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Clashing perspectives on Kurdistan in evidence to British MPs

By GARY KENT 13/12/2017
The major Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into Kurdish aspirations and British interests attracted voluminous written evidence from individuals and government bodies setting out their stalls. 

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) submission reiterates British opposition to a unilateral referendum but acknowledges popular aspirations for independence, although Kurdistani parties differ over means and timing. It says that “perceived grievances” with Baghdad on revenue sharing and the disputed territories should be resolved through the Iraqi constitution. Baghdad reasserting


  UK FCO: Both sides should de-escalate. Baghdad should withdraw militias perceived as sectarian  

federal control over Kirkuk and other disputed territories was “largely peaceful” and with “limited clashes and loss of life.” 

Both sides, it says, should de-escalate tensions and Baghdad should withdraw forces such as the Shia militia that are “perceived” by some in Kurdistan as sectarian, and which could provoke conflict. Longer term, substantial negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil on all outstanding issues could place relations on a more stable footing, focus on defeating Daesh, prevent its re-emergence, and build a better future for all Iraqis, including the Kurds. It records that the Peshmerga have been a “critical ally” and cites contacts with all Kurdistani parties to encourage cooperation and reform to strengthen KRG institutions and the economy. 

The Iraqi Embassy's substantial evidence asserts that the UK historically created Iraq – “irrefutable facts that are inevitable” – and argues that the UK should deal with Baghdad not Erbil. It expresses disappointment that the Peshmerga received British training separately from the Iraqi Army.

It asserts that Iraq quickly defeated the worst current terrorist organisation. Yet this ignores the responsibility of former Prime Minister Maliki's centralisation in driving Sunnis towards Daesh, elides the catastrophic loss of Mosul, and overlooks the Peshmerga's contribution in protecting Iraq and defeating Daesh.

It claims Kurds benefit from Iraq's vast natural resources: proven Kurdistani oil reserves are 7 billion barrels versus 153 billion in the rest of Iraq. Estimated Kurdistani reserves are much higher and there is also plentiful gas. 

Kurdistan would benefit from combined resources with a decent revenue-sharing mechanism. But the Embassy indicates that the 17%


  Iraq Embassy: UK should deal with Baghdad, not Erbil   

due the KRG could be reduced to the old UN oil-for-food programme's share of 12.7% (and that could be much lower after deductions for sovereign spending). It stresses the higher figure was temporary restitution for acts of the previous dictatorships but omits any mention of negotiation with Erbil on this.

It contrasts this year's 93% Yes vote with higher Kurdistani votes in the referendum on the federal constitution in 2005. This downplays the fact that Kurds were then comforted by the federalism on offer and that what the Embassy calls the Iraqi “social contract” has since evaporated.

It also seeks unworthy reasons for the 2017 referendum: “incitement” by Israel and “not minor” political strife in Kurdistan which means that the KRG does not represent Kurdistani aspirations amid accusations of corruption and inadequate transparency, the suspension of parliament for two years, and “the concentration of power and senior positions by one party,” by which it means the KDP. It also alleges that some oil revenues were placed in personal bank accounts.

Israel's advocacy of Kurdish independence was not sought by the KRG. The suspension of parliament was a serious error, felt strongly by British parliamentarians, but the solution is fresh elections. The KDP is the biggest single party which gives it a leading role although this has been in co-operation with others. Iraq itself has far to go in tackling the pillage of public resources.

The Embassy slams a “misleading, organised and distorted media campaign” about Iranian influence and Shia militia “retaliating against the Kurds in Kirkuk,” and asserts these allegations are totally false but Iraq will not tolerate any human rights violations. The KRG and international human rights organisations have detailed these violations in Kirkuk.

The evidence from Karwan Jamal Tahir, KRG High Representative to the UK, cites serial violations of the federal constitution, which led KRG leaders to conclude that “we had no choice but the referendum,” and then negotiations with Baghdad.

He argues that “using force and attacking the Kurdistan Region is unjust, illegal and unnecessary” and obstructs lasting peace and


  Gorran parliament speaker: UK must engage with institutions and civil society, not individual politicians  

stability, and urges friends and partners to support a new relationship, based on full implementation of the Iraqi constitution. He suggests the UK invite Prime Ministers Abadi and Barzani to London for talks to rebuild trust.

The Kurdistani Parliament Speaker criticises the UK for “emboldening the dominant political party, led by the virtual ruling family in the KRI [Kurdistan Region-Iraq].” He urges the UK “to revise its current sanitized and romanticized perception of the KRI and its traditional leadership and to enhance the rather shallow understanding of the real dynamics and at the same time to meaningfully engage with more representative and democratic political institutions and civil society, rather than individual politicians, who exploit such engagement to justify and perpetuate their hegemony.” 

The evidence from the Turkish Embassy focuses on the PKK and briefly affirms its policy as upholding Iraq's unity but where the Kurds are an equal and prosperous founding community, which Turkey has helped in times of need. 

The evidence outlines the complexities, conflicts and radically contrasting perspectives on the Kurdistan Region. And there is much more about Kurds in Turkey and Syria but little about Iran. 

The FAC has its work cut out in assessing the evidence and suggesting policies that promote British interests and respect Kurdish aspirations. 

They should offer unsparing assessments of both Baghdad and Erbil, which are both in transition to new governments. Baghdad's rhetoric and actions are geared to ensuring Abadi wins in May while the KRG is taking baby steps towards robust reform needed to survive and thrive in Iraq. 

This requires debate over what is good and bad in the KRG. The KRG is weak as an institution and needs decisive action, supported


  The KRG is weak as an institution  

by international assistance, to take the parties out of the Peshmerga, strip out corruption by sacking freeloaders who don't work at all or much, and pursuing corrupt officials in law. 

Parliament has long been a bit player in Kurdistan's developing democracy and should be more prominent. A sophisticated political class capable of making strategic decisions and holding the powerful to account is the work of generations but needed urgently.

Kurdistan needs a new social contract based on a fair tax system including a substantial wealth tax that can be invested in a dynamic programme of diversifying the economy and growing a bigger private sector that would undermine the patronage of the parties. 

The Kurds will remain in Iraq for some time but that should be accompanied by generous recognition of their past positive contributions to Iraq and their equality based on fully applying the constitution. Veteran KRG adviser Tom Hardie-Forsyth's evidence says Erbil and Baghdad should recognise mistakes, draw a line under recent events, and desist from “megaphone politics and threats of punitive action.”

The signs so far from Baghdad are ominous as it lauds its victory over Daesh, with echoes of President Bush's premature 'Mission Accomplished' speech about defeating Baathism. Abadi's initial refusal to acknowledge the Peshmerga was unwise and he had to change his stance. My hope is that his playing to the gallery can be replaced by a more statesman-like appreciation of how the Kurds can continue to powerfully challenge extremist ideology and help rehabilitate themselves and their Sunni neighbours

The FAC report is a golden opportunity to encourage British support for these principles. That will be helped by dramatic Kurdistani and Iraqi actions to make a fresh political and economic start.

All written evidence can be found in full here.

Evidence provided by Gary Kent can be read here.

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.



Yassir Fekaiki
Yassir Fekaiki | 13/12/2017
The British Government and Establishment can not and should not continue to rely on outdated individuals who's personal interest and benefits take priority to the interests of both the UK and the people of the region in parallel. Both Talabani and Barzani have failed in providing accurate accounts of what is really on the ground. At the end the British Government must widens its scope of information gathering to allow the relevant institutions to consider the whole picture prior to making any commitments
Questionning | 14/12/2017
Dear Mr Kent: There is a question that you can ask your government which is :- Why does the UK oppose the Kurdish referendum while it does allow the Scottish referendum on independence ? ...Is there any honest answer ? The UK,the US and the world should stop treating the Kurds as a FORBIDDEN NATION .
Free The Kurds | 14/12/2017
The Iraqui constitution says that the country is A FREE UNION . Why then the Kurds should be collectively punished for just having held a poll ? .Britain has created Iraq and it is still enabling it to supress and massacre the Kurds .Britain has so far liberated many and many of its own colonies and it allows the Scots to separate ,why then it oposes the Kurdish quest for freedom and statehood ?

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