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, ( 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.


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.


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Kurdish-British MP led UK parliament to urge Trump to repeal visa ban

By Rudaw

LONDON, UK – On Monday, just days after President Trump issued his controversial executive order temporarily banning visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries and placing an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria, the UK House of Commons unanimously rejected it and voted to urge the US government to repeal the order.

The motion was proposed by the former Labour Leader Ed Miliband and Nadhim Zahawi, a British-Kurdish MP who was initially included in the ban as one who was born in Iraq.

Zahawi welcomed the parliament’s vote on Twitter, “Incredible! UK Parliament just voted unanimously urging US Government to repeal the immigration order. Very proud of UKParliament.#MuslimBan”

This is his contribution to the debate:

I thank Members of all parties in this House, and people beyond, for their private and public messages of support during the past 72 hours of anguish for my family.

In February last year, my wife and I had our visa waivers revoked in the wake of heightened security measures undertaken by President Obama’s Administration because of our status as Iraqi-born individuals, although we are both British citizens. The precaution seemed fair at the time. We were required to present ourselves for interview at the US embassy in order to guarantee the future security of our travel to America. That was understandable, but none the less uncomfortable. It was not, though, nearly as uncomfortable as this weekend has been for my family and me.

I learned that ability to travel to the United States—a country that I revere so much for its values, for which I have such great affinity, affection and admiration, and to which I have sent both my sons to university—was to be denied to me. I learned that this great nation had put in place measures that would prevent my family and me from travelling, studying and feeling welcome there.

I was concerned about the next time I would see my boys, given our reluctance to let them fly home in case they were prevented from returning to university. My wife and I despaired at the thought that, had one of our sons again been taken as seriously ill as he was last year while at university, we would not be able to go to him when he needed us most. Similar sentiments have been felt by many families in the UK and around the world over the weekend.

I fully recognise that I am speaking from a position of great privilege: I have been very lucky as a businessman, and I am hugely privileged to represent Stratford-on-Avon and to have a strong platform from which to state my views. But we need to remember that many people do not have this platform or this voice, many of whom, through no fault of their own, will be seriously affected by the policy and will still be unsure how it affects them or their families.

I praise our Prime Minister for the manner in which she spoke up for those people in the United Kingdom. She rapidly instructed our Foreign and Home Secretaries to make representations to their US counterparts. I am relieved that their endeavours have had some success, at least in the British case, but sadly and regretfully, the order remains in force.

Every country is undeniably entitled to set its own immigration policy, control its own borders and do what it thinks is in the best interests of its citizens’ safety. On those issues alone, no nation should interfere, but the UK has an obligation to speak out and to be a critical friend to the United States of America because of the ramifications of the order for the internal stability and security of our country and the rest of the world.

The order undermines what our Prime Minister said so eloquently in her speech to Republicans of both Houses of Congress last week in Philadelphia about the need not only to defeat Daesh on the battlefield, but to defeat its ideology and the ideology of those who support it.

I know that I will have vast amounts of support from Members across the House when I say that the Executive order is not only wholly counterproductive in combating terrorism and the narrative of Daesh, but will worsen the situation, playing into the hands of those who would see more terrorist atrocities, not less.

Those sympathetic to Daesh will link the order to abhorrent recent events—most notably, the burning of a mosque in Texas and yesterday’s tragic shootings at another mosque in Quebec, Canada. They will link it to rhetoric surrounding the so-called Muslim ban, and to the President’s comments revealed by the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, to which [Ed Miliband] referred. On Fox News on Saturday night, Rudy Giuliani confirmed that the then presidential candidate approached him and, after announcing his intention to impose a total shutdown on all Muslims entering the USA, instructed him to ‘Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.’

Over the weekend, pro-Islamic State social media accounts have already begun to hail the order and the President’s comments as clear evidence that the USA is seeking to destroy Islam. They have even called it the “blessed ban”. Articles in Daesh’s English-language publication Dabiq have consistently said that the intention behind Daesh’s attacks on the west has been to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash.

This Executive order has done exactly what it wants; it has, in effect, put at the disposal of Daesh and its supporters a useful recruiting sergeant to radicalise more impressionable young men and women, creating the danger of more home-grown terrorism, not less. This blanket order will marginalise many moderate Muslims, warping their perception of the west and giving Daesh’s claims that the US is the enemy of Islam more credibility where there should be none. This marginalisation will continue into the UK, presenting further threats of radicalisation here, too. This must not be allowed to happen.

I was delighted that at their joint press conference our Prime Minister and President Trump pledged to renew the special relationship between the UK and the USA—a relationship that has proven so beneficial for both countries and the world. The uniqueness of the special relationship has meant that the Prime Minister and our Foreign and Home Secretaries have rightly been able to convey their concerns to the President’s Administration, with some success.

If this strategy of calling for a sensible review of the order is to continue, with the intention, I hope, of replacing it with a reasoned, measured, evidence-based alternative, then we cannot accept calls for a cessation of relations with the President—or, I might add, the postponement of his state visit here—until this order is revoked. We cannot possibly have a constructive discussion with the President unless we maintain exceptionally close relations and dialogue.

For this reason, I think we should welcome President Trump to the United Kingdom at the earliest opportunity, so that we might personally engage in meaningful dialogue with our closest ally in the hope of a change in stance.

My message to the President would be this. He is a big man—a powerful individual—and what he says and does has profound effects throughout the world. In his last statement, he spoke of his compassion. As a Christian, he should reconsider this order and look at the evidence that suggests that it will have precisely the opposite consequences to the ones he intended to achieve. He should think again on his policy to impose an indefinite ban on thoroughly vetted Syrian refugees who are in desperate, desperate need.

The America I know would welcome them; it would be a cradle of comfort, and would not seek to reject them or others like them. Lastly, he should always, in everything he does, remember the values on which his great country was built.

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Minutes of the EGM of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, 23 January 2016.

Attendance: Henry Smith MP, Ian Lucas MP, Sir Peter Bottomley MP, Jack Lopresti MP, Ian Austin MP, Alistair Burt MP, David Burrowes MP, Mike Gapes MP, Kate Osamor MP, Rob Marris MP, Bob Stewart MP, John Woodcock MP, George Howarth MP, Ian Mearns MP

Others: Gary Kent, Director, Selina Short (Office of Jack Lopresti), Karwan Jamal Tahir, KRG High Representative to the UK, and Khasro Ajgayi of the KRG High Representation.

Apologies: Jason McCartney MP, Andrea Jenkyns MP, Lady Hodgson, Lord Glasman, Lord Bew, Mary Glindon MP, Danny Kinahan MP, Rosie Winterton MP, Tracy Brabin MP, Michael Gove MP, Liam Byrne MP, Tom Blenkinsop MP, Nadhim Zahawi MP, Stephen Metcalfe MP, Graham Jones MP.

1 Agreed to thank Jason McCartney MP for his service, appoint him as a Vice Chairman and to elect Henry Smith MP as the Chairman.

2 Agreed to co-sponsor with the Gulan organisation a photography exhibition in May in the Upper Waiting Hall.

3 Agreed to host, with the KRG High Representation a public meeting in March on the 10th anniversary of the APPG and to launch a report on the last delegation by the Director with an introduction by the Chairman.

4 The High Representative introduced a discussion on the current situation in the Kurdistan Region. The debate included the possibilities of independence and other foreign policy issues, the current UK visa regime, the need to update FCO travel advice concerning the Kurdistan Region, the need for a high-profile visit to the UK by the KRG President and/or Prime Minister, the continuing need for direct flights, the vacant position of the UK Consul-General in Erbil, and the need of the Peshmerga for heavy weapons including vehicles.

5 It was further agreed to establish an inquiry into the state of relations between Baghdad and Erbil to take evidence from the KRG and the Iraqi Ambassador, and perhaps to make this the focus of the next delegation to Kurdistan and Iraq later in the year.

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A decade of Anglo-Kurdistani friendship

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the formation of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

It began for me almost accidentally. My first fleeting experience of the Kurds was in 1991 when I helped send blankets and food to those sheltering in the freezing mountains. After the invasion of Iraq, I helped found the Labour Friends of Iraq group, and organised a senior delegation to Kurdistan in 2006 to meet union leaders from across Iraq.

We also met the President and other political leaders in Erbil and Slemani. The Communist Party leader asked to borrow our bourgeoisie to invest and trade and break the isolation of Kurdistan. On our return, I asked several MPs to form the APPG and we started talking about commercial and cultural opportunities for British companies and institutions. It was difficult because few people could then place Kurdistan on the map and the mere mention of Iraq often caused people to gulp.

The group’s influence is based on frequent delegations where we decide who and what to see and include visitors who have been before as well as those who are fresh to Kurdistan. The combination of in-country experience and fresh insights from new MPs maximises our understanding.

On our first APPG trip in 2008, two of us had been before and two were new. We heard a lot about the potential of agriculture but had not yet ventured outside Erbil. The new MPs were sceptical about investing in agriculture but fully saw the point when we made the road trip through the wonderful countryside to Slemani.

Delegations have often been told of the quality of Kurdistani pomegranates and our reports mention the merits of exporting them from, say, Halabja to western supermarkets where these superhealth goods are valued and valuable and could allow Kurdistan, and Halabja, to be seen as about much more than genocide.

A highlight of our work was to persuade the Commons to formally recognise the Anfal genocide in the year of its 25th anniversary in 2013. Some suggested this was backward-looking but the argument for recognising the past was soon illustrated by the use of chemical weapons that year in Syria and the continuing contempt of many in Baghdad for the rights of the Kurds, whose budget transfers were unilaterally halted in 2014.

Frequent delegations also allow us to see for ourselves the pace of change in Kurdistan. Back in the mid-noughties, there was barely an energy sector and our drivers used to buy petrol in jerry cans at the roadside as there were few petrol stations then. The drivers used the opportunity to light up cigarettes and walk around the cars. We came to understand the need to boost health and safety provision. The hotel we stayed at in Slemani later burnt to the ground with significant loss of life, for instance.

On our second APPG delegation in 2009, we toured the new airport as it was being constructed and drove down the runway – the fifth largest in the world. Derek Wyatt MP suggested that we ask the petrolhead programme, Top Gear to organise a race down the runway. I wrote to the producer and they eventually did a programme in Kurdistan which reached millions of people with high praise for the beauty and security of Kurdistan.

Our regular reports seek to encourage the UK government to implement small but iconic measures that put Kurdistan on the political and commercial map. We persuaded the government to send an official trade mission in 2010 and that began to encourage companies and trade bodies to look west.
We heard many complaints about the visa system and encouraged reform so that Kurds no longer had to travel to Amman or Baghdad but we know that there is still great unhappiness about the high refusal rate, which was 66% at the last count.

There are limits to what we can judge and we instead encourage calm and moderate dialogue on vexed questions and urge continuing political and economic reform. We do not, for instance, take a collective view on whether the President should be directly or indirectly elected but we can urge a negotiated settlement. We can encourage the sharing of experience and expertise from our parliament. Some years back myself and the then Chair, Meg Munn MP, did presentations to most Kurdistani MPs on how Westminster works.

We are independent of both the KRG and the HMG – Her Majesty’s Government – but I hope we can continue to be a bridge of mutual interest between the Kurdistan Region, its High Representation in the UK, its Diaspora and the people and parliamentarians of the UK. It has, I hope, been a fruitful decade of solidarity and friendship.

This article by Gary Kent, writing in a personal capacity, appears in Rudaw.

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