Official KRG photo of Dutch MPs with Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani in Erbil.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A Dutch parliamentary delegation visited Erbil, the Kurdish capital this week where they saw the Netherland’s contribution to the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) through helping the Peshmerga forces and whether to decide later this year to extend the mission.
“It is great to see how Dutch military are contributing directly to the fight of the Peshmerga against ISIS,” said Social Democrat parliamentarian Michiel Servaes. “We know that explosives cause most of the victims, so it’s great that in this way you can literally save lives.”
The Netherlands has trained Peshmerga troops and supplied equipment such as radios, bomb disposal equipment, helmets and vests.
Currently Dutch military trainers are training a group of female Kurdish combatants who impressed the MPs on their visit.
Part of the training includes first aid administration. “Again we contribute to save lives, as we hear that too many die for lack of knowledge how to treat the wounded,” Servaes said.
The delegation, representing all but one of the Dutch parties in the parliament, members of the Foreign Affairs and Defence committees, met with different Kurdish high officials and visited the Kurdistan parliament.
A trip to Baghdad was cancelled because of the ongoing unrest and the storing of the Iraqi parliament by protestors.
The delegation was told by their Kurdish hosts that it takes too long for the Dutch military help especially bomb disposal equipment to reach the troops, Joel Voordewind of the Christian Union stated. “They waited six months for the radios to arrive. And for the explosive’s clearing materials, recently a tender has been published, while we know that some seventy percent of the wounded are the result of those devises.”
Servaes explained that they were in Kurdistan to see the work of the Dutch military mission a year after the parliamentary defense committee decided to send deploy them to the war against ISIS by helping local forces.
The delegation found the outcome of the mission’s work satisfactory and will decide whether it will be extended.
Servaes of the Social Democrats said meanwhile, that as the Kurdish forces have reversed the initial ISIS advance and the group weakened, it is time to start thinking about after ISIS.
“The Kurds are almost done against ISIS, and there are signs ISIS is internally collapsing. We have to think how to prevent a vacuum,” he said. “We have to change over to stabilisation policies, to make the recaptured areas liveable again, especially for the Sunni communities. So that we will not have another ISIS.”
This, he said, includes solving the continued disputes between Erbil and Baghdad as well as internal Kurdish political impasse. “I think internationally the pressure should be increased on Baghdad to break the impasse.”
“I gave off the message, that although the Kurds do justly get support from the international community, they must realise that they should focus on internal issues too, like the expired term of Kurdish president and keeping Goran from the political process.” Servaes added.
The Dutch delegation told the Kurdish government that they recognize the external threat posed to the region, but in the meantime it was important for Kurdish parties to “put their act together” in order for the international support to continue.
“If you want to keep the support, you should get your act together, as the support could be gone just as easily,” he said.
The delegation suggested that the European Union could mediate through its office in Erbil and European diplomatic missions in the Kurdish capital.
“I would really applaud to that happening, for if these things get solved we can go on supporting the Kurds,” said Servaes.
When asked about Dutch aid for destroyed cities like recently liberated Shingal (Sinjar), he hoped a donor conference would be organised about rebuilding Iraq, “and of course the Netherlands will play its role there.”
Members of the delegation did not visit any of the refugee camps, but the plight of refugees was covered in their meetings and the Netherlands supports the idea of housing refugees in their own region.
The delegation noticed Kurdish officials frustrated that countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan get attention and money whilst the Kurdistan Region is struggling to house almost 2 million IDP’s and refugees.
“This makes them feel neglected,” said Joel Voordewind. “And the fact that two years on still people are living in tents is disgraceful.”