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UK minister accused of ‘downplaying Baghdad’s aggression’

By GARY KENT 11/1/2018
The UK Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into Kurdish aspirations and British interests has finished gathering evidence. The last session of such inquiries is with the relevant minister and usually tackles themes that will dominate the report, which will surface within weeks.

The final evidence event was with Alistair Burt, an old hand who is widely respected as an honest broker. Between two stints as Middle East minister, he joined an APPG delegation to Kurdistan and I don't doubt his affection for the country. 

Kurdistan remains important as it "shares our values: a belief in democracy, tolerance and liberal values, diversity, and preventing extremism—so there are good reasons why we have a long relationship. ...that fight against Daesh has amplified all of these, giving us something we have shared in common, which we have needed to resist. They were in the frontline in relation to that resistance. If our common interest is the defeat of extremism and terrorism and seeking to encourage the very best of values in a region, I think these are absolutely mutual interests."

Ann Clwyd MP slammed the "tendency to idealise the Kurds, overlooking matters such as factionalism and corruption" and asked about recent suppression of peaceful demonstrations in which at least three people were killed and others injured. Burt conceded that because much information has not been evidence-based there is a limit to what the Government can comment upon but always backs the right of peaceful protest within the law. 

My view is diplomats and friends should seek all views to understand why the KRG needs continuing reform. Friends shouldn't soft-soap the uglier side of Kurdistani politics, which should change else division, corruption, and lack of initiative hamper Kurdistan's revival.

Burt faced detailed questioning on the UK's position on the independence referendum and its approach to Baghdad. Asked when the FCO began efforts to persuade the KRG to postpone the referendum, he replied, very reasonably, that the UK only responded when the referendum was formally announced in June 2017. 

The UK, he said, believes that Kurdish aspirations will not be met without agreement within the Iraqi constitution and had warned the KRG of the consequences of a unilateral referendum, a bargaining chip for some, but not "how it was seen in Baghdad by those who may not take the same benevolent view that we would want to take towards people’s aspirations." 

He conceded that the UK/US offer "might have been framed at a late stage, but that was built on all the discussions that both sides were well aware of before then."

My guess is high-level negotiations peaked in September 2017. The problem with piecing together the timeline is there were several versions of the draft letter from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to President Barzani negotiated in Kurdish, Arabic and English. The stronger formula that the US would essentially endorse a later referendum if talks with Baghdad failed or Baghdad acted in bad faith only emerged in the letter of 23 September. Publication of all the texts would be useful.

But that is academic given Baghdad's decision to refuse to note the referendum and seek to make Iraq work in line with the constitution rather than use force. Burt drew hope from what he said were limited military exchanges and "a recognition that in the painful aftermath of the referendum, both sides had to continue to make concessions to each other." 

Burt's analysis was sharply challenged by Labour's Ian Austin who said he understood the minister's desire "to smooth things over" but accused him of "downplaying Baghdad’s aggression" given nearly 100 Peshmerga deaths in Kirkuk and at least two substantial clashes on the borders of the KRG. 

He worried that "the lack of criticism from the UK and others may convince Baghdad that it can do anything it likes without censure, and that that leaves the Kurds sort of swinging in the wind, particularly when it seems that the default Baghdad position is centralisation and aggression." 

He also argued "Baghdad is working hard to justify the Kurdish view that Iraq can never work for the Kurds, even if they have to stay for now."

Austin also asked him to condemn the closure of the airports as designed purely to punish the Kurds. Burt said the closures were not helpful but disagreed that Baghdad seeks a centralised state without KRG autonomy "which we wish to see continue" because of the likely results "if you leave undealt with, long-standing grievances and one side takes action against the other that perpetuates or accentuates the grievances." 

He also said that Baghdad should not be vindictive in any way, and expressed deep concern "if there was strong evidence that electoral success in Baghdad was being created at the expense of damage to the Kurdish region because that is highly risky and will not lead to the resolution and the non-sectarian future of Iraq..." 

I believe there was substantial loss of life at Pirde and Zummar when the Iraqi Army sought to invade KRG territory beyond the 2003 borders, which would have breached the Iraqi constitution that does not permit the Iraqi Army entering KRG territory without its permission.

MPs commended UK mediation between Erbil and Baghdad. Burt was sceptical as this is an internal matter that Baghdad does not endorse. It would be useful if the offer of mediation is adopted in the final report as part of the necessary pressure for genuine dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad without outrageous conditions that some senior figures in Baghdad insist on.

Burt is an excellent minister who cares deeply about his brief and is diplomatically limited in what he can say and do. My fear is that this analysis misunderstands Baghdad's intentions. 

Maybe there is much hot air as Shia forces limber up to the Iraqi election, but my fear is that many Baghdad leaders wish to crush the Kurds once and for all, imprison them in an under-funded and divided "Northern Iraq," and throw away the key.

I hope I am wrong, I hope there are serious negotiations behind the rhetoric, and hope the UK and others can mediate to avert the worst. The MPs' report could enhance the world's sharp learning curve about the Kurdistani plight and, whatever it precisely advocates, be a vital educational tool for friends who are concerned that Baghdad basically belittles its own constitution and Kurdistani rights.

Gary Kent is the Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). He writes this column for Rudaw in a personal capacity. The address for the all-party group is 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.


| 11/1/2018
Everything must be "within the law" yet the law is neither upheld, acted upon nor respected by those same political entities that rule the region who are in fact British Subjects. they have always considered themselves the law if not above the law be it Corruption, fraud, bribery, money laundry or any other criminal activity committed by them. The LAW must be upheld above all, regardless of the national interest when it comes to Corruption and crime.
Iraq means arabism , which means the denial and the suppression by the brute force of anything Kurdish .This fact is well known by everyone, including the British who created Iraq from nothing and submitted and continue to submit the Kurds to the Arabs. Iraq is a dark gruesom and a vicious prison for the Kurds. Why did the British create Iraq and condemned the Kurds thus to become a forbidden nation ? One hundred years of extermination war being waged by an Arab state against its Kurdish population .
Moosa | 12/1/2018
The columnist writes in a way that shows him more kurd than the Kurds themselves. First; Kurdistan is not a country, you should correct that. Second, the northern area of Iraq inhabited predominantly by the Kurds have more rights than any Iraqi area and definitely more than any part of the ghostly creature called Kurdistan, parts of which exists in Syria, Iran and Turkey. The KRG government which you support is described as deeply corrupt by Kurds themselves. Why you look as far as Iraq when you tackle issues of separation and fragmentation of country by separatist group? Look at the Catalonia in Spain and how Spain used security force or were they Shia forces full with hot air? You should be more objective and stop muddling in Iraq internal affairs. As a Brit you should have moral responsibility for all the problem if the middle East that your previous governments have created not the least was the unjust invasion of Iraq by US and UK forces.
Eamad j mazouri | 12/1/2018
Firstof all, kurds are not Arabs, Persian nor Turks. They are a divided nation aganist their will.They are not immigrants nor invaders.they are living on their ancestral land long before Arabs orTurks came there.kurdistan is geographically unitedbut politically divided.Those Arab and other ultra nationalist who claim that Kurds have more rights than their bretherns in other parts of Kurdistan might be right.However, these rights were not granted they were taken by a long journey of suffering, struggle and sacrifices.If you ever know how Iraq was put together and what Kurds were promised at the beginning before Mosul wilayetwas attached in 1926 you would not be saying that.I bet you dont even know that Sulemanye was annexed in 1928 when Iraq was declared in 1921. Today, Baghdad at the first opportunity is trying to wipe out everything Kurds have earned and deserved their achievements over a sea of blood.While Kurdistan has many problems such as corruption and mismanagement it isot worse that Baghdad. What is it that Baghdad can offer Kurdistan that they have done it better in the center and south of Iraq? If Kurdistan was getting 17% of the budget which never happened but as assumption, Baghdad was left with 83% .why couldnt they at least do what Kurdistan has done. Is there a comparason today between Kurdish cities and other Iraqi cities.Baghdad Government after14 years is still unable to leave Green Zone and live with its people. Is this the experience Baghdad wants to give Kurdistan. On the other hand, today whatever Baghdad is doing against Kurdistan is done in the name of law and constitution.just take a good look at Iraq, is there any law? The constitution has been violated over and again every article of fact whole chapters when it comes to freedoms, liberties, better living and detentions.article 140 was never implemented and many other articles related to Kurdistan Region that brought Iraq to where it is today. Baghdad and those who are ruling it do not belive in federalism nor the constitution and they want to take the country back to 1960s.any other country has been through so many wars, suffering and man made tragedies whould have aspired for peace and prosperity like Japan after WW2, but Iraq never learned a lesson, they want to build armies, turn the country into an arsenal of weapons forgetting that those armies when build must be used.
COMMUNIST | 12/1/2018
to the first commentator ranting about LAW!! first get a clue what LAW MEANS before demanding others to live by your JIHADIST LAWS. Kurdistani nation people and population do not want your SHAR STONEAGE BARBARIC DESERT LAWS. fine you live by them. you can keep your CHILD MARRIAGE LAWS. no thanks to sharia VIRUS so called "laws" @Moosa, you mean your liberator lawerence of crapia? your entire culture, existens, mind, soul and being is based on false fake corrupt treasonous distorted fairy tales. kurds are better of living in the deepest parts of hell than sharing their future with your not so civilized jihadist culture.

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