How would you define the current political relations between Erbil and London?
The Kurdistan Region aims to further strengthen its institutions and develop the process of democracy, diplomacy and the economy as well as those values that bring Kurdistan closer to the democratic and civilized countries. The bilateral ties between London and the KRG have deepened considerably on many levels. The UK’s assistance to Kurdistan paved the road for further relations especially in the areas of economy and investment, education and science. Our relations are based on mutual benefit and have vastly improved, not least now we are allies in the fight against terrorism and that our relationship also includes military cooperation. We are very pleased that the UK is committed to supporting the KRG politically and militarily in order to protect its very existence.

What are your Representation’s top priorities & goals to further strengthen and elevate the bilateral ties?
We have tailored in parallel current and long-standing objectives in our relations with the UK, having realized the challenges that the Kurdistan Region faces. The priority of the Representation at the moment is to obtain more support and assistance politically and militarily as the Peshmerga forces need more military equipment and heavy weapons to sustain the fight with ISIS. On humanitarian issues, we need more support too to cope with the huge scale of the needs of the refugees and IDPs.

In the longer run, we certainly need to increase lobbying in several areas in order to influence the British government and to encourage progress in the many areas outlined in the recent report of the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee published in January 2015. We are seeking progress in building stronger government-to-government links, technical support and assistance for KRG ministries in areas that most need reform. The KRG’s Representation to the UK is constantly seeking to identify new areas to build more bridges, more mutual interests, and to encourage greater engagement with the Kurdistan Government and its institutions. In addition and despite all the disasters that our Region has been hit by, we have not forgotten about our economy which is the key to promoting prosperity, pluralism and peace as a response to a cult of death mass murder and genocide.  We are also expanding our relations with the business community that has stood by us to continue promoting the economic opportunities between Kurdistan and the UK. This has included organising market briefings, conferences and leading trade missions to Kurdistan.

Cultural relations are another area that we are focusing on and aim to involve the Kurdistani diaspora and its young talented peoples as we consider them a significant asset to the Kurdistan Region and “soft power” in furthering the bilateral ties.

Are there any business-related advocacy issues you would like to take up with London? Where do you believe British business involvement in the Kurdistan Region will head in the future?
There are over 120 British companies registered and operating in Kurdistan. The numbers are actually much higher if you include British companies that have contracts with other foreign and local companies carrying out investment projects in Kurdistan. Over many years British companies have been heavily involved in the sectors of training, higher education, infrastructure and design, oil and gas. For instance: many UK universities have taken large numbers of students from the KRG’s Human Capacity Development scholarship scheme, with 1,700 of ours students studying for their masters and doctorates. This has led to “university to university” partnerships in different research fields. Last year, for example, Leicester University partnered with Soran University in Kurdistan by establishing an International Centre for Natural Resources Research. Furthermore, Reading University has been involved in the excavation of archaeological sites in the governorate of Slemani for many years. A multi-million dollar contract was recently awarded to Biwater for a water and sanitation project. The presence of British oil companies in our thriving oil and gas sector is very evident with the presence, for example, of companies such as Genel Energy and Gulf Keystone.

The ‘UK is our partner of choice’, and we envisage an increase in the number of British companies across all sectors of Kurdistan’s economy, with agriculture, industry and tourism being priorities in the KRG’s economic development plan, Kurdistan 2020 vision. The scope of opportunities for British businesses is immense and we hope they will be able to take advantage of it.

My message is “Kurdistan is safe with a prosperous future”. There are over 1,700 foreign companies, including organizations such as Lafarge, Exxon, Chevron, Total and Gazprom, registered and operating in Kurdistan. Billions of dollars in private investment has been made throughout Kurdistan since 2006. We welcome British expertise in helping us to continue building our infrastructure, healthcare, education, tourism, agriculture, industries and oil and gas sector.

Have you noticed any misconception among the UK business community regarding the security situation in the Kurdistan Region? What is your key message to the UK business community?
Security is the top priority of the KRG so the Kurdistan Region remains the safest and most prosperous throughout Iraq and the region. It is already a safe-haven for 1.8 million Syrian refuges and internally displaced people from the rest of Iraq. Our Peshmerga forces have heroically defended and maintained the security of Kurdistan, fighting the most brutal terrorist organization, ISIS, on behalf of the world. We recognize there are misconceptions in the UK business community and elsewhere about security, but as we have seen throughout the years that this is changing as more British companies hear about the opportunities the market represents. My message is “Kurdistan is safe with a prosperous future”. There are over 1,700 foreign companies, including organizations such as Lafarge, Exxon, Chevron, Total and Gazprom, registered and operating in Kurdistan. Billions of dollars in private investment has been made throughout Kurdistan since 2006. We welcome British expertise in helping us to continue building our infrastructure, healthcare, education, tourism, agriculture, industries and oil and gas sector. As there is a saying that “seeing is believing” so please come and see for yourself.