Via Rudaw—The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) published an official reply to the report of the foreign affairs committee (FAC) on UK policy towards the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Its answer to the FAC’s recommendation that Britain should accept Kurdish independence in certain conditions is terse – ‘The Government notes the Committee’s conclusion.’
A Supportive Stance
The British FCO argues that the Kurds have an important role to play in a stable, united, democratic and prosperous Iraq, and that the benefits of remaining in Iraq far outweigh independence. The FCO backs the Erbil-Baghdad agreement on oil exports and budget payments – its diplomats ‘worked behind the scenes in support of the agreement’ – and does ‘not think that the Kurdistan Regional Government is currently arguing for a move towards full independence.’
The FCO emphasises the KRG’s ‘substantial’ military contribution to international efforts to counter the so-called Islamic State. When the assessment that the KRG was not likely to be a ISIS target was proved incorrect last year, the UK and others quickly reinforced Kurdish forces. The FAC report asked whether Britain could supply arms directly to the KRG or whether the federal government can insist that arms go via Baghdad. The FCO says that gifting or selling military equipment to the KRG must be certified by Baghdad but there are no restrictions on where it is inspected.
On the Humanitarian Crisis
As for the humanitarian crisis in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, the FCO agrees that the KRG has been ‘extremely generous with their hospitality’ but fears that a ‘long war’ risks a prolonged and economically debilitating humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands unable to return to their homes, and the possibility of increased tensions between displaced people and the host community.
FCO on the PYD
On the FAC’s request to clarify British policy on the PYD in Syria, the FCO reiterated that Britian has ‘consistently made it clear that it will be very difficult to provide any support to the PYD while they maintain links to the Assad regime and refuse to co-operate fully with the moderate Syrian opposition. “We are also concerned that the PYD maintains some links with the PKK. The PYD also needs to demonstrate a greater commitment to pluralism, human rights and respect for other political forces within Kurdish controlled areas.”
The FCO took the stance that all Syrians should decide the exact nature of the political settlement in Syria as part of a transition process, including whether an autonomous Kurdish region is created in Syria. But the UK will engage with the PYD to encourage a more constructive approach.
“Fortunate to Partner with KRG”
The FCO also notes the FAC’s conclusion that the ‘The UK is fortunate to have in such a volatile part of the world a partner as relatively moderate, pragmatic, stable, democratic, secular and reflexively pro-Western as the KRG.’ The FCO notes that the first meeting of the new UK-KRG Bilateral Forum was delayed because ‘the KRG’s senior leadership had, understandably, been focused on tackling ISIL’ and they are now working to organise the forum for early 2015.
Remembering the Anfal Victims
The UK Government will also continue to look for ways to mark Anfal day and honour the victims of Saddam Hussein’s horrific genocide but reiterates its position that recognising genocide or similar crimes is primarily a matter for judicial decision. The UK is also helping document evidence of ISIS and Assad regime atrocities.
The FCO position will clearly disappoint some but it praises the ‘strong and vibrant relationship’ with the KRG in many areas and as a strategic partner. And the FAC report provides a substantial menu of analysis and action to build Anglo-Kurdish links. It is up to Kurds and their British friends to run with these after the election.[Read the full British government reply here] [Read more at Rudaw]