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British parliamentary committee breaks historic taboo on Kurdish independence

By GARY KENT 21/1/2015

The stark starting point of the influential and bipartisan Foreign Affairs Committee's long-awaited report on the Kurdistan Region is that the future of Iraq as a nation state is in question as never before. It judges that the clock is ticking on whether Iraq can be stitched back into a functioning whole. 

In essence, the 30,000 word blockbuster report says: a centralised Iraq has gone, a looser federation is better, and the Brits can quietly help mend fences but must get their diplomatic act together. The priority for the time being is defeating Daish but Kurdish independence is a medium-term possibility. Britain should work with the Kurds, who are on the same side as the west and ahead of many in the Middle East but who should embrace major internal reform.

The report recognises rational fears of the unpredictable consequences of independence but also that the Kurds, who tried to make Iraq work but got Maliki's disastrous sectarian autocracy, are rational in seeking increased self-governance or even independence.

  The priority for the time being is defeating Daish but Kurdish independence is a medium-term possibility.   

The report, which praises PM Abadi's promising start, supports a looser Iraqi federation because highly centralised rule under a 'strongman' in Baghdad has not worked and never will. It enters important caveats about independence. Much depends on energy self-sufficiency, which is more difficult given falling oil prices. The internal southern border needs fixing by finalising the status of the disputed territories. It notes the opposition of Turkey and Iran to independence.

Independence is currently paused but if it returns once Daish is defeated or degraded the UK and its partners should stand ready to help ensure that any clear expression of will for independence on reasonable terms is accepted and respected. Independence should be with the consent of the rest of Iraq. In my view, independence requires at least Baghdad's acquiescence to ensure good neighbourly relations and prevent Iraqi revanchism souring relations for decades.

Britain's priority in any case, it stresses, should be deepening an already strong and trusting partnership with what it calls a genuine Kurdish democracy, albeit an imperfect and still developing one, and a beacon of tolerance and moderation in a region of rising extremism and instability.

The report candidly describes Kurdistan's society as often traditional, conservative and patriarchal. Its shortcomings include a tendency to dynastic political rule, regional and tribal voting rather than informed policy choice, new wealth accruing to a politically connected elite, patronage as an instrument of political power, public sector inefficiency, a politicised and divided Peshmerga, party militias, insufficient media freedom, and police violence.

The report says that the Daish crisis has deferred domestic differences but an increasingly sophisticated electorate, including a better educated and more travelled young urban middle class, probably won't allow new politics to be postponed indefinitely. It encourages equitably sharing the harvest of a growing economy. It recognises the historic reasons for a 'Big Tent' of all parties in government but regrets the lack of an Opposition.

But it adds that any shortcomings are of a lesser order of magnitude than other British partners. Furthermore, Kurdistan's values are broadly those of Britain, which is fortunate that the relatively moderate, pragmatic, stable, democratic, secular and reflexively pro-Western KRG wishes to be its ally. Britain should respond positively to the KRG’s invitation to be its partner of choice on trade, education, cultural exchange, defence and intelligence matters or the KRG may feel compelled to deepen links with powers who may not share British values.

  Independence is currently paused but if it returns once Daish is defeated or degraded the UK and its partners should stand ready to help ensure that any clear expression of will for independence,  

The report itemises British actions to deepen its diplomatic presence, tackle visa problems, and advance direct flights. It backs the supply of heavy weapons but linked to clear evidence of Peshmerga reform. It stresses UK mentoring in developing public sector reform and a human rights culture.

The report disputes ministerial assertions that the British government's hands are legally tied on recognising the Anfal. Britain could emulate governments that politically recognised other genocides. Kurds are generously helping refugees, it says, but the strain could disastrously destabilise Kurdistan and international bodies must bolster the KRG's humanitarian efforts. It also questions the British government's refusal to recognise the PYD in Syria.

The report is richer in analysis and detail than I convey briefly here. While it says as it finds on controversial internal questions, it is passionate in urging bigger and better connections on the basis of shared values and hard economics. It is a far cry from the days when British policy-makers trotted out tired reasons why Kurds must stay in Iraq, whatever. Independence is for the Kurds to decide but they may now reasonably expect some slack from a major power, which was the 'midwife of modern Iraq'. The report breaks the British taboo on Kurdish independence and firmly puts Anglo-Kurdish links on the radar. In March, the British government will reply to this landmark report, which should be seized with enthusiasm.

The full report is at 

* Gary Kent is the director of All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). He writes this column for Rudaw in a personal capacity.

The address for the all-party group is


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Honar_48 | 21/1/2015
I'm proud to say that I am a Kurd that holds a British passport. This country looked after me when my own would not. Thank you UK. We have the same values and we should extend our cooperation in every field possible. Long live peshmerga, Kurds, Kurdistan and the UK.
Remo K
Remo K | 21/1/2015
WHY TURKS HAVE NO SAY ON KURDISH INDEPENDENCE To strangle KRG of oil revenue and make a Kurdish independence unviable, Turkey, if acted rationally, will not dare to close down Kirkuk to Ceyhan pipeline, a $5 billion infrastructure (pipeline, storage tanks, loadout jetty and control systems). Turkey earns considerable revenue from this pipeline when operational at capacity. Let’s assume Turkey decided to shut down this pipeline for political reasons. What can the KRG do? At current oil prices of $50/Bbl and 500,000 bpd, the gross revenue to KRG is about $9 billion, through this pipeline which has a capacity to ship 1.0 Million bpd, can potentially bring in gross revenue of $18 billion, at the current oil prices. 1. Oil shipped through this pipeline is mostly owned by the foreign oil companies from USA, Canada, UK, France, Austria, China, Australia, Russia, Norway, Spain and S. Korea (not all of them are producers currently). Turkey’s shutting down of this pipeline will be interpreted as an embargo on their own companies. They may retaliate, inflicting a heavy price on Turkish trade with the affected countries. 2. Azeri oil is transported over Baku to Ceyhan oil Pipeline uses the common infrastructure that Kirkuk to Ceyhan pipeline uses. This pipeline passes through the Northern Kurdistan territory and is vulnerable. In 2008, it experienced an explosion and was shut down for months costing billions of dollars of lost revenue to Azerbaijan and Turkish economies. The actual cause of explosion is still unknown but PKK was blamed then which was later found to be false. This incident highlighted the vulnerability of Turkish energy infrastructure (pipelines, refineries and petrochemical plants) to interference. 3. Turkish trade with Iraq reached $12 billion in 2013, most of which was with the KRG. About 1300 Turkish companies are working in Kurdistan region (source Bloomberg). Turks could lose $8+ billion per annum if KRG retaliates by sourcing such trade to non-Turkish companies. 4. Kurdish riots in Turkey will become a daily occurrence. It is easy to see Turkey has far more ($12 billion- pa plus own Kurdish unrest+ trade restrictions) to lose from a deliberate shut down of this pipeline. An independent Kurdistan, recognized by international community (including its neighbours) will have alternative routes to run a new pipeline if it chooses to, rendering the 40 years old, Turkish pipeline useless. A new pipeline with 1.0 million bpd capacity to Persian Gulf or to the Mediterranean coast (through Syria) could be built within 12 months. Therefore, Kurdish independence is not contingent on Turkey’s recognition whatsoever.
Schkak | 21/1/2015
Breathtaking news.Thank you Mr.Kent,thank you our British friends,thank you KRG officicials and thank you to all who worked hard for that.
Kurdistan Rejoices | 21/1/2015
A historic document.Groundbreaking of its kind.Kurdistan rejoices...
kurt basar | 21/1/2015
ABOUT TIME, our elders defended they land regardless of their enemies massacres, poisonous gases for to exterminate us, genocides and occupiers cruelty. At the Dersim (silver-door) after year 1938, Turks subjected us with the donkey/ ker/jash and goat tax bu we survived. And if the British and France didn't betrayed us for Mosul and Kerkuk, we would have our independence by then, it is nice to see they are emending their mistakeS and hopefully they will help the Kurd's as a good allay. HADE BLESS THE SUNNI KURD'S AS WELL AS THE EZIDIES, SHABAKS, ALEVI KURD'S, KAKAI, ETC FOR EVER AND EVER

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