It has sent several fact-finding delegations to Kurdistan to meet senior ministers and civil society organizations, and encourage commercial, cultural and political links. Parliamentarians from the major British parties have visited universities, hospitals, schools and seen the agricultural and tourist potential of Kurdistan for themselves. The group has also organized many meetings in the Commons in co-operation with the KRG's High Representation in London, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman.
It is difficult to interest busy MPs, who receive many competing and compelling invitations to other countries in the brief parliamentary breaks, to join foreign delegations. However, we have won the enthusiastic support of MPs, including Kurdish-born MP Nadhim Zahawi, who have told their colleagues about Kurdistan. Many more parliamentarians are now keen to visit Kurdistan. In the beginning, few knew where Kurdistan was and were put off when told it was part of Iraq. We have increased awareness that Kurdistan is safe and stable, and that a base in the Region can serve as a gateway for commerce to the rest of Iraq.
Kurds have a deep regard for the UK, many having spent their formative years in exile in Britain, which played a decisive role in protecting Kurdistan with the no-fly zone in 1991 and liberating Iraq in 2003. English is the second language and many value the quality of UK goods and services, especially in education and health. Yet, as ministers and Chambers of Commerce regularly told us, few British companies and public bodies attended the trade fairs in Erbil and Slemani. The APPG has increasingly focused on practical measures to encourage such connections. In 2010, we persuaded the British Government to dispatch an official trade mission and help signal that Kurdistan is open for business. They did, and the number of officially registered British companies has increased.
The report of a recent delegation was the basis of a detailed debate in the Commons where MPs pressed and secured many practical proposals the Government could take to increase British involvement in Kurdistan. Clearly, such interest has and will continue to soar thanks to the development from scratch of an energy sector in Kurdistan, a major rise in purchasing power, and demand for new infrastructure.
We have increased awareness that Kurdistan is safe and stable, and that a base in the Region can serve as a gateway for commerce to the rest of Iraq.
Articles and reports from parliamentarians have stressed that the Kurdistan Region is a dynamic and forward-looking place seeking to escape a terrible legacy of oppression. The APPG marks the anniversaries of Halabja and the Anfal. It joined the KRG in urging the British Government to formally recognize that Saddam had waged genocide against the Kurds. MPs secured an historic Commons debate last year and their passionate and detailed speeches convinced the Commons to unanimously recognize the genocide. The Government believes this is better done by a judicial decision but representatives of the Government and the Official Opposition acknowledged the power of the MPs' representations and moved towards them. The British Government will now play a more prominent role in marking Anfal Day. Given there is no likelihood of a judicial process that will pronounce on the genocide so many years on, a political determination is vital.
An opportunity to do this and to make other proposals to deepen and widen the British relationship with Kurdistan is provided by the decision of the influential Foreign Affairs Committee, which scrutinizes the policy and performance of the Foreign Office, to mount an in-depth inquiry into the Kurdistan Region in the coming months. The Committee is calling for detailed evidence and will question witnesses including the Middle East Minister before or after a fact-finding visit to Kurdistan. It will be online. It then produces a report to which the Government must respond.
Friends of Kurdistan can influence the development of British foreign policy, encouraging support for implementing federalism in Iraq, especially reliable revenue-sharing, and ending damaging disputes over the right of the Kurdistan Region to export and sell oil and gas. MPs should also note the transformation of the once fraught relationship between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey. They could see how Kurdish energy can turn Turkey into a reliable energy hub for diverse and secure energy flows to Europe, a long-standing foreign policy desire, which has been accentuated by Russian actions in Ukraine.
Seven years ago, little of the potential of the Kurdistan Region seemed likely to be realized. However, a combination of work by the KRG, trade bodies and MPs has put Kurdistan on the map. The UK is seen as a "partner of choice" by the KRG. This should come to be seen as mutual.