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Build Kurdistan relationship or risk losing vital Middle East partner

21 January 2015

The UK must reinforce our influence in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq or we risk it turning to powers who may not share our values, says the Foreign Affairs Committee in its report, published today, which scrutinises UK diplomatic efforts in the region.

Chairman of the Committee, Rt Hon Sir Richard Ottaway MP, says

"The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is a genuine, if developing, democracy. It is also a haven of tolerance and stability in a critically unstable region where those values are needed more than ever. It has huge strategic value to us as a bridge to other regional powers, is a key bulwark against ISIL, and has significant oil and gas potential. But it is also vulnerable after the terrible events of the last year and needs the support of its friends.

"We need to build our influence there, by sending more people to give advice on governance and trade. We also need advice from the Kurdistan Region’s experts on issues like counter-terrorism and on the situation on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Quite simply we need more diplomats working out of a proper office in Erbil instead of hotel rooms. And this is not easily achieved as the FCO has suffered from cuts to its meagre budget at a time when more expertise and high-level co-operation is desperately needed."

Kurdistan independence a "medium term possibility" 

The report acknowledges that Iraq’s future as a nation state is in question as never before and that independence for the Kurdistan Region is a serious possibility. But for now the UK Government is right to call on Iraqi Arabs and Kurds to come together to take on ISIL. The UK should not allow question marks over the Region’s future constitutional status to stand in the way of deepening an already strong and trusting partnership. It should respond positively to the invitation from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to be its “partner of choice” on trade, education and cultural exchange as well as on defence and intelligence matters. Otherwise the KRG may look for help elsewhere. The report acknowledges that the Kurdistan Region has work to do on developing its democratic culture and its respect for human rights, and says that UK support should go hand in hand with proof of progress in these areas.

Peshmerga should be supported but "reform agenda" needed

The Committee commends the Region’s defence force, the Peshmerga, for its defence of Kurdish territory against ISIL and its protection of vulnerable minorities. It supports the UK Government’s decision to offer the Peshmerga equipment and training. It says that the UK and its allies should be prepared to progressively step up that support, provided the Peshmerga follows a reform agenda and shows that it is willing to co-ordinate with other forces taking on ISIL. The Committee describes Iraq and Syria as “one battlefield” and asks the UK Government to explain and justify its policy of not working with the Kurdish-led resistance to ISIL in northern Syria.

The report also calls for the removal of bureaucratic hurdles to developing direct air links between the UK and Erbil, and in encouraging greater trade and business engagement between the UK and the Region.

The Anfal

On the Anfal, Saddam Hussein’s brutal campaign against the people of Iraqi Kurdistan in the 1980s, the Committee describes it as appearing to be a genocide, although the UK Government does not formally recognise it as one.

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