English عربی کوردی
Thu, 26 Nov 2015 15:14:34

Briefing by Karwan Jamal Tahir, Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK

Liberated Sinjar


The Kurds of Iraq used to say we have no friends but the mountains but over the last 25 years our friendship with Britain and the wider West has changed that for the better.

Your decision to institute a no-fly zone in 1991 helped bring back hundreds of thousands of Kurds who were freezing and dying in the mountains where they had fled from Saddam Hussein's helicopter gunships.

Your RAF jets gave us a safe haven for the next decade and we began to build our democracy, education and economy. Your decision to help overthrow the vile dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in 2003 allowed a new Iraq to emerge. Our autonomous region was recognised in the Iraqi constitution and flourished. We started to explore and produce our long neglected energy supplies and overcame decades of enmity with Turkey. Our gas could soon supply Europe.

But the mindset of some in the government in Baghdad sadly reverted to its old model of centralised and sectarian rule after American forces left. This marginalised many Sunnis who had helped defeat the Al Qaeda/Baathist insurgency but who then combined with those in Syria to form the so-called Islamic State, which we dub Daesh.

Last June, Daesh captured one third of Iraq overnight and a few months later attacked the Kurdistan Region. Swift airstrikes by Britain, America and France and the actions of our own Peshmerga saved us again. We could have been overrun by Daesh without these airstrikes. We thanks British service personnel who put their lives on the line and who are training our Peshmerga.
We now have a border of 650 miles with Daesh. We have pushed them back and recently captured Sinjar - the scene a year ago of medieval rape, sexual enslavement and genocide against the Yezedis. Again Western airstrikes were vital.

But the old border between Iraq and Syria does not exist. Daesh fighters come and go across this fictional boundary. Our liberation of Sinjar may have cut off the main supply road between the Daesh 'capital,' Raqqa and Mosul but there are other roads.

The British government argues that it is illogical to respect that border and its jets should join others from the international coalition in targetting Daesh fighters, trucks and supplies. The House of Commons will decide on this.

Some observers are confused about what this might mean. Airstrikes against Daesh are not the same as carpet bombing. We are sure that our allies will do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties. Sooner or later, ground troops will be needed to defeat Daesh in direct combat. We know that many British people are wary of further such intervention in Iraq or Syria but we have to say, as your allies, that some British troops could be absolutely vital for ground operations to succeed. And then we will need concerted international efforts to rebuild shattered towns and villages in Iraq and Syria.

We should also do more to undermine Daesh economically and politically. Their oil trade should be stopped, and their external sources of funding severed. Their ghastly pretensions of representing all Muslims should be attacked on social media and in humour by Muslims. Our own moderate Muslim country, which is secular, seeks to be democratic, and increase and improve women's rights, could become an even more powerful example to other Muslims.

But military means are also necessary to the package of measures that can defeat Daesh and help prevent another version of this virus appearing in the Middle East. That will be a long cultural struggle.

The decision to join the coalition attacking Daesh in Syria is clearly controversial for many MPs and for public opinion. It is a sovereign choice and not one for your friends to make. We have a view, however, which is that Daesh represents a mortal threat to the Kurds, who share Western and democratic values.

That threat to the Kurdistan Region is not primarily military now but largely economic. The Syrian war and then the collapse of Sunni areas and Mosul into Daesh control have pushed nearly two million refugees and internally displaced people into the Kurdistan Region. Our population is normally five million but we now have an extra 30% of people to feed and clothe.
Even if Daesh were defeated tomorrow and the Syrian civil war were ended, the problem would persist. Our guests want to go home but they either have no homes to go back to or cannot trust their neighbours who collaborated with Daesh in rape, murder and genocide.

Furthermore, we are being sabotaged by often sectarian and influential leaders of our own country in Baghdad. They are reliant on their support from the Shia majority and do not have to consider the votes of either Kurdistani or Sunni peoples.

The previous government of Nouri al Maliki entirely cut our budget entitlements and his successor PM Haider al Abadi has reduced our budget payments to about a third of our needs. Our civil servants and even Peshmerga have not been paid for months. Our economy has suffered with increased unemployment and poverty while about 6,000 vital infrastructure projects such as schools and hospitals have been frozen.

We also have to fund our defence costs to the tune of about 10% of our budget, which is now financed by our independent oil exports but whose revenues have been slashed by dramatic falls in world oil prices.

We ask the international community to help in agreeing a political settlement in Iraq on the basis of implementing the federal, democratic and pluralist provisions of the Iraqi constitution. We seek to work with Baghdad to defeat Daesh and give our people better living standards as the only way to unite Iraq if the leaders in Baghdad desire. Even if one day we opt for independence, which would have to be an amicable divorce, we need to work with Baghdad for our common good.

The British Parliament must make its own decisions. We certainly need your help on many fronts and ask that you consider our urgent needs in making your decisions. British airstrikes in Syria as well as Iraq are, however, welcomed by us as part of a wider strategy to defeat Daesh.