THE BLOG

A Snapshot of Life in Erbil and Kirkuk

03/07/2014 10:58 BST | Updated 01/09/2014 10:59 BST

The all-party group despatched an emergency delegation last week to express solidarity with Kurdistan. It comprised Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, Labour's Lord (Maurice) Glasman, Leo Docherty, Director of the Conservative Middle East Council and me.

We met political and security leaders in Erbil, visited the Khazer transit camp for IDPs from Mosul and drove to Kirkuk to meet the Governor, and tour the nearby Chaldean Church. We attended a briefing by Kurdistan's first think tank, Meri, and were interviewed by Rudaw TV.

A Lords debate at the same time offered mixed views of the crisis. Lord Campbell-Savours said that "We now stand on the threshold of a dream that I have had for 25 years--an independent Kurdistan." Lord Howell said "we must understand Kurdistan's ambitions and work out how to support them and the Gulf states." Defence Secretary during the no-fly zone, Lord King, recalled "the determination and resolution of the Kurds and the Peshmerga." Lord Hannay, however, worried that "an independent Kurdish state could trigger instability and perhaps hostilities in Iran, Turkey and Syria."

Lord Williams, the former UN Secretary-General's Adviser on the Middle East, urged the UK to convene the UN Security Council. Baroness Warsi, for the Government, cited the "strong and positive relationship" between the UK and Kurdistan, the country's contribution to humanitarian efforts and its strong economic growth.

Lazy thinking is the enemy of clear decision-making. One meme mentioned in the Lords is that the Kurds exploited the crisis to "seize" as opposed to secure Kirkuk. But Kirkuk is Kurdish and was only outside the KRG because Saddam drew the line arbitrarily in 1991 to maintain his colonial grip. That is ancient history now. As for oil, Kurdistan has plenty although Kirkuk's supplies can now replace shortfalls in central funding.

The Iraqi Supreme Court's landmark and irreversible decision upholding Kurdish oil exports greenlights uninterrupted supplies and sales via Turkey. Another red herring highlighted by foes and friends of Israel alike is Kurdish oil reaching Israel. But oil often gets to Israel as it sold on, maybe many times. Iraqi, Saudi Arabian and Iranian oil have made similar journeys. It is a non-story.

What did we find in Kurdistan? Political dogmas often outlast reality. Many cling to the mantra of Iraqi unity although it only exists in name. Leaders told us how Iraq collapsed in a few hours on 9/10 June and will never be the same. The open question is whether an Iraq can be revived in the operating theatre or is heading to the morgue, with hopefully few people accompanying it.

Iraq as a whole is now composed of three parts: the decent, the angered, and the disorganised - Kurdistan, Sunnistan and Shiastan. Check the map. The Kurds suddenly have a 1050 kilometre border with Sunnistan, just 50 kilometres with Baghdad and no safe roads between Erbil and Baghdad.

All this has been brewing for decades, if not centuries. The rapid collapse of Baghdad's authority wrong footed everyone but Kurdish leaders told us they warned Baghdad that Isis was coming before their attack. Maliki told them to mind their own business. The Kurds could have saved Mosul if Maliki had allowed them.

The Governor of Kirkuk, Dr Karim compared the Sunni advance to how the fearsome reputation of Genghis Khan's marauding Mogul army allowed them to rip through land without resistance.

Isis' shock and awe should not mesmerise our analysis. They are small, and may become overstretched and vulnerable to attack on several fronts, including focused American firepower. Their brutal extremism and the arrogance of many foreigners may yet alienate them from current allies who could rout them.

That won't end Sunni estrangement. Sunnistan is bigger than Isis and includes the tribes and the Baathists, which are now more Islamist, and have a lethal efficiency with billions of American equipment now at hand. Most mourn the loss of pampered top dog status in Iraq and hate Shia dominance. Dividing the irretrievable from potential partners or neighbours is the tricky task. Maliki cannot do this. He peddles conspiracy theories that let him off the hook. He pulls the levers but they are connected to little.

Kurdistan, now embracing its historic territories, is permanent and is a bigger player in whatever emerges. Turkey is signalling a once unimaginable acceptance of the new Kurdish reality. Others may go along with such realities. American actions are vital. The bright KRG Deputy Prime Minister and former Ambassador to America, Qubad Talabani quoted us Churchill's dictum: "You can depend upon the Americans to do the right thing. But only after they have exhausted every other possibility."

The Kurds need help with refugees, medical supplies and defending themselves. The Kurds are our allies in the moment of their greatest need. That should become a key theme in Westminster.