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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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UK soft power, foreign policy and the Kurds

How Britain can wave the rules and help the Kurds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* The full text of Tom Tugendhat’s speech is at

Gary Kent writes in a personal capacity

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Minutes of the meeting on 9 October 2018 of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq

Attendance: Mary Glindon MP, Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, Firmsik Bilbas for John Grogan MP, Anita Lowenstein-Dent for Jonathan Djanogly MP, Gary Kent (Secretary) and Khasro Ajgayi (KRG).

Apologies: Jack Lopresti MP, Rosie Winterton MP, Ian Austin MP, Scott Mann MP, Janet Daby MP, Joan Ryan MP, Henry Smith MP, David Drew MP, Alex Sobel MP, Lord Glasman, Lord Clement-Jones, Lord Luce, Baroness Goudie, Baroness Hodgson of Abinger, The Bishop of Carlisle, Lord Hylton, and Karwan Jamal Tahir (KRG High Representative)

Gary Kent introduced the report of the recent APPG delegation to Kurdistan and Baghdad. He outlined the positive changes a year after the referendum and the failed attempt to invade the Kurdistan Region.

He highlighted the proposed training programme for Kurdistani MPs, which he will discuss with their Parliament in Kurdistan, and where he will discuss the report with various audiences. He also suggested the APPG seeks to recruit 50 MPs and Peers.

It was also agreed that we explore the possibility of a delegation to the Kurdistan Region in early January.

Khasro Ajgayi outlined current developments in the Kurdistan Region including the elections on 30 September, the election of Barham Salih to the Iraqi Presidency, and the formation of the new Iraqi Government.

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Jack Lopresti MP explains why Kurdistan matters to the UK

The peaceful independence referendum a year ago today in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and the violent reaction by Baghdad was lost in the news maelstrom but the rehabilitation and reform of Kurdistan and Iraq is highly significant to us.

I have visited Kurdistan at crucial stages in the last few years of war, officially observed the referendum, and recently flew to Baghdad to meet the President and foreign minister. I can easily make a moral case for a place that respects us, was crucial to defeating Daesh in Mosul, routinely protects Christians, promotes women’s equality, and wants to deepen its young democracy.

That argument only goes so far given other pressing policy priorities. I also want to advocate the case that the success of Kurdistan is in our hard-headed interests.

Daesh was smashed on the ground but its surviving soldiers have not simply gone back to civvy street. Pockets of insurgents are still active and their vile ideology has not been vanquished. The sectarian centralisation that encouraged ordinary Sunnis to collaborate with them, rat on their neighbours, or join them has not yet been put to one side.

Not only does Mosul have to be rebuilt but it also needs decentralised governance that make Sunnis feel comfortable in a Shia dominated Iraq. As do the Kurds and indeed the Shia city of Basra, which has been the power-house of the Iraqi economy although evidence of benefits is hard to find in its paltry infrastructure and services.

The Kurds are clear they want to leave and maybe one day they will be able to negotiate an exit that combines statehood with extensive co-operation with Iraq on security and maybe some form of common market.

The continuing cultural battle against extremist ideology, that could one day erupt back into life as a more vicious death cult, is lucky to have a people who detest Daesh, will resist it and want to work with us.

I was so proud, as one who served in Afghanistan, to meet our soldiers in Kurdistan who are training the Peshmerga to be a more professional and unified army.

As a Parliamentarian, I was bowled over when Kurdistani MPs from all several parties, ethnic and religious groups told us they want British MPs to train them.

The Kurds voluntarily decided to set up their Parliament under the protection of the no-fly zone pioneered by Sir John Major, a working class boy whose fantastic, inspirational, and aspirational story set me on the path to Parliament.

Their Parliament has not become the respected pulpit of national debate that could drive further much needed reform and inspire its people. A deeper democracy in the Middle East and in Iraq is not merely good in itself but can provide the leadership and resilience that makes it harder for extremism to flourish. Kurdistan could then do much more to drain the swamp and allow us to live without the fear of being bombed at home.

The last year was a tough trial for the Kurds but they came through and are bouncing back. A judicious mixture of altruism and self-interest can serve them and the UK for the best.

Jack Lopresti is the Conservative MP for Filton and Bradley Stoke and the Chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq

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Reflection on Kurdistani referendum a year on

A year ago today Kurds in Iraq went to the polls to vote on the principle of independence from Iraq and I saw their joy and determination in three cities there. Given they endured genocide by Saddam Hussein, it was no surprise that it was a whopping 93% for Yes.

A negotiated deal with Iraq should have been doable given how hard the Kurds worked to make Iraq work better after Saddam’s fall in 2003 and how the Peshmerga – those who face death – did so much to repulse the so-called Islamic State.

But Baghdad’s leaders opted to go for the Kurdistani jugular, closed its airports, made its economy scream, and tried to invade it. It was illegal but Prime Minister Abadi got it into his head that conquering Kurds would compensate for his losing Mosul and make him a nationalist hero in elections in May.

It didn’t work out that way. The Peshmerga resisted and great powers then told Baghdad they were out of order. The airports eventually re-opened and normal business has resumed.

Abadi lost support in the elections and probably won’t stay in Little Venice, his Baghdad residence while the Kurds will again take the Iraqi Presidency and could secure a deal with Baghdad.

Coincidentally, this crackdown on the Kurds by Baghdad was obscured by the referendum days later in Catalonia. Of course, many more of us have been to Barcelona than Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, since you ask.

You can also ask, as many Brits do, why this affects us. I could wax lyrical about how they boost women’s rights and protect Christians and other minorities with gusto. And their hospitality, beautiful countryside, and tourist sites. One day, you may go there. Really.

But many are sceptical about our role in Iraq and wider intervention. One advantage of going back and forth to Kurdistan for over a decade is that I know that the Kurds respect us, relish our long-term engagement, and are firm allies against extremism.

The British link with the Kurds is crucial to our interests. The Middle East is where much of our civilisation began and we can thank them for algebra, for instance. Yes, it is also a vast reservoir of oil and gas, which all economies need, and on fairer terms than imperialism imposed in the bad old days.

But, sadly, the Middle East, and North Africa, also has the greatest concentration of a death cult that wishes us harm. Thanks to the Kurds, they have been defeated in Iraq but haven’t gone away, you know. And Iraq and Kurdistan are pivotal powers in the Middle East.

This is where the Kurds come into the British security equation. If they succeed in reforming their country further, they can show a positive example to the rest of Iraq and the Middle East. A more prosperous economy and pluralist politics can inspire the vast youth bump of highly qualified people with nowhere to go and prey to the false sirens of extremism.

And the Kurds are keen to learn from us. Britain is helping professionalise the Peshmerga. The boys (and girls) from the Thames, and the Mersey and the Tyne, to quote Elvis Costello’s Oliver’s Army, can teach them a thing or two about military matters. The Peshmerga may again have to fight terrorism on their borders.

Our model of online public service delivery also appeals to them. And their Parliament, which is 26 years old, wants our MPs from a Parliament dating back to 1215 to train them to be more efficient and proactive. We will also help increase the clout of youth and student groups.

Our Kurdistani allies and have been to hell and back since their referendum. Their cause matters to us, I argue, because our links help increase stability and inclusion across the Middle East and help halt further extremist atrocities on our streets.

Gary Kent is Secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, has been there 29 times in 12 years, and writes in a personal capacity. @garykent

This article appears in the Newcastle Journal today.

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Brief statement by MPs on the recent Iranian attack on Koya

Our increasingly smaller world allows some victims of violence to use round-the-clock news and smart phones to encourage international remedies and justice. But some issues fall through the cracks into relative silence and invisibility, which encourages the guilty to believe they can continue with impunity.

Iran’s recent missile attack against an Iranian Kurdish refugee camp in Koya in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq could fall into that category, although we welcome good statements from the UK and the US.

Nearly 20 people were killed and fifty injured in long-range missile attacks on this camp in a clear attempt to intimidate Iraqi Kurdistan whose leaders are possibly pivotal to the process of selecting a new coalition and Prime Minister in Baghdad.

The Kurdistan Regional Government remains a vital ally in resisting extremism and in creating decentralised forms of governance plus reconstruction and economic prosperity that can prevent any further resurgence of extremism. Its security is vital to our interests and that means continuing and more concerted action to stop further Iranian aggression.

Jack Lopresti MP (Conservative)

Mary Glindon MP (Labour)
Vice Chair

Robert Halfon MP (Conservative)
Vice Chair

Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP (Labour)

APPG Kurdistan Region in Iraq

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Jack Lopresti MP. We can help Kurdistan bridge the gap

This article by Jack Lopresti appears in the Times Red Box outlet today

British parliamentarians have closely observed Kurdistan’s progress from a region suffering genocide and grave injustices to a fledgling nation seeking to determine its own destiny. This has taken place over a decade of fact-finding delegations working on the front line with the Peshmerga in the city of Kirkuk, with Iraqi soldiers in Mosul as it was being liberated, and in Baghdad.

Kurdistan often fits into Iraq like a square peg in a round hole. Their only cordial decade of relations in a century ended in 2014 when Baghdad unilaterally severed federal fiscal transfers. Both parties united to expel Daesh, but then fell out over Kurdistani independence.

I had the privilege of being in Kurdistan for the referendum on negotiated independence last year and was horrified that Baghdad violently seized Kirkuk, killed Peshmerga, blockaded Kurdistani airports, and tried but failed to dismantle the Kurdistan regional government. The violence supposedly upheld the constitution although the constitution explicitly defines Iraq as a voluntary union.

Baghdad’s behaviour was vicious and unnecessary, while Kurds are clear what they want in the longer term, but they are now stuck as part of a federal Iraq. The Kurds need robust pragmatism in dealing with Baghdad, which is changing in any case, and all based on applying the long-neglected constitution, which should protect Kurdistani rights.

There’s much to commend Kurdistan. Its deep and natural support for religious tolerance, openness to the world, and pro-Western attitudes, top the list. Its pivotal geopolitical position makes it useful to easing wider tensions, bridging Europe and Iraq, and basing those rebuilding a shattered Mosul.

But friends must not ignore its own internal challenges. Kurdistan needs thorough reform of its dysfunctional and unproductive economy with its huge state employment rolls, a tiny private sector, corruption, an over-dependence on oil, and little progress in tapping its plentiful agriculture and tourist potential. Visitors are always amazed by the beauty of the vast verdant plains, astonishing mountains and rivers, and historical sites as well as commendable security.

The Kurds should make themselves fit for any possible future. A neutral, efficient and accountable military is vital. I visited British soldiers in Erbil who have trained thousands of enthusiastic Peshmerga. This matters to us because the Peshmerga were decisive in defeating Daesh, whose roots in Baghdad’s sectarian centralisation remain live and which could re-emerge in even more vicious forms.

But the Kurds cannot do this alone and look to Britain to boost their capacity. English is their second language, many leaders and others have spent years here and have UK passports — this includes their deputy prime minister. Our universities and quality services and goods attract them.

It is a singular honour that the Kurdistani Parliament’s first ever all-party group focuses on Britain. They want our parliamentarians and others to train them to be more effective, and deepen their new and shallow democracy. We can also encourage civil society and help to lift the voices of young people who are a vast majority there.

The Kurds have survived so many injustices, but we should never take this for granted and need to do more as a strategic priority to protect and promote the positive power of our great friends and allies.

Jack Lopresti MP is the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

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