th century. Many years on it is right that it is remembered and commemorated. Certainly the Kurds will never forget. But neither should the rest of the world. And it should serve to remind us how precious is the right to live a peaceful life, free from oppression and free to make our own choices about the future.

Dave Anderson MP: Having visited Kurdistan three times, most recently for the 25th anniversary of the Halabja atrocity in the town’s memorial to its martyrs, I wholeheartedly endorse your rally tonight and join with those on all sides of the House and in both our countries who say Never Again. The Kurds suffered under a vicious regime and I am very happy to pledge my continuing solidarity as they advance and reform their society.

Professor the Lord Alton of Liverpool. Independent Crossbench Member of the House of Lords: It is important that the Halabja atrocity, which was part of the wider Anfal genocide campaign by Saddam Hussein, is commemorated. The use of chemical weapons and the shocking brutality and cruelty of his regime should never be forgotten. When we indifferently forget, it paves the way for such atrocities to happen all over again. Tragically, the region continues to see new crimes against humanity and new genocides and the world’s failure to effectively bring those responsible to justice creates a climate of impunity in which war lords and dictators believe they can get away with murder.

Ian Austin MP: The chemical weapons bombardment on Halabja was one of the worst crimes of the Baathist regime. I know that the Kurdistan Region is recovering from the genocide and Halabja, as it will recover from the Daesh death cult, although many Kurds still suffer deep physical and psychological pain from the barbaric attacks of both Baathism and Daesh. But marking Halabja and the Anfal genocide are duties of the whole world if we are to draw a line and make sure they never happen again.

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SOS IDP. Guest column by the KRG High Representative to the UK

The Daesh wolf attacked us three years ago but we expelled it and our Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army will surely evict it from Mosul. But the beast left many victims in dire physical and psychological conditions. We cannot cope with the massive strain of two million and refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs), with more to come. Kurds are concluding we are being taken for granted by the international community.

When these fascists captured Mosul and began genocide against Yezedis and Christians hundreds of thousands fled overnight with nothing to their name. The normally five million strong Kurdistan Region ballooned by a third.

We have often been refugees and understand what it means to up sticks and make hazardous journeys to survive. We willingly opened up our schools, churches, parks, and empty buildings and homes but at a cost. Schools started late and pupils lost valuable education. Our once near 24/7 power supply now lasts a few hours while water is rationed.

We also have increased spending on defence and lost nearly 2,000 Peshmerga fighters with ten thousand injured, many horrifically and for life. The Daesh crisis was severely compounded by slashed oil revenues through the dramatic fall in oil prices and Baghdad cutting off our budget entitlements even before Daesh emerged.

Given our legacy of an economy that relies too much on one commodity – energy – and employment by the state, our debt and deficit soared,. Many employees are owed wages or have seen wage cuts while unemployment and poverty have soared. We are taking painful emergency action to align income and expenditure.

Maybe we should have been more vocal when British and other ministers often praised Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan for caring for victims of Daesh but ignored our contribution. The reason is that we are a sub-sovereign region of Iraq, which is formally responsible for internally displaced people but their contribution to looking after our IDPs is woefully inadequate.

The IDP crisis is getting worse. Between October 2016 and January 2017, over 194,000 people fled Mosul and over 96,000 went to Kurdistan. Half a million people remain in Mosul and we expect most to join the exodus to Kurdistan. The Daesh onslaught also shattered trust between ethnic and religious groups and could cause a conflagration of retaliation and revenge. It may take years before they return home.

The latest report from our Joint Crisis Centre, which the British helped establish, details how our hospitals already cannot provide sufficient care for injured Iraqi Security Forces and Peshmerga, and over 10,000 IDP casualties.

Without immediate international assistance to build Kurdistan’s medical care, we face catastrophe. Without international support, hundreds of thousands of IDPs will sleep rough through the cold winter and beyond, causing suffering and deaths. Screening entrants and maintaining internal security for cleared IDPs will surpass our capacities.

Thousands have also been to hell and back – murder, rape, enslavement – and face life-long mental anguish. We lack enough clinical psychologists to help them. NGOs are overwhelmed by this torrent of human misery. We could go under unless our friends act quickly. We are not crying wolf. SOS IDP.

Karwan Jamal Tahir is the Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK.

@karwanTahir

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