The UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Kurdistan has launched a major report on its most recent fact-finding delegation to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The report can be read in its entirety below.
The report also contains a longer essay by APPG Director Gary Kent and a joint memo from the APPG and three major trade organisations on the working of the visa system for Kurds wishing to visit Britain, as well as a letter about new American visa rules that require all those who have visited Kurdistan to apply for visas rather than the current visa exemption system.
The delegation comprised Mike Gapes MP (Delegation Leader), Liam Byrne MP, Lord Glasman, Gary Kent (APPG Director), Danny Kinahan MP, Jack Lopresti MP, Henry Smith MP, Garvan Walshe (Conservative Home columnist), and John Woodcock MP. They were accompanied by the KRG High Representative to the UK, Karwan Jamal Tahir.
Senior Parliamentarians visit Kurdistan
According to the group of senior British parliamentarians, the Kurdistan Region is a valued ally whose religious pluralism is a powerful antidote to Daesh but severe economic crisis could hollow it out from inside without urgent external aid.
The cross-party group visited Kurdistan late last year for high level meetings in Erbil, Slemani and Kirkuk, where they surveyed frontline Daesh positions two miles away.
Their report, The Land Between Two Anniversaries, is being launched between the 25th anniversary of the Kurdish Uprising in March 1991 and the centenary in May of the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
An urgent recommendation is that the UK supplies rounds for the forty heavy machine guns it gifted but which have ran out several months ago. It also asks the UK to provide mobile medical units to cut “the unacceptably high proportion of Peshmerga deaths from treatable wounds.”
Report on State of Economy
The parliamentarians also address the increasingly desperate state of Kurdistani finances, “which are straining to breaking point under the combined burdens of war and refugees and IDPs, as well as shortfalls in funding from the federal government in Baghdad.”
The report says “the KRG cannot go on like this without something giving. We need the KRG to be a strong ally and Britain and the wider international community should urgently consider extending loans to help them through. However, no one wants to throw good money after bad. Tough love on reform is reasonable.”
They focus on reforming Kurdistan’s “unproductive and state dominated economy, whose defects are now more evident thanks to the dramatic reduction in oil prices upon which the economies of the Kurdistan Region and of Iraq have long been far too dependent.”
‘Pens Rather Than Guns’
As for the KRG’s “long-simmering internal disputes between the parties on the terms of the presidency, we take the point made by Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani that, in contrast to the terrible civil war of the 1990s, different parties have turned their pens rather than their guns on each other. We are hopeful that a period of calm, moderation and dialogue can allow a resolution of these issues.”
They support the need to diversify the economy “beyond reliance on energy” as well as further professionalising the Peshmerga as part of building the capacity of the KRG. They conclude that “austerity, fiscal resilience, restructuring and tackling corruption are all essential components of uniting the parties and people behind a new patriotic mission that encourages a new work ethic. A social contract based on taxation and fair utility charges can increase accountability and reduce waste of vital resources such as water, fuel and electricity.”
On Iraqi Federalism
The report also examines what it calls “the failure of Iraqi federalism, the obstructive and insouciant approach of leaders in Baghdad, and what increasingly looks like the de facto partition of Iraq” and says they are driving moves to the independence of the Kurdistan Region.
The parliamentarians “support the right of the people of Iraqi Kurdistan to make that determination [for independence] before its leaders negotiate with the federal government in Baghdad, and win support for it from its neighbours and the great powers.
They add that “Iraqi unity may be desirable but any return to centralisation will both hobble the Kurds, as they regain their economic dynamism, and also make it harder to persuade Sunnis to break with Daesh. Without moves to end the marginalisation and alienation of Sunnis, there is a grave danger, as many Kurdistani leaders told us, of Daesh Mark Two being incubated by continuing hostility to Sunnis.”
They caution that “an amicable divorce” between Iraq and the Kurdistan Region “is not a prelude to a Greater Kurdistan. Kurdistani leaders are clear there are four separate Kurdistans, each at a different stage of development. The time for a Greater Kurdistan has been overtaken by history and there is no merit in hankering after the impossible.”
They urge British ministers to accept that “A strengthened KRG is necessary for either continued and genuine Iraqi federalism, smart regionalism, independence, or confederation. Official British fears about different futures should not be used to drip-feed the KRG at a time of its greatest need.”
Their overall conclusion is that “the Kurdistan Region must continue to sort out its own affairs and make itself match-fit for whatever future beckons but cannot as a strategic ally be expected to do that alone given the depth of external challenges and internal defects. It is in all our interests that it succeeds and we should not be found wanting.”