UK backing for unifying the Peshmerga with training for 9,000 members

APPG member Alicia Kearns MP tabled a written question asking the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what the purpose is of his Department’s technical support to the Peshmerga Ministry in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Middle East Minister James Cleverly answered on 5 February 2021

“We continue to provide the Kurdish Peshmerga with technical and military support to enhance their capacity and capability to tackle the threat from Daesh. To date, the UK has trained over 9,100 Peshmerga fighters. During my (Minister Cleverly’s) visit to Erbil in December, I discussed the need to continue supporting Peshmerga reform with the Kurdistan Regional Government, in order to ensure a unified and modernised Peshmerga. To this aim, the UK and other multi-national partners are, in concert with the global Coalition and the Kurdistan Regional Government, working closely on a Peshmerga Reform Programme.”

My comment. The programme is a vital contribution to building a strong KRG within Iraq. Gary Kent.

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Lord (Ian) Austin highlights British opportunities in Kurdistan’s tourism and film sectors.

Lord Austin of Dudley, who joined the delegation to observe the referendum in 2017, has asked the UK’s Department of Culture, Media, and Sport what assessment they have made of whether there are new opportunities for British companies in (1) in the tourism sector, and (2) the film industry, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Minister Baroness Barran replied: “Our Departmental priority for the Kurdistan region of Iraq is to support the continuing reconstruction of its infrastructure and the protection of its cultural heritage. We work closely on this issue with the British Embassy, British Council and heritage experts from the UK and Iraq. If we are successful in protecting its cultural heritage, UK and Iraqi businesses in the tourism sector will be among the beneficiaries.”

My comment. Many thanks to Ian Austin for tabling the question. It highlights an important role for UK official bodies and private companies looking for opportunities, in their own interests and for mutual benefit, to help boost the vital tourism sector. The APPG has long argued that Kurdistan is a treasure trove for western visitors due to its beauty, hospitality, and safety. Clearly, Covid obstructs it for now. The APPG has also argued that Kurdistan’s location is ideal for film-making but that this requires a home-grown film production centre, with training for budding film-makers, script-writers, and technicians. Not only could that be a major source of income, as countries such as Jordan and Tunisia have found, but can enable Kurds to tell their own stories to the world to increase understanding and solidarity. The Minister’s thoughtful answer is commendable. My hope is that British tourism and film experts and investors will see this and make a mental note to explore this, perhaps through joining the official UK Trade Mission we are also advocating.

#PuttingKurdistanRegionOnTheMap

Gary Kent, APPG Secretary.

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Let’s remember our allies

We are anxiously consumed by Covid at home but its impact on our old allies abroad also affects us.

Covid is tearing the economic guts out of oil-producing countries such as the Kurdistan Region in Iraq because global business and flights have been slashed along with demand for oil and its price.

Oil prices may see-saw but consumers are now moving to using fewer carbons as we build back greener to tackle climate change. Oil-producing countries should find new ways of earning a crust. Global oil giants have cottoned on to this and want to go low carbon or embrace renewable energy.

Yet, spare a thought for countries on a cliff-edge of falling and fading oil revenues, which have accounted for nearly all their income. Kurdistan’s oil is many centuries old but was only fully exploited after the demise of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein who had no truck with Kurds having oil as he sought to keep them under his thumb.

The new oil sector they created from scratch in this century transformed life for Kurdistan’s people. It also gave them a greater resilience that really mattered when they resisted the so-called Islamic State (Isis), whose fanatics hunted us down like dogs here.

The Kurds were at the pincer of efforts that broke Isis, which initially came within 15 miles of their capital, Erbil, a cosmopolitan city I call my second home.

If Kurdistan’s defence force, the Peshmerga, hadn’t held the line then Isis would have grabbed more land, oil, airports and their genocide would have persisted and spread. Our military forces would have been more involved.

Kurds fought for their own homeland but also secured a victory for civilisation. The vicious Isis caliphate was liberated but Isis is now regrouping in the large physical gap between Kurdistan and Iraq where the two governments have old and bitter land disputes.

The terror cult can be better fought if Erbil and Baghdad resolve their differences and allow the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army to jointly root out Isis before it becomes harder to dislodge.

The ideology of extremism is also challenged in practice every day by the Kurds who deeply respect religious, ethnic, and gender equality in a defiant rebuke to the rapists and head-choppers.

However, a painful transition from oil dependence to other means of making money could encourage support for the simple solutions of extremist ideology. Kurdistan itself is largely immune but a weakened Kurdistan will be less of a bulwark of moderation in the wider region.

The Kurds respect us and eagerly seek deeper relations. Many sheltered here during the dark decades of dictatorship and hold British passports.

We shouldn’t lag behind competitors in missing mutually beneficial opportunities for our companies and public bodies such as our hard-pressed universities. An official trade mission, in due course, would unlock opportunities in niche areas where the UK has much valued expertise. Companies could look at how Kurdistani gas could produce more electricity, for instance.

There is only so much the UK can do and no one is requesting vast sums of public money. The UK can seed-fund projects that make their universities fit for purpose in a more economically diverse economy, boost people’s often damaged mental health after the trauma of decades of conflict, and help train their MPs.

Our technical expertise can lift Kurdistan’s capacity to modernise and seek diplomatic solutions with their neighbours on borders and water as well as advancing economic reform and growth.

Political engagement is most important. Senior British ministers should go there and their ministers should come here to beef up our bilateral relations. Other countries have been doing that more of late and we need to catch up.

The post-Covid and post-oil age offers opportunities and dangers across the Middle East, which stands more hope of safety and prosperity if we help strengthen our allies in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Gary Kent. This article originally appeared in the Newcastle Journal on 10 October 2020.

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Minutes of the AGM of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

House of Commons. 14 January 2020.

Attendance. MPs Robert Halfon Mary Glindon, Jack Lopresti, Steve Reed, Stephen Metcalfe, Toby Perkins, Feryal Clark, Jason McCartney, Philip Hollobone, Alicia Kearns, and Lord Clement-Jones.

Also in attendance. Holly Papworth (Robert Halfon). Christine Aird (Mary Glindon). Gary Kent. Karwan Jamal Tahir, Legaa Firas, and Hawre Wahid (Kurdistan Regional Government)

Apologies. Lady Hodgson. Lord McConnell. Henry Smith. Baroness Ramsay. Fabian Hamilton.

Election of Officers. These were agreed. Chair and Registered Contact, Robert Halfon. Co-Chair Steve Reed. Secretary Alicia Kearns. Treasurer. Lord Clement-Jones.

The following MPs were also agreed as Vice-Chairs: Chris Stephens, Phillip Hollobone, Jason McCartney, Toby Perkins, Mary Glindon, Jack Lopresti, Stephen Metcalfe, Henry Smith, Sarah Jones, and Michael Tomlinson plus Lords McConnell, and McNicol and Baroness Ramsay

APPG Secretary Gary Kent presented a brief history of the APPG since 2007 and made some suggestions for future activity.

The KRG High Representative, Karwan Jamal Tahir, outlined the current situation in Kurdistan and Iraq and answered questions.

It was agreed to send a delegation to the Kurdistan Region, timing to be confirmed.

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AGM

The inaugural annual meeting of the APPG will be on Tuesday 14 January at 5pm in the Commons. Open to parliamentarians only.

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The election and the APPG

Due to the dissolution of parliament, all APPGs are no longer operating.

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The impact of Syrian events on the Kurdistan Region raised in last FCO questions before the election

On the last day of this parliament, Ian Austin MP used his question to the Foreign Secretary to alert the Commons to the impact of events in Syria on the Kurdistan Region.

Gary Kent

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Ind)

What assessment he has made of the effect of the US Administration’s decision to withdraw support for Kurdish forces on regional stability.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab)

The UK has consistently opposed Turkish military action in Syria. We condemned it with our European partners and we are concerned about the impact it will have on stability, on the humanitarian crisis and also on the counter-Daesh effort.

Ian Austin

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Abandoning the Kurds, who led the fight against IS, has seen over 10,000 refugees fleeing to Iraqi Kurdistan on top of the 1.5 million displaced people it is already generously caring for, so will he increase humanitarian work and the Kurdistan region’s ability to defend itself against Daesh?

Does he agree that this has also strengthened Iran and its proxy terror arming Hezbollah, and that Israel, the middle east’s only democracy, must be protected from that threat?

Dominic Raab

I thank the hon. Gentleman; he has followed this subject for a long period and has experience and insight. We are worried, and our main concerns are around the humanitarian situation and the stability of northern Syria. Notwithstanding the removal of Daesh leader al-Baghdadi, which we welcome, we are worried about the medium-term impact on counter-Daesh strategy in the region. So while we welcome the ceasefire brokered by Vice-President Mike Pence in relation to northern Syria, we are also seeing an accommodation between the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian regime and indeed Presidents Erdoğan and Putin, and that is counter both to our counter-terrorism efforts but also to the humanitarian plight that the hon. Gentleman rightly raises.

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Jack Lopresti MP presses government to continue Peshmerga training in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what his policy is on the continuation of the role of British forces in training and equipping Iraqi security forces and Kurdish security forces in the event that the US Administration withdraws its forces from the Kurdistan region in Iraq. (3724)

Tabled on: 22 October 2019

Answer: Mark Lancaster:

The UK has a persistent partnership with Iraq. We are committed to supporting the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga in countering the threat from Daesh. Together with Iraq, we have a shared aim of ensuring Daesh’s enduring defeat, in addition to a long-term commitment to stabilisation of the country. Our efforts to support a stable and prosperous Iraq are vital to UK national security.

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Mary Glindon MP statement on clear and present danger to the Kurdistan Region in Iraq

Statement by Mary Glindon MP, the Chair of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq

The Turkish attack on the largely Kurdish area of northern Syria is a humanitarian disaster and Turkey should withdraw immediately before more innocent people are killed.

The action is also a clear and present danger to the people, security, economy, and even existence of the neighbouring Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

As was the case at the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011 it is certain that hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians will seek safety in the Kurdistan Region.

They will be welcomed as their predecessors were and as were Sunni Arabs and Ezedi who fled from Daesh in 2014.

The exodus will put further major strains on the Kurdistan Region and we will ask the UK and others to help mitigate the cost. It seems likely that Syrian refugees will stay in Iraqi Kurdistan for the long term.

The loss of SDF control in northern Syria/Rojava will help revive Daesh which will also present a renewed threat to security in the Kurdistan Region and countering any fresh dangers requires concerted assistance from the UK and others.

Turkish actions could permanently Arabise Kurdish areas in Rojava and there are profound fears in Erbil the Kurdistan Region will be a target in the future.

The APPG on the Kurdistan Region, which has sent 16 delegations there in the last decade, is seeking an urgent meeting with the Middle East minister.

The precipitate US withdrawal is a disaster and efforts to halt Turkish attacks is the priority.
That the Kurds have been cruelly betrayed is obvious to many. The Kurds have been and remain vital allies in resistance to Daesh fascism and for common values of democracy, tolerance, and pluralism whose defence in the Kurdistan Region needs to be a major UK priority.

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Bilateral relations between the Kurdistan Region and the UK

APPG Chair Mary Glindon asked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to update parliament on its assessment of bilateral relations with the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. The Middle East Minister Dr Andrew Murrison replied on 9 September 2019.

“The UK retains strong relations with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). British Ministers and officials regularly engage with KRI representatives. On 1 September our Ambassador to Iraq met the KRI Prime Minister, Masrour Barzani, to discuss latest developments and I spoke to the KRI President, Nechirvan Barzani, on 12 June. The UK also provides significant support to the KRI, including through training assistance to the Peshmerga, humanitarian aid, advice on economic reform, and continued efforts to deepen UK-KRI trade.”

Good work and much to build on.

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