Status of the APPG

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Minutes of the AGM of the APPG on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. 15 June 2015.
Present: Jason McCartney, Nadhim Zahawi, Bob Stewart, Fabian Hamilton, Dave Anderson, Mary Glindon, Mike Gapes, Stephen Metcalfe, Lord Clement-Jones and Gary Kent.
Apologies: John Woodcock, Lord Glasman
1 Election of Officers: the following were nominated, accepted and elected.
Chair and registered contact: Jason McCartney
Vice Chair: Nadhim Zahawi
Secretary: Mike Gapes
Treasurer: Tim Clement Jones.
The following were also elected as Vice Chairs: Lord Glasman, Fabian Hamilton, Stephen Metcalfe, John Woodcock, Mary Glindon, Dave Anderson, Lord Trimble, Baroness Hodgson, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, and Lord Bew.
2 Gary Kent was confirmed as Director of the APPG.
3 The following remit was agreed: ‘To promote friendship and understanding between the people of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and the UK and to encourage the development of democratic institutions in the Kurdistan Region as part of the democratic and federal process in the rest of Iraq.’
4 Future programme and priorities
a We agreed to organise briefing meeting on 6/7 July with Angus McKee, UK Consul-General in Kurdistan and Karwan Tahir, KRG High Representative in the UK.
b Gary Kent to organise delegation to Kurdistan in September or November.
c Visas: we agreed to establish the facts of the current situation.
d We agreed to recruit 50 members this year.
e We agreed to encourage and support the establishment of an APPG on the UK in the Kurdistani Parliament.

The public enquiry point is Gary Kent. c/o Dave Anderson MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA, 02072195013 or

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Nadhim Zahawi MP welcomes British Prime Minister’s action on recognising genocide in Iraq

British Member of Parliament, Nadhim Zahawi, recently wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron on behalf of the Kurdish Genocide Task Force (KGTF) urging the British Government to recognise the genocidal acts perpetrated by ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Mr Zahawi has welcomed the Prime Minister’s response and commitment to explore all options to tackle the threat posed by ISIL and to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice.

Given the United Kingdom’s Presidency of the United Nations Security Council during August 2014, and its influential role on the Human Rights Council, Mr Zahawi sought to highlight the role the British Government could play in ensuring that all of the necessary steps are taken to end, prosecute and punish the commission of acts of genocide and crimes against humanity by ISIL.

On the 1st September, the Human Rights Council met in a special session that focused on the human rights situation in Iraq, in light of the abuses committed by ISIL. A resolution mandating the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to despatch an urgent mission to investigate and report on ISIL abuses was passed by consensus with strong UK influence and backing.

British Prime Minister, the Right Honourable David Cameron MP, wrote: “I welcome the work of the Task Force to draw attention to the terrible crimes that have been committed against the Kurds in recent decades. It is tragic that similarly brutal crimes continue to be perpetrated today by ISIL against both the Kurds and other minority groups.”

“ISIL’s actions in Iraq and Syria are simply barbaric. […] I have been clear that we must use all of the resources at our disposal to tackle them. That includes considering all options on how those responsible for crimes and abuses can be held to account.”

Mr Zahawi commented: “The Kurdish Genocide Task Force has worked extremely hard over the past three years to gain recognition for the acts of genocide that took place against the Iraqi Kurds over recent decades, and it is heart breaking to see minority groups throughout Iraq under threat of genocide from the brutality of ISIL.

It is extremely encouraging to see the Prime Minister’s support for our work and the British Government’s commitment to tackling the threat posed by ISIL and bringing those responsible for their crimes to justice.

The UK has a long held position as a protector of liberty and human rights across the world; we need to be clear that those who commit horrendous and appalling acts will not be immune to justice.”

The letter was also welcomed by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s High Representative to the UK, Ms Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman. Ms Rahman commented: “The British Prime Minister, David Cameron’s very helpful letter to Nadhim Zahawi provides important support for the work of the UK-based Kurdish Genocide Task Force, which unites activists, academics, legal figures, Kurds and Britons and people from other countries in the common cause of seeking recognition of the genocide against the Kurds and justice for them.

Mr Cameron’s active backing for an urgent UN Human Rights Council mission to investigate the brutal crimes of Isil against the Kurdish Yezedis, Assyrian Christians and others is very welcome and reflects the good standing of the UK as a guardian of democracy and human rights. The KRG will co-operate fully with this‎ mission.

We are seeing terrible crimes being committed by ISIL but they will not be immune from justice forever. It is of the utmost urgency that evidence is collected now to enable a better chance of prosecuting Isil leaders, activists, enablers and financiers involved in genocide, rape and slaughter. That in turn makes it more credible for the international community in the future not to turn a blind eye to such awful crimes and for potential perpetrators to understand that there will be a reckoning and they will have to pay for their inhumanity.

It is crucial that we all support the Kurdish city of Kobane in Syria and prevent it from falling to Isil who will rape, pillage and murder those there. I congratulate our good friend Nadhim Zahawi on his diligence in securing such commitments from the British Prime Minister.”


Notes to Editors:
• The Kurdish Genocide Task Force was established in London in 2011 with the aim of gaining recognition for acts of genocide that took place against Iraqi Kurds.
• The KGTF is comprised of independent experts and British parliamentarians.
• Nadhim Zahawi MP is a member of the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Iraq.

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Baghdad should love bomb the Kurds

The Kurds face the world’s wealthiest and best armed terrorist organisation in Daish (Isil) and are struggling to cope with a 20% increase in its population through a massive influx of desperate refugees and internally displaced people in just a few months.

The majority of the internally displaced people are Arab Iraqis but Baghdad won’t even send them their ration entitlements and the new Prime Minister has so far refused to even visit them in solidarity.

Baghdad has refused all this year to make any budget payments to the Kurds who are financing their existential struggle with loans from businesses and neighbours.

Baghdad also continues to block Kurdish oil exports, although these revenues are even more vital to cash-strapped Kurdistan. The peshmerga, no translation is necessary any more, may hold the line against Daish but Baghdad has refused to either pay them or equip or train them for over a decade.

They have relatively ancient military equipment in a confrontation with Daish, which has stolen some of the best and most sophisticated American weaponry there is. New and better arms are being sent but, even here, that is subject to vetoes and delays by Baghdad.

Baghdad is seeking to squeeze the Kurds in an economic war. It is futile. Whatever the misery and deprivations caused by this blockade, the Kurds will never bow the knee to Baghdad. In fact, it makes their resolve even stronger for either a fresh start in the fair and full federalism they have long been promised, some form of confederation or independence.

Nothing surprises me about Baghdad’s actions, which are par for the course for nearly a century in which the Kurds have been looked down on as ignorant and deplorable smugglers – “tinkers” comes near to what that means for many Arab Iraqis – but the real shock is that the international community is completely ignoring Baghdad’s efforts to cajole and coerce the Kurds.

It is understandable that internal forces and external friends of Iraq insisted on the departure of the former Prime Minister Maliki whose grossly sectarian and savage repression of the Sunnis drove many into the arms of Daish. He just had no ability to make Baghdad an attractive partner for the Sunnis who perceive the Debaathification policy as solely directed against them.

The Kurds have made it absolutely plain that their support for and participation in the new government in Baghdad is conditional on moves to end the economic blockade. They have given Abadi three months to make a move. Such a tight deadline would be unreasonable if it were not for the fact that the Baghdad has a decade long policy of promising change and never implementing it. The deadline is due in early December and should be taken most seriously by all foreign governments.

It may well be that there is a great deal of private diplomatic action behind the scenes urging Baghdad to make a move with guaranteed timetables in a reasonable give and take. Some look at the characters of those who hold key positions in Baghdad and conclude that a sequenced series of actions is possible.

But the Kurds are neither prepared nor should they be expected to merely wait for this to happen. Baghdad must be placed under serious and public pressure to do the right thing by the deadline or know that the world will understand that there will be serious consequences as the Kurds conclude that Baghdad will always break its vows.

Many Kurds looked to Scotland to go for independence for obvious reasons. The comparison is inexact but the one clear similarity is that the people of Scotland decided to stay with the UK once its political leaders cottoned on to the looming loss of the Union. They realised that threats and warnings of pain were counter-productive compared to straightforward emotional pleas to stay together. If Baghdad wants the Kurds to remain part of an Iraq, they could follow suit and undertake some love bombing rather than punitive blockades. Baghdad has a choice to make in the next few weeks or the Kurds will surely make one themselves.

Gary Kent is the Director of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and writes in a personal capacity.

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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

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:

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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

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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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