Iraqi Kurds are increasingly seen as pivotal in the struggle against Daesh and parliamentary interest has reached a new plateau. The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), which has been sent parliamentary delegations to Kurdistan since 2008, initially found it difficult to persuade senior MPs to join but a recent delegation included a former Deputy Finance Minister, and chairmen of the Conservative and Labour backbench defense committees plus that of Labour’s foreign affairs committee.
They visited Erbil and Slemani and met the Prime Minister and Ministers for Natural Resources, Foreign Affairs, and Planning, the three main parties and the British Business Group Kurdistan. They visited Kirkuk and surveyed frontline Daesh positions two miles away and were in country when Sinjar was liberated. Parliamentarians were left in no doubt that airstrikes play a major role and that the KRG needs more heavy weapons.
They were also left in no doubt about Kurdistan’s economic crisis and the long term impact of hosting up to two million refugees and internally displaced people, with insufficient support from Baghdad. They visited two IDP camps and heard that even if peace were established soon they will remain until a lasting political settlement is reached.
It was, I think, clear to all that the idea of reviving Iraq as a unitary state is either extraordinarily difficult or impossible, and much the same can be said about Syria once Daesh is dispatched. Their military defeat is possible but the root causes of the Sunni insurgency could yet spawn successors to Daesh and finding a means to assure Sunnis that they will no longer be marginalized by Baghdad or Damascus is an issue of growing importance.
Support for the Kurdistan Region has been growing for a decade thanks to the willingness of its leaders to engage with British politicians and the wider public. Its dynamic economy and democratic aspirations won admiration.
Former British Foreign Secretary, William Hague recently argued, for instance, that “The UK and our allies should signal their openness to new solutions. The borders of Syria and Iraq were largely drawn by two British and French diplomats in 1916. They should not be considered immutable. If the leaders of either country cannot construct a state where all communities can live together, it will be right to consider international support for their partition. Kurds have shown their ability to run their own affairs. A subdivided Syria might now be the only one that can be at peace.”
Such thinking was also mentioned in the fraught debates on the UK joining its allies in taking direct military action against Daesh in Syria as well as Iraq. Prime Minister Cameron has long accepted the military logic but, after his defeat two years ago on taking punitive action against Assad’s use of chemical weapons, sought a consensus across the parties.
Cameron convinced the Commons with the support of many Labour MPs and their shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn whose bravura speech quoted the KRG’s High Representative to the UK, Karwan Jamal Tahir about the success of airstrikes and why Iraq and Syria are one battlefield against Daesh.
Support for the Kurdistan Region has been growing for a decade thanks to the willingness of its leaders to engage with British politicians and the wider public. Its dynamic economy and democratic aspirations won admiration. The emergence of the deadly Daesh virus places the Kurds in the frontline for the West, after the Paris atrocities and the danger of such acts in London.
A major and wide-ranging Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into the UK’s role in combatting Daesh offers an opportunity for the Kurds and their friends to highlight how a dynamic, pluralist and moderate Kurdistan can help the world overcome Daesh. The Kurds also need to widen and deepen British support for whatever they face in 2016.