The Blog

British Perceptions of Iraqi Kurdistan

The dynamic speed and scale of the unfolding crisis in Iraq have left many opinion-formers and policy-makers keen to catch up with events. British friends of Kurdistan have also been quick to rally to the cause.

The dynamic speed and scale of the unfolding crisis in Iraq have left many opinion-formers and policy-makers keen to catch up with events. British friends of Kurdistan have also been quick to rally to the cause.

The all-party group last week organised a well-attended parliamentary briefing for senior MPs and Lords from the main parties. Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman outlined the perspectives of the KRG and I outlined key findings from our recent delegation to Erbil and Kirkuk.

The stark new geographical reality of a 1,000 kilometre border between Kurdistan and Sunni forces, but only 50 kilometres with Baghdad, resonates with parliamentarians and others. As does the need to help the Kurds defend the border, which means making sure that they have sufficient military capacity.

The influx of up to a million refugees is also striking and fuels the need to send more funds and expertise. British parliamentarians also seem interested in formally observing referendums in Kirkuk and elsewhere and in any referendum on self-determination.

We have to see how events unfold as every week seems to bring news of another suspension of the proceedings of the Iraqi Parliament, more playing for time by the current Iraqi Prime Minister and other far-reaching changes.

In the meantime, MPs are raising issues in Parliament. The Conservative MP and Vice-Chairman of the all-party group, Robert Halfon, tabled a Commons motion welcoming the recent decision by the Federal Supreme Court in Baghdad to reject a request from the Iraqi Federal Oil Minister to ban Kurdish oil exports.

The cross-party motion said this decision vindicated the position of the KRG and it also urged Baghdad to immediately abandon their illegal and unconstitutional interventions to prevent oil exports, and cease sending intimidating and threatening letters or making false claims to prospective traders and buyers of oil exported legally by the KRG.

Parts of the media have lazily recycled the clichés of Kurdish land grabs of oil riches. Is it really too much to understand that the KRG's borders were arbitrarily and unilaterally established by Saddam Hussein when he quit in 1991 and that the KRG has massive supplies of energy without Kirkuk?

One of the best newspapers has been the (London) Times newspaper which last week ran a substantial editorial called "Free the Kurds." Noting that Kurdistan with "its own language, its own culture, a well-trained professional army, a thriving capital and even a police force that uses traffic cameras to monitor and fine speeding motorists" plus their control of oil fields and sense of entrepreneurship "suggest to the Kurds they have the strength soon to break free."

The newspaper supports "the right of the Iraqi Kurds to seek independence" and adds that "their arguments for a free Kurdistan have rarely looked so persuasive." While "Kurdistan could become a rock of stability" its breakaway should be carefully paced: "The emergent state should be genuinely democratic, respectful of minorities and robust enough to withstand pressure from its neighbours. It must provide an alternative vision for Iraq" distinct from the Caliphate and the Iranian satraps of Maliki and Bashar Assad.

It warns that outright confrontation between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi military would

set back rather than advance the Kurdish cause and urges the Kurds to "concentrate for the moment on a practical agenda that keeps them within an intact Iraqi state while significantly loosening their ties to Baghdad."

It takes a swipe at Maliki's "scaremongering" and knocks an "all-too-familiar prevarication by the Obama Administration," which "though vaguely sympathetic to the Kurds, feels it has invested too much in Iraq to see it fall apart."

The KRG should "proceed with caution," and guarantee the rights of non-Kurds in Kirkuk. It concludes that "Iraqi Kurdistan has been the only part of the post-Saddam state to offer any real hope of peace or prosperity. The Kurds have made a virtue of their common heritage instead of using it to fuel sectarianism. They deserve their freedom They will, however, need patience, stealth and statesmanship to reach their goal."

This approach may also inform the work of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, whose inquiry into UK Government policy on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has taken on a major significance as Britain finesses its policy on Kurdistan and Iraq.

An evidence session this week is due to hear from Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, Peter Galbraith and Ali A Allawi. It is a very significant moment in the development of Anglo-Kurdish relations as may be the final report of the Committee in the Autumn.