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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Suffolk to Kurdistan school link

Please take a look at this uplifting video of a recent Kurdish schools delegation to the King Edward VI school in Bury St Edmunds whose students and teachers have been visiting schools in the Kurdistan Region as part of their international work.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ly4pWJXu-bI&feature=youtu.be

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Robert Halfon hails energy agreement between the KRG and Turkey

London ¬– “The historic news that the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and its neighbour, Turkey have concluded a comprehensive agreement to build oil and gas pipelines to ship the autonomous region’s rich hydrocarbon reserves to world markets” has been formally welcomed in a motion in the British Parliament.

The Early Day Motion, tabled by Robert Halfon MP – a senior Conservative MP and old friend of the Kurdistan Region – “warmly welcomes” the news and cites several positive consequences of the deals.

The motion says that it “could allow the Kurdistan Region to export two million barrels per day of oil to world markets and at least 10 billion cubic metres per year of gas to Turkey in a move that will increase the security and diversity of energy supplies.”

It further recognises that this represents “a triumph of diplomacy based on hard-headed self-interest between two places which were once at loggerheads” and adds the hope that “it can underpin a successful peace process between Turkey and its Kurds.”

The motion from Mr Halfon, who is Vice-Chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, also addresses the fears expressed by some for KRG-Baghdad relations.

The motion “rejects the unreasonable fear that economic independence for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq will lead to the disintegration of Iraq, because the country as a whole will gain from the success of the Kurdistan region, oil will remain the property of the people of Iraq and the proceeds of energy sales will be shared by all according to a much needed and robust revenue sharing formula and a fully-functioning federal system, as outlined in the Iraqi constitution which was approved by the people of Iraq in 2005.”

Mr Halfon’s Early Day Motion was tabled in the immediate wake of the news of the deals between the KRG and Turkey. It will be supported by other parliamentary friends of the Kurdistan Region as well as MPs from all parties in the days to come.

The Early Day Motion is a parliamentary mechanism that allows MPs to put opinions on the record and can then be used to raise issues with ministers, in parliamentary questions and debates and to alert the media.

MPs from the all-party parliamentary group, which is sending a delegation to the Kurdistan Region this week, then aim to seek a special debate on progress in the Kurdistan Region, including this historic news.

The full text is at http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2013-14/693

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Analysis of Iraq should include Kurdistan

The Guardian recently published an article by Rachel Shabi (Iraq needs leadership worthy of its people, 25 October). http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/24/iraq-leadership-people-death-toll-unity

The following response from the APPG Co-Chairs, Meg Munn MP and Nadhim Zahawi MP has been sent.

An article on Iraq that fails to mention its Kurdistan Region just won’t do. This region of the country has been harnessing its resources and providing for its population almost continuous power, including supplying to neighbouring provinces. It ensures superlative public safety and enjoys a booming economy built on developing its oil and gas industry. Crucially, old enmities with Turkey are being overcome.

It has been able to do this and work positively within Iraq as a whole. Its leaders have played a decisive role in brokering political solutions in Baghdad in order that the central government could function. There has been a protracted dispute with some in the national capital about the region’s quest for economic independence – devo max. This is part of the debate with Iraq as a whole about the role and reach of a federal structure, and how to ensure reliable revenue-sharing mechanisms.

But any reasonable picture of Iraq should include the possibility that the Kurdistan Region could provide a model to the rest of the country as it seeks to escape from its tragic past.

Meg Munn MP (Lab) and Nadhim Zahawi MP (Con)
Co-Chairs, All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq

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Time to recognise Kurds are victims of genocide, too

The Jewish Chronicle – Fri, 11 Oct 2013

In August, the Prime Minister gave an interesting response to a question from the campaigning Harlow MP, Robert Halfon, about intervention in Syria.
Among other things, Mr Halfon is the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, and he asked the Prime Minister about the Halabja massacre in March 1988, when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurdish people with horrific consequences.

“Does he not agree,” said Mr Halfon, “that there is a humanitarian case for intervention, especially given what happened in recent history in Halabja in 1988, when 5,000 Kurds were killed with mustard gas?”

David Cameron replied: “I applaud my honourable friend for always standing up against genocide, wherever it takes place in the world. It may well be that the fact that no action was taken over Halabja was one of the things that convinced President Assad that it was OK to build up an arsenal of chemical weapons.”

The response was interesting not just because the Prime Minister was prepared to make the link between international inaction over Halabja and the events in Syria, but because he used the G-word to describe what happened 25 years ago in Iraq.

In February, Parliament voted to recognise the Kurdish genocide and survivors have been campaigning for the UK government to issue a formal recognition.
The UK High Representative of the Kurdish regional government, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, has now written to Mr Cameron to ask him to clarify whether he now recognises the Halbja massacre as genocide.

“If that is the case,” she wrote, “it will be warmly welcomed by the people of Kurdistan and all those who believe in the protection of human rights.”

I believe the Jewish community, like Robert Halfon, should fully support this campaign (not least because Saddam’s murderous “Anfal” operation also targeted Jews).

I understand the importance of recognising the unique horror of the Shoah and do not agree with those who believe a Genocide Day should replace the annual Holocaust Memorial event.

But I do not see how a recognition of the Saddam’s genocidal attack on his own people detracts from the suffering of the Jewish people under Hitler.

I have long thought that schoolchildren should study Halabja alongside the atrocities of the Nazi era in order to understand that this is something that can always happen again if good people do not remain vigilant. I hope Ms Rahman receives the response she and her people deserve.

http://uk.krg.org/articles/detail.aspx?lngnr=12&anr=36868

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UK Shadow Middle East Minister: ‎Kurdistan an emerging player with massive potential for UK

Brighton, UK (UK.KRG.org) – The Kurdistan Region is emerging as a player in its neighbourhood and offers massive potential to the UK, according to Ian Lucas, the UK Opposition Labour party’s Shadow Middle East Minister.

Mr Lucas was speaking recently at the Labour party’s annual conference in Brighton. He was part of a panel discussing the Kurdistan Region and energy security at a fringe meeting organised by the Kurdistan Regional Government UK Representation and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region.

Other speakers were Lord Glasman and Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the KRG High Representative to the UK. The meeting was chaired by Gary Kent, director of the APPG on Kurdistan.

Shadow Middle East Minister, Ian Lucas

Speech, fringe meeting, Labour Party Conference

Brighton, September 2013

In many parts of the Middle East, the UK is handicapped by its history: from Iran to Israel, there are those who are suspicious of the UK because of past UK ME policy.

In the region of Iraqi Kurdistan, the position is entirely different. There is a huge well of goodwill towards the UK borne of UK policy towards the Kurds in the last 20 years.

It is in this context that Kurdistan region is developing.

Politically, it is in a tough neighbourhood, next to Syria, to Iran and its traditional foe, Turkey. last June, however, I saw for myself how Iraqi Kurdistan is thriving in that locality. Politically, it has a working relationship with Iran and is redefining its traditional relationship with Turkey.

It is also offering huge support to Syria, support I saw for myself at the Domiz Refugee Camp near the Syrian Border.

It is helped in this process by Kurds returning from across the world to what they see as the new born Kurdistan. I met Kurds returning from Canada, Australia and the United States. They want to be part of building a new country within Iraq.

As English speakers, they are beneficiaries of the Kurds’ thirst for the language – in its media, its universities and its economy. I met with Erbil University’s Vice- Chancellor who had already met with representatives of Glyndwr University in my own town of Wrexham.

What is driving relationships forward is Iraqi Kurdistan’s oil and gas wealth, resources that are at the root of the region’s new bond with Turkey. I saw the road near Duhok, packed with tankers delivering oil. It will shortly be superseded by a new pipeline, a physical expression of the new link between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey.

This emerging player offers massive potential for the UK. Our language and reputation are enormous benefits to the UK : together they offer us a new gateway to the region, a gateway that has not existed before

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Christianity in Kurdistan Today

Event at the Royal Geographical Society sheds light on the culture, history and day to day life of this overlooked minority.

Kurdistan is home to many ancient churches, including the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Syrian Catholic Church. It is a region rich in religious and cultural history. Its diversity today is a reflection of over 2000 years of changing empires, commerce and the exchange of ideas from East to West.Isolated from Byzantine and Roman Christianity under the Sassanid Empire, Assyrian Christians developed and safeguarded a unique and ancient tradition.

How important are the Christians of Kurdistan for the Middle East today? What role have they played in the past?

The UK-registered charity Gulan has invited two speakers to give exclusive insight into the history and day-to-day life of Christians in Kurdistan.

Held at the Royal Geographical Society, the evening will include the first public exhibition of Anthony Kersting’s photographs of Christians in Kurdistan in the 1940s, from the Courtauld Institute of Art. Complimenting these, are images from the archive of the Dominican Community in Erbil, which show the local dress and customs of Christians in the region.

There will be a display of costumes from the Museum of Syriac Heritage, Ankaw, and calligraphy by Bihnam Al Agzeer, depicting verses from the Bible and the Qur’an. There will also be a performance of Syriac music.

The Speakers

Najeeb Michaeel, a Christian of the Chaldean church from Mosul, joined the Dominican Order in France in the 1980s. Returning to Mosul as an ordained priest, he founded the Digital Center of Eastern Manuscripts. He has a particular interest in the study and preservation of ancient manuscripts.

Novelist, publisher and translator Dr. Saadi Al Malih studied philology in Moscow. He then moved to Canada and founded Al-Miraat, a weekly Arabic newspaper. Now based in Ankaw, he acts as General Director of Syriac Culture and Art in the Ministry of Culture and Youth of the Kurdistan Regional government.

Event details
Thursday 31 October 2013
Royal Geographical Society, London SW7 2AR
Tickets £10, to book please visit: www.gulan.org.uk/news

About Gulan

Gulan is a UK-registered charity which aims to highlight and celebrate the diversity of Kurdistan. Gulan began by hosting the Runaki Festivals in London, which presented the work of Kurdish artists, poets, dancers and filmmakers.

In 2012, Gulan hosted an event on the Jews of Kurdistan at the Royal Geographical Society, as part of a series of events exploring the diversity of faith in Kurdistan.
In June 2013, Gulan supported the acclaimed artist Jamal Penjweny, sponsoring part of his stay in Venice, when his work was exhibited at the National Pavilion of Iraq at the 55th Venice Biennale.

Eleanor Robson, Chair of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, has described the Gulan team as “dynamic and imaginative”.
Gulan has no political or religious agenda, and does not accept funds from sources wishing to advance a particular political of religious aim through their gift.
For more information about Gulan please visit: www.gulan.org.uk

Follow Gulan on Twitter: @GulanUK
Follow Gulan on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gulan/169399549807214

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Oil export pipeline near completion, KRG minister tells meeting at Conservative Party conference

THU, 3 OCT 2013 09:08 | KRG.org

Manchester, UK (KRG.org) – A pipeline to export oil from the Kurdistan Region will be operational within a few months, Ashti Hawrami, the Kurdistan Regional Government Minister of Natural Resources, told a meeting at the Conservative Party conference yesterday.

‘The new oil export pipeline from the Kurdistan Region is almost complete and is expected to be operational by the end of the year,’ Dr Hawrami said. He added that he expects exports to reach 1m barrels per day by 2015 and 2m by 2019. ‘ We are helping the security and continuity of energy supply to the world,’ he said.

He added, ‘Sharing all oil revenues according to the federal constitution, and the economic independence of Kurdistan are the recipe for the unity of Iraq.’

The minister was speaking at a meeting addressing energy security, hosted by the KRG UK Representation. Other speakers were Nadhim Zahawi MP, Jane Kinninmont of the think tank Chatham House, analyst and consultant Shwan Zulal, and Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the KRG’s High Representative to the UK. The meeting was chaired by Robert Halfon MP, vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region.

Dr Hawrami told an audience of Conservative Party members, diplomats, journalists, business representatives and analysts that Kurdistan Region’s energy riches had been ignored or used against the Kurdish people under previous Iraqi governments. ‘With the liberation of Iraq, a new era, an opportunity for sharing power and wealth, opened up in Iraq. The Iraqi constitution facilitates that but so far it hasn’t been implemented,’ he said.

The minister also noted that the KRG sees Turkey not just as a conduit for Kurdistan’s oil and gas to Western markets, but also as a consumer and partner. Dr Hawrami highlighted the role of British companies in the energy sector as well as in Kurdistan’s growing economy generally. He encouraged British companies to continue to look at Kurdistan as a destination for their investment. ‘We have a good relationship with Britain and there are lots of opportunities for British companies. It’s a win-win situation.’

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman spoke about the KRG’s strategy of prioritising tourism, agriculture and industry in order to avoid over-reliance on the energy sector. She said that the Kurds were now a factor in the shaping of the Middle East, both in terms of energy security and political settlements.

Nadhim Zahawi, the first British member of parliament to be of Kurdish origin, told the meeting that groups like the Kurds could no longer be ignored by those wishing to establish peace in the Middle East. Jane Kinninmont said that the KRG would need to diversify its economy. ‘I visited Kurdistan this year and spoke to young students who were keen that oil and gas is not wasted and that the economy doesn’t over-rely on it. Economic diversification will be a very important aspect of Kurdistan’s future,’ she said.

Shwan Zulal described the Kurdistan Region as a viable source of energy to Europe and pointed out that the KRG hoped to have a minerals law in place in the near future, opening a new sector of the Kurdish economy.

While at the conference, which was held in Manchester, Minister Hawrami and Ms Abdul Rahman met several British ministers and MPs, including Alistair Burt, the Minister for the Middle East, Energy Minister Michael Fallon, Sajid Javid, Minister at the Treasury, and Lord Marland, the British Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy who recently led a trade delegation to Kurdistan. They also met the Turkish ambassador in Britain, Ünal Çeviköz, who welcomed them to the Conservative Friends of Turkey reception at the party conference.

The KRG UK Representation also attended the annual conferences of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties in September. The Representation hosted a discussion on Kurdistan at the Labour Party conference with Ian Lucas, Shadow Middle East Minister, the Labour peer Lord Glasman, Faik Nerwayi, the Iraqi Ambassador to the UK, and Gary Kent, director of the APPG on Kurdistan.

http://www.krg.org/a/d.aspx?l=12&a=49278

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The Kurds then and now

Twenty two years ago, many thousands of Iraqi Kurds fled to the mountains to escape the wrath of Saddam Hussein. Some of the stories of survival take your breath away. One father and his two daughters climbed a high mountain where their dilemma was simple: stay and freeze or return and die. The only way out was down the other side, not a sheer drop but a long fall, and escape into Iran.

The father tied himself to his daughters – they jumped and survived. Others hadn’t been so lucky. One dead woman at the bottom of the mountain was still standing and the father had to tell his young daughter that the lady would catch them up later.

The plight of the Kurds found a warm public reaction here. The MP I then worked for was asked for help by a British woman collecting blankets and food. Many others did similar things. We were able to persuade the Iranians to send a 747 to collect the material.

The public outrage led to Prime Minister John Major taking the lead in establishing a no-fly zone over the safe haven of Iraqi Kurdistan. It was a triumph for humanitarian intervention which was not, as it happened, sanctioned by the UN. It saved the Kurds.

After Saddam was overthrown, Iraqi Kurdistan became a recognised and largely autonomous region of Iraq. It has always been resource rich but its oil, gas and minerals were completely neglected by Saddam who conducted genocide against the Kurds. It was only from 2007 that the Kurdistan Region managed to create an energy sector from scratch.

It is now the oil exploration capital of the world. Its huge wealth could fund massive economic growth which has long been running at about ten percent a year. Its plentiful oil and gas reserves are the basis of a new economic and political partnership with an old foe, Turkey, which needs secure supplies from its neighbour.

The speed of the rapprochement between the Iraqi Kurds and Turkey has been astonishing and has allowed Kurdish leaders to help facilitate the peace process between Turkey and the PKK. Their war has exacted a huge toll in Turkey over the last 30 years – up to 40,000 killed on both sides and a cost of many billions of dollars. Peace could substantially improve the position of the Kurds in Turkey.

Some are now asking the wrong question of this Kurdish renaissance. They wonder whether a new country encompassing the Kurds of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria is possible.

It may be desirable but it is probably not feasible to think that Iran and Turkey would contemplate their own dismemberment without bloodshed. Kurdish leaders in Turkey, Iran and Syria all say that they seek autonomy, cultural rights or something similar to the autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The borders will probably stay, although not if Syria splits. And it is not impossible to envisage that Iraqi Kurdistan could achieve independence from Baghdad, which may not have the means or the will to resist.

Having discussed this with Kurdish leaders, I don’t detect an active plan to seek independence. In my opinion, independence would only be possible with the support of Turkey and the USA, given that Iraqi Kurdistan is landlocked. My best guess is that they will settle for a functioning federalism and economic independence so that they are no longer held back by bureaucrats in Baghdad.

However, a virtual Greater Kurdistan is on the cards, thanks to the Internet and satellite television and despite different dialects and differences based on a century of varied experiences in four countries.

Next month, several hundred Kurdish leaders from forty parties in all four countries will assemble in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, for an historic Kurdish national conference.

It aims to advance political, economic and cultural visions for Kurds in those countries, including the pressing position of the Syrian Kurds, whose large numbers have recently been swollen by a river of refugees to the safe haven of Iraqi Kurdistan.

History is repeating itself. This time, the Kurds have much more power to change things for themselves but these are still limited. This time, few people in the UK know or are moved by what is happening to the Kurds, and indeed others, in Syria. A united Kurdish voice can help change that but the international community should not leave the Kurds, and all Syrians, high and dry this time.

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

* The Barzani school project is raising funds to build cabins in association with the Phoenix Resource Centre, a British environmental charity. Funds can be sent to the Syrian Refugees Account: sort code 55-70-37; account number 811 978 53.

http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2013/08/21/the-kurdish-renaissance/

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Some thoughts on domestic reform in Iraqi Kurdistan

The external environment for the Iraqi Kurds is better than for decades. My main fear is that if anyone can defeat the Kurds, it will be the Kurds. They could be their own worst enemies.

They could, despite their intentions, slump into being just another rentier state without a thriving civil society that can harness the creative energies of the 70% of Kurds under 30. This could encourage destructive disaffection and directionlessness, albeit one cosseted by high public spending.

Or they could build community cohesion and purpose, using their new wealth to the maximum, and deepening their democracy. To their credit, Kurdish leaders have voluntarily embarked on what the Foreign Minister says is “the journey from revolutionary to constitutional legitimacy.” They decided to establish a Parliament in 1992 and to reform the unviable command economy.

If they are a quasi-state they are also what one senior figure calls “a quasi-democracy,” which is unsurprising after such a short time. Parliamentary democracies, with all their checks and balances including a vibrant media, take time. Understanding that Kurdish democracy is in its infancy sounds like an excuse but remains true.

Many Kurdish leaders are urbane sophisticates with substantial experience of the outside world but others retain the old mindset of hoarding power, fearful of taking decisions that could rebound, and conflating private and public interest.

The state is obese and employs the vast majority of the workforce. Many with comfortable jobs in government offices – the main aspiration for young people – don’t work much, as candid ministers concede. A small elite of dedicated public servants carries these employees and makes strategic judgements and decisions.

A dynamic patriotism requires a strong work ethic. But a lax tax system and labour market obstruct this. Workers pay no income tax although they make a small contribution to pensions. Low or non-existent charges for utilities encourage irresponsible use of scarce resources such as water and electricity.

A tax base, contributory welfare state and reasonable utility charges would alter the relationship between the state and the people. They would move from supplicants to citizens willing to hold the state to account for its decisions about how to align tax and spending decisions.

It would encourage a more sustainable economy rather than relying on Baghdad or Erbil handing down a budget from on high. It would encourage greater public sector efficiency and encourage a growing private sector to introduce new disciplines.

The Kurds are, however, part of the wider Middle East where top-down decision-making and dependency are the norm. The Foreign Minister remembers a group briefing him about plans to boost volunteering but asking for state salaries.

Changing that mindset could prepare them for the day when their energy reserves earn less or expire. It also illustrates the need to expand other money-making sectors such as agriculture and tourism.

Furthermore, the Kurdistan Region is largely secular and profoundly pro-western. Former Prime Minister Barham Salih said: “if it plays its cards wisely, Kurdistan could be a catalyst for the Middle East. It may be Muslim and at the heart of the Middle East but it is not shy about saying ‘thank you’ for the liberation.”

The Catholic Bishop of Erbil recently showed me his new, KRG funded church near Duhok. Many Christians have fled to the sanctuary of the Kurdistan Region and receive exemplary treatment.

On women’s rights, Kurdistan is still part of the Middle East which is a man’s world. I remember the shock among Kurdish leaders when it became clear that FGM was more widespread than previously thought although it is difficult to specify its scale. The incidence of self-immolation by women seeking to escape their husbands is also deeply disturbing, if exaggerated by some.

But there have been great efforts to change all this, with some success. I met Pakshan Zangana, the Secretary General of the KRG’s High Council on Women’s Affairs whose job is to influence all ministries. I first met her when she was a Communist MP. She is a former Peshmerga – the Kurdish name for a fighter which means “those who face death” and which is unusual for a woman. She is fiercely independent and no nonsense.

She acknowledges that women tend to follow their husband and their tribe in how they vote. She agrees that there are too few women in public life – only one woman is in the Cabinet and for the typically female social affairs brief. She feels that her organisation is under-funded and wants women’s rights to be a bigger issue.

But she is proud of successes so far. The KRG has all but outlawed polygamy. They couldn’t ban it outright but have put so many conditions on it that it is virtually impossible. The KRG leadership has criminalised FGM and been working with Imams to undermine it culturally. Pakshan cites one area in which its incidence has been reduced from 86 to 5%. She praises improved police training on domestic violence.

The good news is she and many Kurdish leaders are completely open to external criticism, co-operation and expertise and that they have a small cadre of officials who worry hard and long about how they could learn from best practice elsewhere. There is a hunger for contact with the outside world after decades of isolation. Some hard-headed and candid thinking is taking place.

Increased commercial and cultural connections can boost such strategic thinking and wider workforce capacity. British companies should examine prospects in the Region, which boasts an enviably generous foreign investment regime but which needs to do more to improve its commercial infrastructure, including banking and the rule of law.

Its leaders always encourage visitors to describe Kurdistan as it is. But we should avoid condescension because their basic problems are common. Dialogue should be respectful and based on mutual interests.
Immense progress since 2006 justifies the contention that the Kurds of Iraq can overcome the manana syndrome, as they have in important aspects already, and build a better tomorrow.

Gary Kent

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