THE BLOG
25/11/2013 07:00 GMT | Updated 24/01/2014 05:59 GMT

Ankara-Erbil Relations Rare Bright Spot in the Middle East

When I began visiting the Kurdistan Region in 2006, one big issue was how best to deal with its awkward neighbour, Turkey. We heard stories of people finding it difficult to cross the border. One trade union delegation, delivering a fire engine to Erbil, was delayed for a day at the border without food or water. It was all pretty petty stuff but more serious dangers simmered. Just five years ago, 100,000 Turkish troops were poised on the border with the Kurdistan Region.

When I began visiting the Kurdistan Region in 2006, one big issue was how best to deal with its awkward neighbour, Turkey. We heard stories of people finding it difficult to cross the border. One trade union delegation, delivering a fire engine to Erbil, was delayed for a day at the border without food or water. It was all pretty petty stuff but more serious dangers simmered. Just five years ago, 100,000 Turkish troops were poised on the border with the Kurdistan Region.

Today, about 200,000 Turkish workers live there as employees of hundreds of Turkish companies that are making the most of its booming economy. Recently, President Barzani made an historic trip to the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey for a joint appearance with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. A once banned Kurdish singer provided the music as Kurdish and Turkish flags fluttered together.

Very soon, oil from Kurdistan will flow by pipeline into Turkey, further boost Iraqi prosperity and supply Turkey with much needed energy resources. The Taq Taq field in Iraqi Kurdistan, which I visited with a cross-party group of MPs recently, could provide much of Turkey's daily energy needs and is operated by an Anglo-Turkish company, Genel Energy. Warmer links with Turkey can also bolster the peace process between the Turkish Government and the PKK.

Warmer links with Turkey can also bolster the peace process between the Turkish Government and the PKK. Commerce is overcoming ancient enmities and tensions. International policy makers should catch up with the implications of the historic rapprochement between the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Turkey - a rare bright spot in the Middle East.

However, there is many a slip twixt cup and lip. Some in Baghdad have long been obstructive towards the successes of the Kurdistan Region, although its leaders decided when Iraq was liberated to remain in Iraq- a tough call given the genocidal campaign waged against them from Baghdad, chiefly by Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders have done much to consolidate the country as a whole and have brokered deals that have given Baghdad what stability it has. But successive deals have been dishonoured by Baghdad. Pathways to solve the issue of the status of disputed territories such as Kirkuk, which was forcibly Arabised in the 1960s, have been kicked into the long grass. The Kurds are entitled to 17% of all Iraqi revenues but generally receive about 10%, not even reliably, and don't benefit proportionately from pan-Iraq programmes.

Some in Baghdad describe oil exports from Kurdish territory as smuggling and may yet seek to block them. The KRG is adamant that all it does is within the provisions of the 2005 constitution endorsed overwhelmingly by the Iraqi people. The many major international companies would not be in Kurdistan if they thought their contracts were illegal.

In any case, the oil and gas remains the property of the Iraqi people, however it is exported, and Baghdad will get its fair share. The country as a whole can benefit from Kurdish dynamism.

Some in Baghdad claim that economic independence will lead to the Kurds declaring political sovereignty. This would be difficult for a landlocked country and its neighbours and America probably wouldn't back it. Yet, bureaucratic obstruction of Kurdish growth could make this fear a self-fulfilling prophecy. The best way to keep the Kurds is to acknowledge their rights and allow them to succeed. People in Basra are also challenging the Baghdad knows best approach.

The rapprochement between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey is a powerful signal for British parliamentarians of the enormous strides that have been made.

Nothing much will change before the scheduled parliamentary elections across Iraq next April. Once they are concluded, friends of Iraq should support full implementation of federalism that can assist the Kurds as they make further historic change for the benefit of themselves, Iraq and the wider Middle East.

The rapprochement between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey is a powerful signal for British parliamentarians of the enormous strides that have been made. Many British MPs enthusiastically endorse Turkey's accession to the European Union - a very long-running saga. If this were to happen, the Kurdistan Region would be an immediate neighbour of the EU, assuming, that is, Britain doesn't decide to leave the EU in the proposed referendum in 2017.

It has been a very long journey for the Kurdistan Region. What diplomats might call misperceptions have marred relations but can be overcome. One irony is that if Turkey had allowed others to use its territory to enter Iraq in 2003 British troops could have been based in the Kurdistan Region. The story of the Iraq war would then have been very different in Britain.

Anyway, that's now history. The important point is that Turkey and the Kurdistan Region are carving a future for themselves and many in Britain can see that it is a game changer for those directly concerned and the wider world. About time too.