THE BLOG

New Foreign Affairs Select Committee Inquiry Into the Kurdistan Region

05/03/2014 11:41 GMT | Updated 05/05/2014 10:59 BST

The decision by the influential Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the British Parliament to initiate an in-depth and comprehensive inquiry into all aspects of the Kurdistan Region is a triumph for all those who have long argued for the need to increase understanding between the UK and the Kurdistan Region.

The news of the inquiry follows two major parliamentary debates in a year on the Kurdish genocide, which was formally recognised as such by Parliament, and a more recent and general debate on Anglo-Kurdish links. The latter debate allowed MPs in the all-party group to ventilate the key recommendations of a visit last November. One of the key recommendations was a Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry.

Other recommendations that have been acted on include the appointment of a trade envoy to Iraq, Baroness Nicholson. Her role includes the Kurdistan Region. It is also hoped that the British Government will ask the KRG Prime Minister to undertake an official visit to the UK in the near future.

This flurry of activity is the result of many years of work by a variety of organisations, Kurdish and British, which have championed the value for mutual benefit of increased commercial, cultural and political links.

It is all a far cry from when myself and others first started discussions on the Kurdistan Region with MPs and Ministers in 2006. For many Kurdistan was literally not on the map and people recoiled when Iraq was mentioned.

Flash forward nearly ten years and the level of understanding is much higher. One of the lines of inquiry of the official and historically unique inquiry will be the position of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

It is clear that many more people in Kurdistan and elsewhere believe that independence is both more feasible and more likely, if not inevitable.

The momentum for secession could be undermined by a bit of tender loving care from the central government in Baghdad. They could agree a reliable revenue sharing formula and accept the right of the KRG to export oil and gas. They could stop stopping the payment of people's salaries. All this would be to the benefit of Iraq as a whole.

The Committee may look at the common Foreign Office approach in many countries which is to emphasise the importance of respecting the territorial integrity of various countries. I was very struck by a senior Gorran official, Mohamed Haji who recently told an all party group last that people from the Middle East don't go to the UK on official visits and emphasise the need to maintain the territorial integrity of the UK - a very live issue given the referendum in Scotland in September.

Having said that, there is a difference. I may, as a British citizen, prefer that Scotland stays part of the UK but entirely accept that if its people wish to leave, they can and should not feel imprisoned.

The argument includes those who fear that there will be bad economic consequences but there is no prospect of bloodshed if the people of Scotland do go their own way.

The other major difference is that the border of Scotland is clear and recognised while that of the Kurdistan Region is contested. The current boundaries were unilaterally fixed by Saddam Hussein when his forces quit the Region in 1991. About 45% of Kurdistan is outside the Region and includes Kirkuk which was forcibly Arabised in the 1960s and where Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen have conflicting interests. Independence without such disputed territories is unthinkable for most Kurds.

The Select Committee is composed of very senior parliamentarians with many years of experience between them. I very much hope that they will organise a fact-finding visit to the Kurdistan Region.

They are very well versed in such debates and their approach and the response of the government will be of great interest to Kurdish citizens in Iraq and in Britain and all those who are involved in building links.

It is clear that external understanding in Britain is going to be essential whichever future is decided by the Kurds of Iraq. My other hope is that a nuanced discussion can also help increase understanding of Kurdish issues in both Europe and America, whose leadership deficit is being felt deeply in the Middle East.