From Mountain People to Partner?

By James Denselow.

Speaking at a recent Chatham House event former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright was asked her predictions for the Middle East. Ignoring the continued flux of both the Arab Spring the bloody civil war in Syria Albright responded that the modern relationship between Turkey and the Kurds is evidence of how “things you think will never change – change”.

Against the backdrop of the current round of bloodletting that is wracking the region, the Kurdish success story continues to establish itself. In Turkey before the headlines became dominated by the street protests one of the biggest story’s of the year was the deal made in the decades old conflict between Ankara and the PKK. The negotiated agreement that saw hundreds of PKK fighters moving into the borderland of Iraqi Kurdistan followed a sustained improvement in relations between Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of Iraqi Kurdistan. The landlocked KRG have steadily looked to connect their two greatest assets, energy supplies and stability, through to Turkey. Albright would never have predicted that Turkey, previously so opposed to Kurdish autonomy, would develop such close economic relations with the nearest thing to a state-like entity that the World’s largest stateless people have ever had. As Iraq endures its most violent period in five years, with over 1,000 people killed in May according to the UN, those media that visit the north of the country run out of superlatives to describe the contrast. The standard headlines involves variant around the word ‘boom’ or ‘booming’.

This month the Guardian’s Ian Black made the pilgrimage to Iraqi Kurdistan to witness the final steps towards the completion of an oil pipeline that will snake into Turkey carrying with it 300,000 barrels of crude oil a day. Back in the UK industrialists, entrepreneurs, analysts and journalists alike receive a regular stream of invitations from the Middle East Association, the KRG’s office in London or the well connected All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Kurdistan to tourism conferences (In 2012, over 2.2 million tourists visited Kurdistan), business talks or trade delegations to the region. The invitations often tease with introductions outlining how with 45 billion barrels of oil reserves and 3-6 trillion cubic meters of gas reserves, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is “one of the last remaining conventional oil and gas frontiers on earth”.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s geography, landlocked with conflict-ravaged Syria to the West and quasi-Pariah Iran to the East, may have been a blessing in pushing the KRG towards finding a modus vivendi with Turkey but it limits their long term supply of international investors. I travelled to the region in March and saw their newfound wealth translated into five star hotels, conference centres and infrastructure. It can come as no surprise to see the KRG look to Europe for high-tech investment. Against this frenzy of opportunity and activity you’d think that a government in Westminster that has put commercial diplomacy at the heart of its foreign policy would be at the vanguard of international relations with the nascent Kurdish entity. There are flickers of the potential for a far stronger relationship in the making; this February the UK Parliament recognised Saddam Hussein’s murderous ANFAL campaigns as genocide against the Kurds. This important political recognition is backed by steadily increasing economic links – in July the KRG is holding a one-day tourism infrastructure development, investment and business match-making conference in London, with the support of UK Trade and Investment. However an Iraq-phobia felt by British politicians has combined with an innate wariness as to the region’s long term stability by economic investors.

The Director of the APPG, Gary Kent, who has visited the Kurdistan Region 12 times since 2006 with fact-finding delegations, told me: “People were initially confused as to where Kurdistan was, literally. When Iraq was mentioned, they became wary. The APPG and others have made the case that increasing cultural and commercial connections with the Kurdistan Region are of mutual benefit to the UK and the Kurdistan Region. The message has got through. Kurdistan is now on the map…..the export of oil and gas to Turkey will also benefit the UK and Europe. Turkey can become an important energy hub, fuel its growing economy and become a critical cog in the secure and reliable energy resources to Europe”.

Indeed the pipeline is both a moment of high opportunity and risk. Relations between Erbil and Baghdad have been poor for some time and in the absence of a constitutional agreement around the hydrocarbons law some fear that a cold war between the centres of Iraqi power could turn hot. Black wrote in the Guardian that the Kurds were “improving their bargaining position to try to force a reluctant Baghdad to comply with the federal constitution”. This tension has manifest in fire fights across the internal border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq. In May three suicide bombers attacked Kurdish security forces and the local headquarters of a Kurdish political party in the disputed area around Kirkuk. Only this week AFP reported that more than 1,000 Kurdish career soldiers in the Iraqi army have deserted and want to be integrated into forces loyal to the KRG.

A stronger relationship with a UN Security Council permanent member like the UK could prevent the completion of independent exporting capacity to Turkey becoming an issue of systemic division, as has happened between Sudan and South Sudan. The UK government commitment to the KRG does not have to come with an implicit acceptance of Kurdish independence as paradoxically enough that appears to be that last thing on the KRG’s mind. Independence brings a host of unpredictable consequences in a region whose only stability lies in the seeming permanence of the borders lovingly drawn by Britain and France nearly 100-years ago. Far better, it would seem, to embrace the pragmatisms of trade than the explosive redlines of separatism. Iraq descent into violence is of course a worry to Erbil but their security forces and internal borders buffer themselves against the aftershocks of surrounding regional conflicts.

Downing Street should not underestimate the warmth of feeling generated by the House of Commons debate recognising the Kurdish Genocide. A formal government acceptance of this history and real commitment to economic partnership would appear to be a politically and economically sensible step forward. Such a surge in relations could be launched with the hugely symbolic agreement of direct flights, an issue apparently sitting in a technical no-man’s land but surely one that a little bit of political leadership can cure. As Gary Kent explained “we need improved visa issuing facilities in Erbil and direct flights”. The Kurds famous phrase that they have ‘no friends except the mountains’ could be one for the history books as the UK and other European powers discover that amongst the bloodshed of the region there is an emerging gem in the Kurdish north of Iraq.

June 2013

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Analysis of the latest debate on Iraq in the Commons

MPs last week secured a Commons debate on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion. Although there wasn’t a vote, it provided a useful barometer of how Iraq is seen in British politics and how it influences responses to new humanitarian crises.

I could amuse you by mocking the melodramatic and even conspiracist invective of some MPs. In a nutshell, Iraq was an immoral and illegal war in which a vastly exaggerated number of people died thanks to the perverse deceits of those bogeymen, Blair and Bush. One MP opined that there is nothing to be celebrated. Let’s calmly mention that the overthrow of genocidal fascism should weigh in the balance.

But what made the debate more interesting was that some MPs, often those who have taken the time and trouble to visit Iraq and including those who opposed intervention, were much more nuanced.

Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds said that “life across much of Iraq, particularly in the south and the Kurdistan region, is peaceful for most people most of the time.” He welcomed the recent Iraqi Cabinet meeting in Erbil as “a signal of serious intent to improve relations” between Baghdad and the KRG. Time will tell.

Another Conservative MP, Jason McCartney, who had just returned from the Kurdistan Region with me and others, opposed the war but acknowledged that regime change made a huge difference to Kurdistan which is peaceful, increasingly prosperous and fairly secular.

McCartney, a Royal Air Force officer in the no-fly zone over Kurdistan in the 1990s, said that the no-fly zone “prevented Saddam Hussein from waging his war against Iraq’s 5 million Kurds.”

He added that “having been helped themselves, the Iraqi Kurds are now helping others” and described our “emotional day” at the Domiz refugee camp near the Syrian border, (which UNHCR Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited last year), adding that the KRG “deserves praise for funding and arranging” the camp.

He urged an end to bitter disputes about revenue sharing between Erbil and Baghdad and expressed hope that Kurdistan’s relative stability could be a model for Iraq.

Another Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, who also opposed the war and has also visited Kurdistan with me and others, said that Kurdistan had moved forward from Saddam’s atrocities and hoped that “such success can be emulated in the rest of the country.”

Ten years on, the heat of the debate has not abated and it is clear that many agonised hard and long over the decision to invade Iraq. A brief personal note. In 2003, I enthusiastically endorsed intervention but there has rarely been a day since that I haven’t questioned this.

The continuing pain of that decision was laid bare by the Shadow Minister for the Middle East and Africa, Ian Lucas, who had just returned from the Kurdistan Region, again with me.

One could see the deep emotions that attended his decision to defy Tony Blair and reject war in 2003. He honestly acknowledged that the vote profoundly impacted on British politics, including a fundamental loss of trust in the Labour Party.

Lucas was clearly deeply moved by his trip to Kurdistan. He referred to our visit to Barzan village where we met widows at the graveyard, “their faces still etched with grief 30 years on.” Our visit to Domiz was equally emotional. Those who opposed intervention usually reflect when Kurds praise the long overdue liberation and they see Kurdish achievements first hand.

But Iraq’s long and still poisonous shadow sets the context for increasingly fraught British debates about how to deal with Syria and Iran. Iraq has soured the case for liberal interventionism for which there is little popular appetite.

Earlier intervention in Syria could arguably have isolated Assad and boosted the democratic opposition, including persuading them to recognise the rights of minorities such as the Kurds. Russia and China have now become stubborn in their resistance to intervention against Assad and the UN seems impotent. Few remember that the no-fly zone that saved the Kurds in the 1990s was imposed without UN authority.

100,000 Syrians have now lost their lives, the moderate opposition has been shredded and Al Qaeda is in poll position. Chemical weapons have been used, one incident at Utaybah was nearly 25 years to the day after Halabja.

But inaction and the changed balance of forces make stopping the war in Syria much more difficult and will place pressure on regional powers to do more themselves but in the context of the simmering Sunni-Shia split that could turn very bloody and impact on the whole region.

Sadly, the refugees at Domiz won’t be going home soon and their numbers in Kurdistan could soar from 150,000 to maybe more than twice that number within months. The ring of fire around Kurdistan could also get much hotter.

We will all have to have our wits about us to help prevent a rapidly deteriorating crisis becoming much worse. As Ian Lucas rightly said, the lessons of Iraq should inform but not paralyse policy.

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A holiday in the Iraqi sun

When commentators were vociferously claiming that Iraq had gone to hell in a handcart following the invasion of ten years ago, I took my wife and son to Iraq for a holiday. I know that most people would think it eccentric to put ‘holiday’ and ‘Iraq’ in the same sentence but they are missing out.

We spent a few days in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. It’s too soon for most travellers to visit Baghdad, where I spent two weekend political breaks in 2008 and 2009, but Iraqi Kurdistan rid itself of Saddam in 1991 and has had more time to recover from decades of fascism and isolation than the rest of the country. It is safe and stable. I have often walked about there without any fear whatsoever. There’s no reason why, in time, the rest of Iraq could become more like Kurdistan.

We flew into Erbil airport, once a small airfield but now a spanking new 16 terminal and British-designed modern building that also boasts the fifth longest runway in the world. MPs were once driven down the runway before the airport opened. One bright spark suggested that Jeremy Clarkson should use it in Top Gear. The programme later visited Kurdistan and praised its safety and beauty.

The weather in early March was hot but comfortable. It’s a dry heat that seeps gently through your body rather than sweats you out. Spring is probably the best time. It’s a subjective judgement but I wouldn’t go there in July or August when it’s like a furnace.

We explored the capital Erbil, which has been transformed from what some used to see as a dusty little town to a thrusting and cosmopolitan city. Its three large parks, one of them complete with a cable car, are oases of greenery and solitude except when they are packed at the weekend.

We were lucky enough to stay one night in the five star Rotana which sports several swanky restaurants and famed for its Wednesday Fish Buffet – crab, prawns, mussels, lobster. We popped into the Empire Speed Centre where expats down lagers and burgers, with some using the go karts – before the beer, hopefully.

We also visited the Dawa restaurant in the main Sami Abdul Rahman Park for a lavish banquet of lamb, goat, turkey and chicken with their very special bread. The kebabs are served from a huge ceremonial sword.

When we later hit the road we stopped at small roadside cafes for the statutory and generous portions of kebabs and bread, although I would recommend avoiding toilets in such places.
We failed to visit the famous Citadel, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world which stretches back 8,000 years. I had seen it before and have seen it being lovingly restored with the help of Unesco. I’d also recommend a visit to its Textile Museum where you can buy rugs, mirrors, hats, ornate backgammon sets and bags.

Erbil has much to offer but to get the full flavour of the Kurdistan Region you need to escape from Erbil. Some years back, I was with a party of four MPs. Two had been to Kurdistan before and the other two were new. We were discussing the Kurdistan Regional Government’s policy of reviving agriculture. The new people formed an anti-agrarian faction scoffing at the idea that Kurdistan should sink billions into a drive for self-sufficiency. It was a vanity project.

They quickly changed their minds when we left the city and saw the breathtaking beauty of the countryside and its so far untapped agricultural potential. The Kurdistan Region is about the same size as Scotland but seems so much larger when you are on the road. The sky goes on forever and any expectations of a desert environment are knocked for six by a vast and verdant plain of fields and meadows ringed by mountains with waterfalls and springs. You can lose yourself in its solitude.

We took the road north from Erbil towards the Iranian border. It was the Hamilton Road built to help service the silk road. We saw the Pank tourist resort with its chalets and conference centre. The gorges at Gali Ali Beg were next and are the deepest in the Middle East. They are stunningly beautiful.

We later took the road towards Slemani and stopped at Lake Dukan, which provides much of the freshwater fish lovingly prepared in Kurdish restaurants. We found a way down to the waterside and saw a few boats breezing up and down but, possibly through our lack of knowledge, we didn’t see any great facilities for tourists.

The FT and the Times have recently devoted space to extolling the virtues of tourism in the Kurdistan Region. Kurdistan’s rich offering is largely untouched by tourists, particularly from the West, as the region is only just beginning to build the infrastructure needed to open itself to tourism. Hotels, cable cars, ski resorts, holiday complexes, telecommunications, training in the hospitality industry, branding and marketing are all areas that are ripe for development.

The KRG UK is organising a Tourism Infrastructure Development conference entitled Kurdistan Region: the hidden jewel of the Middle East. It is on Tuesday 2 July 2013 from 9am to 5pm at the BIS Conference Centre, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET

The organisers point out that over two billion US Dollars worth of private investment has already gone into tourism infrastructure development and that the KRG wants to enable some of Kurdistan’s largest companies and senior officials to meet and potentially partner with British producers of goods, services, expertise and consulting companies.

Participants can meet KRG ministers and government officials, leading Kurdish companies and Kurdistan’s chambers of commerce and trade associations.

To secure a place at this conference, send an email with your full name and a brief description of your company to Ms Nawal Karim, Director of Trade and Investment Relations at the KRG UK Representation,

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Remembering Times Foreign Editor Richard Beeston

The Kurdistan Regional Government is very saddened to learn of the death of Richard Beeston, an outstanding journalist and loyal friend of the Kurdish people.

A foreign correspondent and editor of 30 years, Richard was one of the first reporters to witness the chemical attack against the people of Halabja in 1988. His reporting helped to expose the massacre to the international community and to the public, at a time when Iraqi Kurdistan was little known, oppressed and isolated from the world.
Richard spoke about what he saw in Halabja many times over the years because he wanted to stand up for the victims and raise the alarm about the use of chemical weapons elsewhere, for example, in Syria. He spoke powerfully and movingly about the tragedy that he witnessed, even though it cost him emotionally to do so. The last time he did this publicly was in March 2013 at Chatham House, to mark the 25th anniversary of the attack on Halabja.

Richard supported the campaign for international recognition of the genocide against the Kurds in Iraq, speaking in the British parliament and at international conferences, and he reminded Times readers of the tragedy in Halabja, 25 years after the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Richard supported a UK petition campaign, which led to the UK parliament unanimously recognising the genocide against the Kurds in Iraq in March this year.

At a rally supporting the petition, Richard said, “I went on to cover many wars but the memories of Halabja are fresh in my mind. I went back to Halabja many years later, in the spring, and in the hills there were young people picnicking, happy. It was a very emotional moment. It reminded me of the power of humanity to overcome the worst of war. ”
The people of Kurdistan have lost a loyal friend, and the world has lost a great journalist and foreign editor. Our thoughts are with Richard’s family and friends, we send our sincere condolences to them.
Kurdistan Regional Government

Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Iraq

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Transforming lives – from the North East of England to the Kurdistan Region.

Adrian Pearson wrote this feature on the work of the Newcastle-Gateshead Medical Volunteers in the Journal on 22 April.

Northern Iraq may not at first glance seem like the ideal place to travel to twice a year, but for a growing number of North East medics this is a much-sought opportunity.

The Newcastle Gateshead Medical Volunteers are now an increasingly important part of the health system in Kurdish Iraq.

The orthopaedic surgery team put together by Dr Deiary Kader now regularly helps people who in some cases have gone their entire life without much-needed medical treatment.

In his day job, for which he also offers up valuable volunteer time, Dr Kader is a consultant orthopaedic and trauma surgeon at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead.

But after almost 20 years in the UK, he says he wants to give something back to his native Kurdistan.

His small team first set off in 2010, making two trips that year, and volunteers have repeated that process ever since. Those earlier trips saw the team work with only basic equipment, using home drill kits to help meet the various medical needs.

Since then they have built up some of the best clinics in the region to provide the type of surgery few in Kurdistan would otherwise be able to afford, a service provided for free by his small team.

“These are people who are destitute, they are very poor and just could never afford the £10,000 needed for a knee replacement,” Dr Kader said.

“We see out there some of what we might see here in the UK, but a lot is related to the situation there.

“We see military guys with injuries from war, while the other problem we see a lot is the consequences of the bad health system.

“We see people who have, for example, dislocated a hip as a baby and no one has recognised it or treated it. They have suffered from childhood and come to us in their mid-20s and limp badly, are in pain and suffer a devastating life. We can offer a chance to change that. It’s that potential treatment that over here is more routine. We sawa lady who hadn’t walked for five years due to arthritis.” He added: “At the beginning we did not have much to work with when we went out there – we couldn’t just fly out the equipment. “But over the years the local charities have recognised that we are here for the long term and they have started buying stuff for us.”

Every trip out there saves local groups £200,000, with the Kurdish charities helping costs for nurses and some others. Those nurses and doctors originally include just a few from the North East, but Dr Kader now has frequent support from Oxford, London and across the country. Indeed, medics are lining up to get involved despite the hard work. A typical trip sees 46 major operations in just seven days. So far the organisation has done 200 operations of the hip and knee joint and seen 1,200 patients at the clinic .

“At first it was difficult to get people to agree to go, because of what they have heard about Iraq,” Dr Kader said. “And it was a big responsibility for me, to take 10 people over there and be responsible for them, when 50 miles away from where we were there was some pretty bad bombing. “But we have had reassurances from the regional government that there is nothing to be concerned about. “Now we go there, and there are no signs of insecurity or problems, we go and there are no scares, everything goes smoothly. “So now we have a waiting list for people to go, with Continued interest from the Freeman, the RVI, from Wansbeck and elsewhere in the region.

“That’s partly as a result of the help we get both out there and here, where in Parliament we have the support of MP Dave Anderson and (parliamentary assistant) Gary Kent.” Support in Kurdistan comes from the Nechirvan Health Aid Office and Barzani Charity Foundation, which provide social, cultural and humanitarian aid in Kurdistan to the people who need it most.

That means working without discrimination and regardless of a person’s belief or ethnicity to help rebuild the shattered lives of the many thousands of displaced this devastated society. Dr Kader is also a professor of sports science at Northumbria University, and tries to give as much of his time locally as he has internationally. The doctor has done 40 free theatre lists for the NHS in the past year, offering up his own time on what would otherwise be days off to help keep NHS bills down. He said: “I think charity begins at home.

I just feel that if I am doing something for Kurdistan, I am obliged to do something for the country that has trained me, that has given me all I have. “It’s unusual I know; a lot of people think I am crazy. But it’s a nice thing I can do, an example maybe someone else will follow one day. It’s very fulfilling work.” His work out there has earned him frequent praise, including from Blaydon MP Dave Anderson, who has seen the team in action in Kurdistan in his role as secretary of the cross-party parliamentary group on Kurdistan. Mr Anderson said: “Deiary has done wonders in inspiring fellow medics in the North East to put their expertise to good use in Kurdistan and enjoy themselves into the bargain.

“They have brought much relief to dozens of people who needed hip and knee operations and have literally helped them stand on their own two feet.” Mr Anderson, who will table a Commons motion saluting Deiary and the initiative, added: “The Kurdistan region is increasingly able to use its new-found wealth to provide better public services but having been isolated for so long and oppressed by Saddam Hussein, they need British expertise.

“The wider story is that there are many other trade and investment opportunities for North East businesses in this safe, hospitable and pro-British place.”

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Learning from history in Syria

The following letter appears in the Times.

The world must condemn any chemical weapons attacks in Syria — the Kurdish people in Iraq know the effects only too well

Sir, The Foreign Secretary must follow through on his statement that the international community should hold the Assad regime to account for its use of chemical weapons in Syria (report, Apr 16). The evidence that chemical weapons have been used appears to be mounting. The world must show that such barbaric attacks will not be tolerated.

The Kurdish people in Iraq know what it is like to be attacked with chemical weapons. In Halabja, in March 1988, 5,000 people were gassed to death and many more were injured.

We urge the Government to formally recognise the Kurdish genocide. We said “never again”, but on the 25th anniversary of the attack on Halabja, we are discussing such weapons being used again — by Assad.

This is why the genocide against the Kurds must be recognised internationally, as only then can we stop it happening again elsewhere.

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman
High Representative to the UK, Kurdistan Regional Government

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Pomegranates from Halabja

Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan is now once again increasingly known because Saddam Hussein committed his worst crime against humanity there. His forces rained down mustard gas and nerve agents on the town, murdered 5,000 people in minutes and permanently maimed many thousands more in March 1988.

But Halabja could come to be associated with something much more positive – the health-enhancing pomegranate. For Halabja is the source of some of the best varieties of this prized fruit which can be eaten, drunk by itself or mixed with other drinks and reduce cholesterol.

It could be a massive symbol of change if Halabja were to become known worldwide for pomegranates rather than weapons of mass destruction. Fortunately, the land wasn’t contaminated around Halabja.

It would also help to kick-start the renewal of agriculture in Kurdistan, originally the bread basket of Iraq and where agriculture was itself founded centuries ago.

Agriculture was a major victim of Saddam’s genocide against the Kurds. The countryside was turned into a free fire zone and all living things were shot on sight. Thousands of villages were destroyed, not partially but completely to the last brick. Wells were capped. Thousands were forced into concentration camps and men and boys of battle age were carted off to mass graves.

The damage was compounded by a badly mismanaged UN Oil-for-Food programme, which encouraged imports of cheap, low quality produce instead of supporting local production.

Decades later most Kurds have no farming skills. Over the last 40 years, the region has turned from being largely self-sufficient to one that imports around 90% of its food, although that is changing.

Kurdistan’s plentiful oil and gas will provide a decent living for most but such resources are finite while agriculture is permanent. The Kurdistan Regional Government believes that the economic and productive development of the agrifood industry is strategically important to its food security and part of diversifying the economy.

Kurdistan is maybe the fifth largest producer of pomegranates. They are not the only foods that the Region can produce. It is also endowed with over 80 varieties of grapes, fine mountain flower honey, apples, pears, okra and other fruits and vegetables. Few or no pesticides are used and only organic fertilizer is applied.

Some of this was displayed at successive World Fruit and Vegetable shows in London, where it was greeted with enthusiasm. The quality of its pomegranates sparked much interest and there have been efforts to create a viable supply chain.

It would do a power of good for Halabja itself which lags behind the rest of the Region in the development of its infrastructure. A booming pomegranate trade could also help revive its fine old agricultural college where, if the obvious enthusiasm of its staff and students were matched by decent funding, an agricultural renaissance could occur.

Kurdish pomegranates in our supermarkets and in our diet would do so much to rebrand Kurdistan as a coming place rather than one associated with barbarism.

Gary Kent

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Praise for the work of the Newcastle-Gateshead Medical Volunteers

Over three hundred people from NHS bodies with their friends came together at the weekend for a glittering charity ball in Newcastle Civic Centre.

They had gathered to support and raise funds for Kurdish born orthopaedic surgeon, Professor Deiary Kader who founded the Newcastle-Gateshead Medical Volunteers to bring much needed medical relief to Kurds back in Erbil.

Deiary has mobilised dozens of his fellow health professionals to use their holiday time over the last three years to visit Kurdistan to carry out dozens of knee and hip operations.

The Kurdistan Region has developed in leaps and bounds in the last decade with fast increasing disposable income and improving public services such as near continuous electricity.

But the health system is lagging behind and Deiary and his team are helping plug the gaps and transforming the lives of people many of whom have been housebound and immobile for years.

The dinner was attended by the Lord Mayor of Newcastle who gave an official welcome to the efforts of the volunteers.

I delivered greetings from the APPG while the KRG High Representative to the UK, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, also sent a message of support.

She praised “another excellent year of service and dedication to the care of the people of Kurdistan” which is “remarkable in the high standard of care and professionalism its members offer while working voluntarily in Kurdistan during their own holiday time.”

Bayan added that “The people of Kurdistan in Iraq have suffered greatly over the decades – from war, displacement, chemical bombardment and torture. Our people have suffered in other ways too. Under Saddam’s dictatorship, Iraq was a country under siege. Travel was restricted and there was little transfer of knowledge so that many advances in medical technology, techniques and knowledge bypassed us. Today we are trying to catch up and we are delighted and grateful that the Newcastle/Gateshead Medical Volunteers is prepared not only to provide medical help but also to share knowledge.”

Poignantly, she said that the work of the NGMV “is making a difference to many people’s lives and that is something that every one of you should feel proud of. None of you needs to go to Kurdistan, and none of you has to do these operations, but the fact that you do is a testament to your compassion and generosity.”

Talk about dialogue and links between countries often seems academic and distant from the concerns of ordinary people. The NGMV does much to turn this into a story of human beings connecting with each other and enjoying themselves into the bargain. Deiary and his team deserve great credit for all they have done and plan to do. The day will come when the health service in Kurdistan can stand on its own two feet in knee and hip operations, so to speak, but the achievements of this remarkable initiative will live forever.

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Federal constitution the only viable foundation for Iraq’s unity

The vast energy assets of my country, Iraq, were long abused to fund regional conflicts and instruments of internal repression. No one knows that better than the Kurds, who were the target of a brutal campaign of genocide that culminated in the chemical bombardment of Halabja in the late 1980s. Today, thanks to the American actions in liberating Iraq, our oil and gas resources can become a source of stability for us, and provide dependable security of supply to the global energy market.

The question now is how Iraq recovers and takes its place in the modern world. In achieving this, we value the support of our many friends, especially in the U.S. We believe the energy interests of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the federal government of Iraq and the U.S. are the same; the priority is to increase production across Iraq and to maximize exports. The KRG’s common-sense approach is to help stabilize oil markets through increased production at a moment of significant international tension.

The KRG has built a new energy sector from scratch in just five years with help from American and European companies, as well as others. The federal constitution makes clear the KRG’s right to manage the resources. The export and marketing of Iraq’s energy is not the monopoly of any single entity, provided revenues are shared fairly among the Iraqi people. This year, the KRG could export at least 250,000 barrels of oil per day, which would raise more than $8 billion for Iraq’s treasury. We are on track to turn this into one million barrels per day by 2015 and two million barrels per day by 2019 with new discoveries.

Thanks to our prudent management of natural resources, our region enjoys near round-the-clock electricity. We are also providing power to hard-pressed neighboring provinces in the north of Iraq such as Kirkuk and Nineveh, helping to underpin their economic revival.

However, some are unjustifiably concerned that when the Kurds ask for their fair share and their rights that they seek independence. We wish to remain part of a democratic and federal Iraq, but given the country’s troubled history of authoritarian rule, we believe a decentralized oil policy and the sharing of power and wealth is essential to Iraq’s unity. The tragic lessons of the past teach us that Iraq cannot be governed by force, only through cooperation and consensus. Economic growth undermines geopolitical extremism and conflict.

We need to get oil from the Kurdistan region — and more widely from northern Iraq — to market. By 2019, over three million barrels per day of oil could flow through Iraq’s northern energy corridor to Turkey and the international market. Export infrastructure must be built, but this requires tackling bottlenecks through additional feeder and export pipelines.

The KRG’s relationship with America’s NATO ally Turkey over energy should not be a concern to our U.S. partners. Iraq’s unity and upholding the federal constitution are central to all discussions with Turkey, which will not encourage separatism as it seeks to negotiate a new status for the Kurds in its own country. We are sure that achieving lasting stability in Iraq is also an approach shared by Ankara.

Those who unjustifiably suspect our motives perhaps forget that Iraq’s unity is already at risk because of the non-adherence to the constitution by the current federal administration in Baghdad. The KRG believes that Washington’s approach to Iraq’s energy challenge can help Iraq shepherd through a new deal on energy that will benefit all its people in accordance with the constitution and advance stability and economic wellbeing in the wider region.

The KRG is entitled to and can make the oil and gas exports happen, and prefers to do this with Baghdad. But sadly, those in charge there refuse to honor agreements and negotiate based on the constitution.
In this light, the KRG seeks constructive dialogue with Baghdad to resolve all outstanding oil and gas issues based on the federal constitution as the only viable foundation for Iraq’s unity.

Dr. Ashti Hawrami is Minister of Natural Resources for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq.

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One Halabja is enough for the world

The KRG High Representative to the UK, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman reflects on Anfal Day.

Iraqi Kurds today mark the genocide carried out by Saddam Hussein in which 182,000 perished over a few months in 1987-88.

We are not a people that wallow in the past but we need our friends to understand the still heavy weight of genocide on our society.

We are grateful for the support of British troops who were part of Operation Provide Comfort in 1991 and later enforced a no-fly-zone over Kurdistan to protect us from the Butcher of Baghdad. If these steps hadn’t been taken by Britain, America and other allies, Saddam would have continued his campaign of death.

Iraqi Kurdistan is relatively small – about the size and population of Scotland. In almost any Kurdish gathering, half were affected directly and the other half indirectly by the genocide.

Saddam’s genocide campaign in 1987-88 was an industrialised effort to eliminate us. It was planned and executed systematically. Chemical weapons killed women and children; boys and men ‘of battle age’ were rounded up and ‘disappeared’. We are finding them in mass graves, 25 years later. This operation of death and destruction was called the Anfal by Saddam, meaning the spoils of war.

But Saddam’s brutality went beyond the Anfal. His most notorious act was a poison gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja where a chemical bombardment killed 5,000 people in one fell swoop and left thousands more permanently maimed.

Before this, untolled numbers of Kurds were butchered over many decades. Thousands of our villages were systematically razed to the ground. They were the backbone of our society as was
agriculture which was wiped out. We used to be self-sufficient and were the bread basket of Iraq. We now have to import most of our food. But we want to feed ourselves and are encouraging British and other companies to help kick-start our agriculture into life again.

The perhaps deeper damage is psychological. Many widows do not know for certain if their husband, brother, son, grandfather or uncle could still be alive rather than buried in an unmarked mass grave somewhere in Iraq. They wait forlornly and cannot easily live a normal life.

The survivors in Kurdistan do their best but it is undeniable that whatever we do for them it is too little as it cannot bring back their loved ones or repair the deep physical and psychological wounds they carry still. But their pain can be helped by the world acknowledging what the British Government calls the unique suffering of the Kurds.

That is why we have organised a global campaign to urge governments to formally recognise the genocide. The Swedish, Norwegian and British parliaments have formally recognised the genocide. We are confident that other parliaments will follow.

We are also very pleased that the British Government and the Labour Opposition have pledged to work together and with us to find a legal pathway to formal recognition by the British Government.

Marking the Kurdish genocide could become as regular and deep as the commemoration of the Holocaust. And for the same reason. Unacknowledged crimes become easier to repeat. Bearing witness is not merely moral but makes other genocides, atrocities and war crimes harder to carry out.

We have many friends who opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and we respect their sincerely held views. One of our best friends is the Labour MP Dave Anderson, who opposed the intervention in 2003, but who now thinks, thanks to his dialogue with Kurdish unions and others, that the intervention should have taken place before the worst of the genocide was inflicted on us.

This illustrates a new theme in international relations which seeks to go beyond making dictators accountable for their crimes after the act to seeking, under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine of the UN, to prevent such atrocities.

Sadly, the international community has been slow on the uptake concerning Syria where maybe 100,000 people have been slaughtered in the last two years and where chemical weapons could yet be used against civilians. The parallel is very close to our hearts given that Syria is our neighbour and is ruled by another Ba’athist regime like that of Saddam. One Halabja and one Anfal is enough for the world.

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