Dave Anderson MP appeal to arm the Kurds

We have all been disgusted by the wanton barbarism in Iraq -beheadings, mass executions, selling women as sex slaves, rape, and genocide against religious minorities. The so-called Islamic State (IS), deemed extreme by even Al Qaeda, can be defeated militarily and politically although the Nato coalition reckons it will take three years. It is a fight that cannot be flunked.

I want cross-party support for measures that can save the Kurds and encourage a deal that allows the peoples of Iraq to work together for the common good. Incredibly, Baghdad has blockaded the Kurds since January and their civil servants and soldiers have not been paid. This must end.

I met the former Iraq Prime Minister in Baghdad in 2008 but he proved unwilling to work with Kurdish and Sunni minorities and helped create alienation that the IS exploited. I have also met the new Iraqi Prime Minister and hope that he can make a fresh start.

The Kurds and the Iraqi Army, when it recovers from its disastrous defeat in June, can do the job. Military action against IS does not need foreign combat troops apart from advisers who can improve the organisation of local soldiers.

Turkey is part of the coalition and they and the Kurds have overcome ancient tensions to work together. I note that Iran and Syrian President Assad have parallel interests. We may have to sup with the a long spoon with them as we did in the fight against Nazism. Arab states and millionaires should stop backing the IS.

David Cameron was initially hesitant because he feared that public opinion would not tolerate involvement. I urged the Prime Minister to recall Parliament in August because Cameron could present a stronger case if he heeded MPs in touch with public opinion and who can help give a lead.

There is a brutal moral clarity about what is at stake. The Kurds need weapons so they can fight the IS without one hand tied behind their backs and have also asked Britain and others to take part in airstrikes.

They argue that their defeating the IS will enhance our security. Kurds with British accents due to their exile here from Saddam Hussein tell us that many IS fighters also speak with British accents and could come back here, battle hardened and keen to kill. Defeating them in Kurdistan reduces that danger.

But the miserable human consequences for hundreds of thousands of men, women and children of the jihadist onslaught will persist for many years. This is so far the least well understood part of the picture.

It needs to be better understood in human terms so that the international community can help. What would it mean here? There are about 300,000 people in Newcastle. Imagine if there were a sudden increase of about a quarter – 75,000 people – in a matter of weeks, most with just the clothing on their backs and half of them children. It would be a massive crisis.

This is broadly what has happened to Iraqi Kurdistan, a decent, democratic and dynamic country which I have been privileged to visit as Secretary of the all-party parliamentary group which seeks to build connections between the UK and the Kurds. The Kurds are widely pro-British because they know that we saved them when they rose up against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and we imposed a no-fly zone to stop them being bombed to kingdom come.

Kurdistan has about 5 million people but now has to look after an extra 1.4 million people. All public buildings, public parks, churches, mosques and even private gardens are occupied by desperate people. Refugees have some sort of roof over their heads and basic services. But a lost generation of children is denied education and intellectual nourishment at a crucial stage of their lives.

Looking after the refugees and creating the conditions for them to return home is a long-term priority for humanity. I hope that we will be as generous and kind as we usually are. The Kurds are our friends and allies. Helping them also helps us. This is a fight between barbarism and civilisation. We must help ensure the decent guys win.

This article originally appeared in the Newcastle Journal

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Marking Anfal and how Anglo-Kurdish relations are changing for the better

This week’s civic commemoration in Westminster of the 26th anniversary of Anfal may come to be seen as a milestone in Anglo-Kurdish links thanks to the British Government’s decision to send a minister to the event for the first time.

The enthusiastic participation in the Anfal ceremony of the British Government’s Middle East Minister, Hugh Robertson – alongside KRG Foreign Minister Falah Mustafa – lends great credibility to the common cause of remembering this most horrific chain of events.

True, the Government doesn’t formally recognise the genocide, as the Commons did last year, but clearly acknowledges the suffering of the Kurds more prominently than before. The battle for recognition goes on and such gatherings can generate further pressure on the Government to do so.

Taban Shoresh movingly described how, in the name of a “perverted ideology,” Saddam’s goons came for her Peshmerga father but when they found he wasn’t there, decided to take her, her brother, mother and grandparents away to be buried alive. The kindness of two strangers allowed them to escape miraculously with their lives.

Such powerful testimony is essential to the world understanding the sheer scale of what the Kurds endured and why they should never be abandoned again, as they were at the time of Halabja in 1988. Baroness Nicholson reminded us that international conventions about chemical weapons and genocide required international action but were sidelined when Saddam – a “cowardly narcissist” according to the Iraqi Ambassador Faik Nerweyi – carried out the genocide. She said that “we had the knowledge, the law and didn’t act and I feel humiliated before you.”

The Co-Chair of the all-party group, Meg Munn MP clearly reiterated her criticism of the failure of the British Parliament to endorse action when Assad used chemical weapons last year. She asked if we would be similarly marking the slaughter of the Syrian people in ten years while realising that we had failed to protect them. The point of marking genocides is to make sure that such events never happen again. But they do. Meg’s profound moral point about Syria highlighted how Assad could cross the red line of using chemical weapons with impunity and stay in power to do his worst.

Tony Blair separately argued this week that failure to intervene in Syria would have “terrible” consequences for years because inaction is also an action. Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the KRG’s High Representative to the UK, told the Anfal event that failing to tackle dictators only emboldens their greed and violence. She praised Kurdish campaigners for their work over decades in challenging Saddam.

Robertson has direct experience of the dark days of the early 1990s when he was a tank commander in the first gulf war, which led to Britain promoting the safe haven in and no-fly zone over the Kurdistan Region. That decision saved the Kurds and did much, belatedly, to redeem Britain’s moral standing.

Marking Anfal and Halabja informs new audiences who only know Iraq through the 2003 invasion but also raises awareness of modern Kurdistan. I was struck by Robertson’s passion about relations between the UK and the Kurdistan Region, which he said have never been stronger and where is “much more to come.”

It wasn’t so long since upholding a “one Iraq” policy would have forced foreign policy officials to run a country mile from engaging with Erbil. I wish we had more quickly abandoned the pointless view that good relations with Erbil would offend Baghdad and Basra.

Well, those days are going. Ministers and officials now have a more realistic approach that deals directly with the KRG and in detail about how to improve visas, secure direct flights and other practical measures. The UK is seen by the KRG as a partner of choice and now more and more Brits realise that this has to be a two-way street.

The Kurdistan Region has now won many more sympathisers who better understand the shadow of the past over Kurdistan. This surely means understanding the continued existence of an Arab chauvinism that seeks to subordinate the Kurds. And it should help sustain Erbil’s refusal to accept that Baghdad should control the destiny of the Kurds.

The next stage of the new conversation between Kurds and Brits is the inquiry by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee into our relations. They will take evidence in writing and person, including Robertson, and may visit the Kurdistan Region in the coming months. My best guess is that they will issue a report in the summer, which will be taken seriously by the Government in further finessing its policy on the Kurdistan Region.

This new combination of better understanding the past and endorsing measures to assist Brits seeking links with Kurds can dynamise the relationship. Finally.

Gary Kent

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Meg Munn and Nadhim Zahawi letter in the Guardian

The Co-Chairs of the APPG have replied to this article in the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/25/diaspora-returns-to-build-iraqi-kurdistan

27 March 2014

Orlando Crowcroft (Diaspora returns to build Iraqi Kurdistan into the ‘next Dubai’, 26 March) misses two important points. State employees were not paid for two months because the federal government in Baghdad blocked budget payments to Erbil. This is part of a dispute over the region’s oil and gas, developed from scratch recently, and exports to Turkey via a new pipeline. This flows from the second major omission: the Kurdistan region’s new and growing commercial relationship with Turkey, which was once on the verge of invading Kurdistan but is now its largest trading partner.

Neither was imaginable in 2003 as the region began to recover from decades of genocide, isolation and poverty. Both enable better public services and increased living standards. The need for further political, economic and social reform is widely acknowledged. A fuller picture of a region in transition is detailed in our reports on fact-finding delegations there.

Nadhim Zahawi MP, Meg Munn MP
Co-chairs, All-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq

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Visas and the link between the UK and Kurdistan

One of the most persistent points made by government officials, business people and others we have met on our parliamentary delegations to Kurdistan in the last six years has been the British visa system.

We have heard constant complaints from people who had to travel to Amman or Baghdad for up to two weeks, deposit their passports and visa applications in a British Embassy office and twiddle their thumbs in a hotel for up to two weeks, at their own expense, before being told if they could go to the UK.

I happened to be in the British Prime Minister’s offices in Downing Street some years back and persuaded a senior official to make a call to Amman which got the go ahead for the visa just as the man was leaving the hotel for either Kurdistan or London. He came to Britain where he addressed an important gathering which helped deepen links between Kurdistan and the UK.

Other people have not been so lucky and this has impacted negatively on the relationship between our two countries, not least as it seems easier to secure a Schengen Visa allowing travel to most countries in the European Union.

Our fear has long been that Britain’s commercial advantage in Kurdistan – the widespread use of the English language, affection for our values and standards and gratitude for our role in liberating Kurdistan and Iraq – could be eroded. The all-party group made improving visa issuing facilities one of its main priorities.

At first, a limited number of people were allowed to have their applications processed in country and without having to leave Kurdistan. Last September, Lord Marland for the British Government opened a Visa Application Centre in the Sheraton in Erbil. People no longer have to leave Kurdistan in order to secure a visa.

The centre is open three days a week and processes 150 visas a week. There is a case for increasing the capacity. It takes time to make an appointment to have fingerprints recorded on the biometric machine and then takes maybe three weeks for the application to be processed in Amman.

The applicants’ passports cannot be used in this time which sometimes means that businessmen and others are stuck in Kurdistan, even if they have other business trips to undertake. This makes it very difficult and recently three government officials and four senior business people were unable to take part in an important investment delegation to the UK.

Furthermore, as the British Foreign Office Minister conceded in the recent Commons debate on UK relations with the Kurdistan Region, there is a question over the cost, although it is still cheaper than having to stay in Baghdad or Amman.

The forms are in English with, so far, explanatory notes in Arabic. I hope that notes in Kurdish will follow. People have difficulties filling in the forms correctly and supplying the necessary information. My guess is that the vast majority of refusals are because the forms have been completed incorrectly.

I am not an expert but people should understand that the forms are designed to flush out falsehoods and trap those who intend to overstay illegally or who may present a security threat.

It is fair enough for any country to control immigration and those who carry out such tasks must apply the rules fairly and impartially without fear or favour. And the majority of applications are accepted.

My experience, however, is that some people who, in my view, have a very good case for coming to the UK, are refused. Over the years too many people, with much to contribute to the commercial and cultural links between Kurdistan and the UK, have fallen foul of the system.

There has to be a balance between the security interests of the UK and its commercial and political links.

The all-party group will be seeking a meeting with the Home Office (Interior) Minister in the UK to argue that needless obstructions should be overcome to maximise the mutually beneficial impact of visits to the UK.

All visa systems have their inconveniences and it has vastly improved over the years but more change is needed. I feel sure that the efforts of those who want to deepen our relationships will lead to more positive changes.

* Gary Kent is the administrator of All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). He writes this column for Rudaw in a personal capacity.
- See more at: http://rudaw.net/english/opinion/01022014#sthash.BYnIhrox.dpuf

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Five years: the continuing story of success and transition in the Kurdistan Region.

The latest report of an APPG fact-finding mission to Iraqi Kurdistan can be found in full at
http://uk.krg.org/articles/detail.aspx?lngnr=12&anr=36910

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America and the Kurds

The most common question asked as a regular visitor to Iraqi Kurdistan is whether it or all Kurds can, will or wish to be independent. It reflects the long struggle of the Kurds to maintain their identity in often hostile circumstances but it is looking at the issue the wrong way round.

Complex cases are often framed overseas by a somewhat simplistic folk memory that hasn’t kept up with changing circumstances. For instance, many outside observers used to believe that the answer to the Irish question was unifying the two parts of the island. That may one day be the answer but the first issue that had to be settled was how the people of Northern Ireland could overcome their tragic history as equals. And how the two parts of Ireland could co-operate for mutual benefit. The imposition of a solution that disadvantaged one side could have caused more conflict and bloodshed.

It is highly improbable that the Kurds in connected areas in four well established countries – Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria – could form a new country, given realpolitik and increasingly divergent histories and dialects. This assumes that that they achieve full equality in each of those countries. The process of resolving historical differences in Turkey, where the vast majority of Kurds live, could do that.
Independence for the officially recognised autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan is more feasible. It is already independent in all but name. It has its own army, flag, parliament, President, airports, foreign representatives and foreign envoys in its capital. Iraqi flags flutter in official meetings but it is hard to believe that you are in Iraq.

Breaking with Baghdad is an aspiration – a poem, a dream as many say – of most Iraqi Kurds. This is hardly surprising because the British forcibly incorporated them into Iraq nearly a century ago to help balance relations between the Sunnis and the Shias in the Arab south and to add a very different geographical profile – mountains, cooler climate and rivers.

Throughout the last century, the Iraqi Kurds were derided, neglected and suffered a brutal campaign of genocide. The most notorious example of this was the chemical weapons attack on Halabja in March 1988 in which 5,000 people were killed in an instant. An estimated 182,000 people were murdered in 1987-1988.

The British Parliament last year formally recognised the genocide. Two members of the US Congress have tabled a bipartisan resolution urging the House of Representatives and the government to recognise the genocide. In November 2013, Representatives Chris Van Hollen and Marsha Blackburn introduced resolution (H.RES.422) which also reaffirms friendship between the United States and the Kurdish people in Iraq.

When Iraq was liberated in 2003, the Kurds could have opted to go their own way. Instead, they decided, in the words of their Minister of Natural Resources, Ashti Hawrami to remarry Iraq, although it had been a very abusive partner for decades. The Kurdish leadership made it clear that they would remain in Iraq as long as it was federal and democratic. They played a critical role in enshrining these in the Iraqi constitution, agreed by the Iraqi people in 2005. They helped broker settlements that formed a national unity government led by Prime Minister, Nouri Al Maliki. They are active in the government and Parliament in Baghdad, which is guarded by their efficient troops – the Peshmerga (those who face death).

Yet the question of independence keeps popping up. The reason for the renewed focus is that the Kurds have decided to make the most of their recently uncovered natural resources of oil and gas by building a new pipeline. This can take these plentiful resources to market in Turkey, which requires them to fuel its fast-growing economy and become a new energy hub.

The Kurds are seeking economic independence but are making it abundantly clear that the oil and gas remains the property of the Iraqi people as a whole. They want to transparently measure the flow and seek a new, reliable and robust revenue sharing law that allocates the revenues fairly and proportionately. They are acting within the Iraqi constitution.

There has been much overblown rhetoric about this but it now seems possible that Baghdad and Erbil can come to an agreement about how Iraq as a whole can benefit from the Kurdish success in building their energy sector from scratch in just a few years.

Economic independence can cement the country together but America opposes this. The reason given is that it could be transformed into political independence. The U.S.A. fears that this could upset the apple cart and drive a divided Iraq further into the arms of Iran. The counter-argument is that failure to fully implement federalism could drive the Kurds into independence.

America is respected in Kurdistan, whose leaders followed their advice in seeking better relations with Turkey, but they point out that official American analysis is behind the times. They should, to use an old Irish phrase, catch themselves on and examine how the Kurds are seeking, yes, to defend and promote their interests but are also seeking to build a new Iraq based on partnership and power-sharing as a federal and binational country. Getting the analysis the right way round is the prerequisite for American influence and support securing a decent outcome in Iraq after so many years of dictatorship and suffering.

Gary Kent is the Director in the British Parliament of its all-party group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and has visited Iraqi Kurdistan 16 times since 2006, mainly as a guest of the Kurdistan Regional Government and twice to Baghdad as a guest of the Prime Minister and his Islamic Dawa Party. He writes in a personal capacity.

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A Kurdistan Report by Co-Chair Meg Munn MP

In November I visited for the sixth time the Kurdistan Region of Iraq with the All-Party Parliamentary Group to examine the current issues facing the region. For me the contrast with my first visit was astonishing and heartening. The first few visits it was easy to feel something of a pioneer – few Western faces and a region slowly waking after a long sleep. Today there is the modern airport terminal and several new five star hotels, each with lobbies full of business people, local and Western, discussing developments and deals.

In amongst the business people there are the growing numbers of tourists. Just two years ago we were amazed to meet some tourists from London out in the countryside, now they wouldn’t stand out. The roads throng with new cars, new housing estates proliferate and down town Erbil is buzzing. As with any booming economy the sky line is full of cranes – offices, hotels, homes, roads all under construction.

Unlike many post conflict countries Iraq doesn’t have to rely on international aid to help rebuild its economy. Oil and gas are plentiful and the development of fields throughout the country will provide a strong source of revenue for decades to come. However the politics of this are difficult as the Government in Baghdad seeks to control all of the country’s oil exports. The Kurdistan Regional Government is supposed to receive 17% of all Iraq’s oil revenues, but this has been a contentious issue with frequent delays in payment to the region.

We visited the Taq Taq oil field run by the Taq Taq Operations Company and Turkish British oil company Genel. The oil is known as the “champagne” of Kurdistan as it is very light and to date all the operational wells flow naturally. Of the 500 employees on site around 400 are local people with only 100 being expats. Employees are hired from local villages and trained by the company for their roles, ensuring that the financial benefits are shared with local communities.

It is expected that there will be 18 wells producing around 200,000 barrels a day. The Kurdistan Region has a target of 1 million barrels of oil a day by 2015, and 2 million barrels by 2019. Already this one oil field produces around a sixth of Turkey’s daily oil needs and a new oil pipeline to Turkey will be in operation shortly. Turning on the tap for this pipeline might be seen as a Kurdish act of defiance by the Government in Baghdad, nonetheless there was a confidence in the region that oil would begin flowing sometime in December.

Unlike the rest of Iraq, the Kurdistan region has gone years without terrorist attacks but at the end of September Al Qaeda did make it through security. The Interior Minister told us that during the election period the sheer numbers of people moving around had made it possible for the terrorists to reach Erbil. Their target was the regional Government’s security forces headquarters; however they didn’t make it through the outer gates. Guards suspected an attack and began shooting at the terrorists – six Kurds died with one guard sacrificing himself by embracing a suicide bomber to stop him getting any further and killing more people.

Despite this tragic single incident the economy continues to grow helping the region’s stability enormously, including importantly its relationship with Turkey. In the recent past relations between the Kurds and Turkey were so bad that around 200,000 Turkish troops were on the border, now 200,000 people from Turkey work in the region.

When our group met the President of the region, Massoud Barzani, he did not hide his pessimism about the Iraqi political situation following elections, due early next year. He does not think much will change, and described the country as being divided between Kurds, Sunni and Shia with little enthusiasm for building bridges between communities. He was also very pessimistic about the situation in Syria. The perception in Kurdistan is that the response by the Syrian regime to the international community in relation to chemical weapons leaves them to pursue their war on the people unhindered.

During our visit we met representatives of five Syrian Kurdish groups who are part of the Syrian opposition coalition. They were keen to stress that there is an organised opposition in Syria, and that this is different to the Al Qaeda terrorist groups who are exploiting the situation. Ideally they would like each of the groups represented in the Geneva 2 talks, currently there is a limit of one Kurdish representative. They understood that the West will not supply arms, but were keen to stress the opposition of the majority of Kurdish groups to the Syrian regime.

The immediate impact in the region of the conflict in Syria has been a massive influx of refugees. Kurdistan is very welcoming to them as many of the local population have experienced being refugees themselves. Much of the support to the refugees is being funded by the Kurdish Regional Government and not international aid agencies and governments. As in other countries in the Middle East around half of the refugees are not living in camps but in urban areas.

Our visit to the Domiz refugee camp showed an effective system trying to support families who have been uprooted from homes with no prospect of an early return. 75,000 people live, work and go to school there. The services are not sufficient but there is evidence of significant support from the Kurdish Regional Government, the local Governorate and international agencies.

The Kurdistan region is not without its own political tensions. Following the recent local elections discussions are still underway about forming a regional government. We met several newly elected MPs who are keen to take up their roles but are waiting for the discussions to arrive at a conclusion. This is still a relatively new democracy, finding its way. On the positive side there is huge potential – increasing trade and a thriving economy. Yet it continues to exist in a difficult neighbourhood trying to keep its citizens safe with a deadly war on its borders and increasing terrorist attacks in the rest of Iraq.

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Pipeline politics in the Kurdistan Region

A complex diplomatic dance between three old foes at the heart of the Middle East that involves many billions and very high political stakes began to emerge this week at an historic event in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq.

The event was the third annual Kurdistan-Iraq oil and gas conference in a place which had no energy industry just a decade ago and which is now seen as the last frontier of onshore oil production in the world.

The prestigious conference was attended by nearly a thousand senior energy executives, including from nearly 60 foreign companies in the region, and by senior diplomats. But all eyes were on the energy ministers for Turkey and Kurdistan, Taner Yildiz and Ashti Hawrami respectively.

The first remarkable point is that Yildiz was at the conference. Last year, the aviation authorities in Baghdad pointedly banned him flying into Erbil in a crude and counterproductive display of sovereignty. This year, the minister first flew to Baghdad to meet ministers before visiting the conference in Erbil.

The evidently good personal chemistry between Yildiz and Hawrami is testimony to a long sought-for and radical reshaping of relations between Turkey and Kurdistan. Just a few years back they were near to armed conflict with strong fears that success for Iraqi Kurdistan would encourage separatist Kurds in Turkey.

However, the development of a brand new energy sector with about five per cent of the world’s oil and a century of gas has irreversibly changed the equation. Turkey is seeking to become a world economic giant but has few energy resources itself and needs reliable supplies from its neighbour. Turkey becoming a new hub for secure and diverse energy supplies will also benefit Europe and the UK.

In the past year, Kurdistan has been trucking oil to Turkey. The road to the border is jammed with lorries and tankers and Turkey is the principal trading partner of the Iraqi Kurds.
But trucking is not a sustainable export route and in the last year a new pipeline has been constructed. It is now ready, tested and tried and will export up to 350,000 barrels of oil per day in the coming year. This could rise to two million bpd in the coming years. The Kurdistan region will soon become a net contributor to federal coffers in Baghdad and account for a substantial proportion of the much-needed oil revenues of the country.

Yet some in Baghdad, where successive regimes have repressed the Kurds and conducted genocide, are wary and suspicious. Many retain a Baghdad-knows-best approach and chide the Kurds for smuggling oil and acting outside the federal constitution agreed in 2005. They claim that the Kurds will transform economic into political independence.

The Kurds feel they have waited long enough to see the fruits of their natural wealth. There are huge pent-up demands for infrastructure – schools, hospitals, roads, bridges – as well as diversifying their economic base through developing tourism and agriculture. Some public services are far ahead of those in the rest of the country but improving the quality of health and education is a priority for its people.

The Kurds insist that they have the right to exploit and export energy as they see fit within the constitution while all revenues are shared by the Iraqi people. The Kurds should receive 17 per cent of all revenues, though this is about 10 per cent in practice. The sticking point with the export revenues is how Turkey pays for them. Do revenues go to Baghdad or to Erbil to be shared out or can they be held in a state account in Turkey until Erbil and Baghdad finally agree a robust and reliable revenue sharing formula? Maximum transparency can reassure the federal government that exports are properly measured and monetised.

Behind these technical matters is a debate about whether Iraq can stay together. The Kurds insist that Iraq as a whole will benefit from their greater economic dynamism which flows from their superior security having enjoyed a headstart over the rest of the country – Saddam Hussein left in 1991. Their prime minister Nechirvan Barzani told the conference that it is ‘very difficult to trust anyone who wants to decide our destiny’ and that its new energy sector means that ‘the door has been opened to the world.’ He added that the Kurdistan region was a ‘security pillar of Iraq.’

An amicable resolution, supported by Ankara, is eminently achievable without anyone losing face. We can then come to see this hiatus as a storm in a teacup before Iraq finally accepted that it is a binational and federal country and that all will gain from the new natural wealth of the Kurds and their new links with the Turks. It is a win-win position which can turn foes into friends and is now moving towards its finale.

As Yildiz put it: ‘let’s not break each others’ hearts but talk to each other.’ Given the old hatreds and rivalries in the Ankara-Erbi-Baghdad triangle this will be an historic volte-face and one that could transform the Middle East.

Gary Kent is director of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq, and is writing from Erbil on his 18th trip to Iraq since 2006. He writes in a personal capacity.

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Mike Gapes MP on trip to the Kurdistan Region

Last week during the short Parliamentary recess I visited the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. I was impressed with the peaceful situation, booming economy, social, health and infrastructure development.

Domiz refugee camp Kurdistan Twenty years ago the Kurds had to flee from Saddam Hussein into the mountains and to Turkey. The democratic Kurdish Regional Government are proud of those in Britain who helped their liberation. Today they host 250,000 refugees fleeing from another brutal Baathist, Bashar Assad and the civil war in Syria.

I saw the Domiz refugee camp where 75,000 including 13,000 children live in densely packed crowded temporary shelters with no prospect of an early return home. Despite the welcome agreement to remove chemical weapons, over 120,000 have died and 7 million Syrians forced from their homes, including 4 million into neighbouring countries with little prospect of an early ceasefire or political solution.

http://www.mikegapes.org.uk/column-for-ilford-recorder-21-november-2013

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Ankara, Erbil and Baghdad

Just five years ago, 100,000 Turkish troops were poised on the border with the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Today 200,000 Turkish workers live there as employees of hundreds of Turkish companies that are taking advantage of its booming economy.

Last week, the Kurdistan region’s President Barzani made an historic trip to the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey for a joint appearance with Turkish prime minister Erdogan. A once banned Kurdish singer provided the music as Kurdish and Turkish flags fluttered together.

Very soon, oil will flow from the Kurdistan region by pipeline into Turkey, further boosting Iraqi prosperity and supplying Turkey with much needed energy resources. The Taq Taq field in Iraqi Kurdistan, which I visited with a cross-party group of MPs last week, has the capacity to provide much of Turkey’s daily energy needs and is operated by an Anglo-Turkish company, Genel Energy.

These warmer links between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey, where most Kurds live, can also bolster the slow peace process between the Turkish government and Abdullah Ocalan’s PKK, which is on ceasefire.

Commerce is overcoming ancient enmities and tensions. Policy makers should catch up with the implications of the historic rapprochement between the Kurdistan region of Iraq and Turkey – a rare bright spot in the Middle East.

However, there is many a slip twixt cup and lip. Some in Baghdad have long been suspicious of and obstructive towards the successes of the Kurdistan region, although its leaders decided when Iraq was liberated to remain in Iraq – a tough call given the genocidal campaign waged against them from Baghdad, chiefly by Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders have done much to consolidate the country as a whole and have brokered deals that have given Baghdad what stability it has. But successive deals have been dishonoured by Baghdad. Pathways to solve the issue of the status of disputed territories such as Kirkuk, which was forcibly Arabised in the 1960s, have been kicked into the long grass. The Kurds are entitled to 17 per cent of all Iraqi revenues but generally receive about 10 per cent and not reliably and don’t benefit proportionately from pan-Iraq programmes.

Some in Baghdad describe the export of oil on Kurdish territory as smuggling and Baghdad may yet seek to block exports to Turkey. The Kurds are adamant that all they do is within the law, as laid down in the 2005 constitution endorsed overwhelmingly by the Iraqi people. The many major international companies would not be in Kurdistan if they thought their contracts were illegal.

In any case, the oil and gas remains the property of the Iraqi people, however it is exported, and Baghdad will get its fair share. The country as a whole can benefit from Kurdish dynamism. Some in Baghdad claim that economic independence will lead to the Kurds declaring UDI. This is difficult for what would be a landlocked country and its neighbours probably wouldn’t back it.

Yet, bureaucratic obstruction of Kurdish growth could make this fear a self-fulfilling prophecy. The best way to keep the Kurds is to acknowledge their rights and allow them to succeed.

Nothing much will change before the scheduled parliamentary elections across Iraq in April 2014. But once they are concluded, friends of Iraq should support full implementation of federalism that can assist the Kurds as they make further historic change for the benefit of themselves, Iraq and the wider Middle East.

Gary Kent is director of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq, which he has visited three times this year. He writes in a personal capacity. – See more at: http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2013/11/22/progress-in-kurdistan/#sthash.G8KmV09w.dpuf

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