THE BLOG

Highs and Lows in the Anglo-Kurdish Relationship

29/01/2015 12:36 GMT | Updated 30/03/2015 10:59 BST

Last week in Westminster was a very emotional rollercoaster ride of highs and lows in Anglo-Kurdish relations. It started with the magisterial Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) report suggesting that Kurdish independence may be coming and should be respected and accepted by the great powers in certain circumstances. We need to be clear about what happened here. An independent parliamentary committee made this judgement and it is not the policy of the British government. Their formal response to the FAC is due in March.

Sadly, however, the FAC report was sidelined by the coincidentally simultaneous release of news that the Chilcot report on British involvement in Iraq will not appear until after the general election in May. Cue a storm of anger and conspiracy that illustrated once more that Iraq remains a deeply toxic four letter word which overshadows the here and now in that country.

The FAC rightly observes that the invasion of Iraq was seen as a liberation by the Kurds. I know that Kurds believe that Saddam's survival would probably have meant the continuation of genocide. Another historical counter-factual is that the Arab Spring could have sparked a much nastier civil war in Iraq than we now see in Syria. But many Brits think that Tony Blair is a war criminal who lied to us. Many will always believe this but the sooner Chilcot is published the better if it is to have any chance of lancing the boil and enabling engagement with modern Iraq.

Last week's other low was the refusal of the British Government to invite the KRG to participate in its international conference against Daish along with Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al Abadi and American Secretary of State John Kerry. President Barzani issued a strongly worded statement.

We will get the official British line on this when a parliamentary question from the all-party parliamentary group Secretary, Dave Anderson MP is answered later this week. The truth is that the UK and the USA maintain a formal One Iraq policy, which leads to the formal protocol of giving a primary and privileged position to Baghdad. The State Department has already told the Rudaw correspondent in Washington DC that Prime Minister Abadi was invited as a representative of all Iraqis, including the Kurds. Another formal protocol was on display last week. Many Brits, horrified by the flogging of a Saudi blogger and the ban on female drivers, were also shocked that British flags were flown at half mast in a mark of respect to the dead Saudi King.

But the week ended on a major high when Boris Johnson, or Boris as he is universally known in Britain, suddenly appeared in Kurdistan with our group's co-chair Nadhim Zahawi. The current Major of London and a possible successor to David Cameron was in Erbil to drum up trade and to show solidarity with the Kurds in their fight against the 'barbarians' of Daish. It was not a compensation for the British Government's snub to the Kurds over the conference in London but goes some way to easing Kurdish anger.

The photographs of Boris getting down on the ground with the Peshmerga and cradling a Kalashnikov are worth a million words. Boris later explained his mission to Erbil in terms that will be treasured by Kurds. Boris admits that the British contribution has been small - 40 heavy machine guns, half a million rounds, and 75 troops. Britain is not even teaching the Kurds such essentials as how to remove improvised explosive devices and needs anti-tank weapons. He acknowledges fears about how such weapons could be used in the future, which could be a more federal structure, with even more autonomy for Kurdistan rather than a violent, as opposed, I say, to a peaceful breakup. But, he says, these important and delicate political issues are fundamentally questions for another day.

He concludes that 'now is exactly the time, when things are tough, for us to step up our support' for Kurdistan as 'an oasis of democracy, tolerance, prosperity, openness and relative gender equality.' He cites trade, direct flights and intensifying our military support because 'in a struggle against savagery that washes up on our shores, their cause is our cause.' In short, a huge figure in British politics has graphically reprised the key conclusions of the FAC report which started the week.

The FAC report and Boris in Erbil are substantial gains for the burgeoning Anglo-Kurdish relationship, which is greatly assisted by a growing global realisation that the Kurds are a vital ally. On balance, last week in Westminster was good for the Kurds and their friends, and made much sweeter by the defeat of Daish in Kobane.