The tenth anniversary of the 7/7 Al Qaeda bombings, in which 52 people were slaughtered in London, coincided last week with the Kurdistan Regional Government's 11th annual reception in the House of Commons. The host, Nadhim Zahawi MP started the event with a minutes silence for the victims while KRG Foreign Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir and High Representative Karwan Jamal Tahir highlighted the massacres by Daesh of 30 British tourists in Tunisia, together with many others in France, Kuwait and Kobane. The Middle East Minister, Tobias Ellwood, who lost his brother in the AQ bomb attack in Bali, movingly described helping relatives and friends of those murdered on the beach in Sousse.
London has been attacked many times by terrorists. We got used to the IRA bombs, showed resilience when AQ was active and are doing the same now with the threat of further attacks being officially classified as imminent.
In these fraught circumstances, British politicians and public opinion increasingly appreciate more that the Kurds are on the same side, which could encourage the British government to increase assistance to the KRG's struggle with Daesh. The Chairman of the all-party parliamentary group, Jason McCartney, told the well-attended reception of politicians including the Chair of the UK's Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Crispin Blunt, diplomats, Kurds, British friends and business people that he had already asked the British Prime Minister to urge Baghdad to send the KRG's budget entitlements so that the Peshmerga could be paid and that they also need arming. The MP promised he would continue to press for these.
Zahawi spoke of the need to pursue what David Cameron has called a 'full spectrum response' to Daesh. Although the UK is part of a coalition with countries that carry out air strikes against Daesh in Syria, and the UK is currently carrying out the second largest number of such strikes in Iraq, there is a growing momentum towards acceptance of the need for British airpower to be used against Daesh in Syria. There may be a Commons vote on expanding the mission in the near future. It is essential to helping convince the British public that this is a fight its government cannot avoid.
The High Representative cited British Cabinet Minister, Michael Gove's useful definition of the debate as between those who want to 'beat back the crocodiles that come close to the boat' and those who think it is necessary to 'drain the swamp.' He said that air strikes are beating back the crocodiles but their control of one third of Iraq and half of Syria provides the swamp which keeps them safe and helps regenerate their military power. He concluded that we need a 'collective strategy to drain the swamp and eradicate Daesh forever.'
But Kurdish and Iraqi troops cannot alone provide the ground troops that can defeat Daesh and, at the very least, British and American special forces will be needed alongside economic and ideological warfare. There will be much resistance to this but the logic is unsparing if we are to do more than contain Daesh.
This raises the question of the continuing viability of Iraq, and indeed Syria, and possible independence for Iraqi Kurds. A senior British politician recently told me that he remains to be convinced of the wisdom of independence. This is not imminent but I remain to be convinced of the viability of almost exclusively focusing on putting Iraq back together when it is increasingly clear that Baghdad will not budge from its centralising control freakery and that Sunnis, Kurds and Shia do not and will not trust each other again. Zahawi made a very powerful point at the reception that Sunnis in Daesh areas see how the Shia government is treating their ally, the Kurds and fear that they would be treated even worse. Political inclusivity could persuade them otherwise but that does not seem to be forthcoming from Baghdad.
Likewise, a longer term amicable divorce could be a precedent for Sunnis who might then feel more emboldened to overthrown Daesh. And the Kurds in any case need massive internal reform to prepare for greater autonomy, independence and conceivably a confederation based on mutual security and economic agreements.
Kurdish progress also needs a sound economy and that requires international investors. It was very encouraging that the Diamond Sponsor of the reception was the major British water infrastructure company, Biwater which has won a contract in Kurdistan. But defeating Daesh is the prerequisite of all else and Britain can do much to help overcome this evil and existential threat in the interests of Kurds and Brits alike.