UK Government policy on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq - Foreign Affairs Contents


5  The Kurdistan Regional Government as a partner for the UK Government

34. During the inquiry, the KRG informed us that it views the UK Government as its "partner of choice".[37] It is debatable what this would mean in practice, but we take from it that the KRG views its relationship with the UK as important and in some way special, because of our intertwined histories and diaspora links: because of the UK's practical help for the Iraqi Kurds at difficult times in the recent past; and because the KRG considers that the UK Government may be especially well-placed to contribute to the Region's development as a stable and thriving democracy.[38] This section of the report considers the evidence and information we have gathered during the inquiry on the strategic value and strength of that relationship.

Working with the KRG

35. In previous work during the course of the 2010-15 Parliament, we have given consideration to what is sometimes summarised as the "interests versus values" debate in foreign policy; whether there may be instances where, for all that we may have interests in common with a foreign government, we do not share its values and may seriously compromise our own by working or trading with it.[39]

36. It is very clear that the KRG is not such a government: it is the government of a society that remains traditional, conservative and patriarchal in many ways, and its level of political probity are, as one of our witnesses put it, "not Scandinavian"[40] but the values of the government and its people are not so very different from ours, and any shortcomings there may be are of a lesser order of magnitude than those of some other governments with which the UK does business. Any observations or criticisms we make below should be considered in that context. Anyone who has visited the Kurdistan Region will have been struck, as we were, by most Kurds' evident openness to the rest of the world, and their keenness to stress their democratic, and "modern" credentials (in contrast, by implication, to some of their neighbours). English is increasingly the second language of choice amongst the political class and the younger generation.[41] It is a matter of pride to Iraqi Kurds that home-bred extremism is a relatively marginal problem, and that the violent targeting of Westerners is practically unknown. The advent of ISIL has placed renewed and urgent emphasis on Iraqi Kurds' insistence that they are on the same side as the West, with the same common enemy. As a KRG Minister told us in Erbil, there is probably nowhere else in the wider region where, at almost every level of society, there is a more positive view of the West in general, and of the UK in particular.[42] We found this attitude reflected in our dealings with the KRG itself—not that the KRG was without criticism of some aspects of the bilateral relationship.

The Kurdistan Region's politics and democratic culture

37. The Kurdistan Region's three main parties are the moderate nationalist KDP, the ostensibly more left-leaning PUK, and Goran ("Change"), a new party that has recently emerged to challenge corruption and campaign for institutional and public sector reform. In elections in 2013, Goran supplanted the PUK as second party, winning the most votes in the Region's second city of Sulaymaniyah, formerly a PUK stronghold. Previously the sole opposition party, in 2014 Goran agreed to take up posts in government, including the critical ministries of Finance and Peshmerga Affairs.

38. "Big tent" government has been the norm in the Region since the advent of democracy, with practically every party having a seat at the cabinet table. We understand that this has been seen as a means of building consensus and delivering greater political stability in a society with painful memories of splits in the past that other powers had exploited, and which caused civil war as recently as the mid-1990s.

39. Aspects of the Region's political culture give rise to concerns. One is that the PUK and KDP, nowadays ostensibly "normal" and constitutional political parties, both retain militias, an issue to which we will return.[43] Others include the existence of multi-party coalition government, and with it the apparent absence of an effective opposition to hold Ministers to account; a very clear tendency towards dynastic political rule and towards voting on the basis of tribal or regional allegiance rather than informed policy choice; and evidence of much of the Region's new wealth accruing to a politically connected elite or of patronage being used as an instrument of political power.[44] These should certainly concern the UK and other Western partners of the Kurdistan Region, but it is not trite to observe that if these are defects then they are not absent from the UK or other Western democracies.[45] Any objective assessment of the Region's politics must also make allowances for the unstable environment in which the Kurdistan Region has had to operate for much of its history, and its neighbours' poor record in developing effective democratic cultures by comparison.

40. Most evidence we have received portrays the Kurdistan Region as an imperfect but genuine and developing democracy,[46] with systems for relatively effective scrutiny, elections that are generally free and fair, respect for the general separation of religion and state, and sufficient dynamism in the political system to enable new movements, such as Goran, to emerge. We were also pleased to note, on our visit to Erbil, that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which has, since late 2010, been running a programme to help parliamentary committees and individual deputies improve their audit, scrutiny and consultative capacities, provided a positive report of the extent to which politicians in the Region engaged with the programme.[47]

41. However, in the words of one witness (addressing us in May 2014, shortly before the current security crisis), the Region's politics have reached "an important inflection point",[48] following elections in 2013, in which Goran had broken the two party KDP-PUK hegemony, and amidst signs of rising public discontent with corruption, nepotism and public sector inefficiency that the KRG itself acknowledges are all problematic.[49] The test would be what the Region's political establishment did next: would it respond positively to such public demands, with political and public sector reforms, or would it try to put the genie of protest politics back in the bottle, seeing it as a threat to its own interests?[50]

42. The security crisis that erupted in summer 2014 has put domestic political concerns largely on a back-burner, as political factions united to fight a common enemy but it was made clear to us on our visit in October that an increasingly sophisticated electorate is unlikely to allow the debate over what sort of politics people want to have to be postponed indefinitely.

HUMAN AND CIVIL RIGHTS AND GENDER EQUALITY

43. In Erbil, we met representatives of local human rights organisations and NGOs, and of the KRG's High Council for Women's Affairs, who largely corroborated the evidence we received during the inquiry of a government and society on the right trajectory with regards to human and civil rights and gender equality.[51] They told us that this was in part down to reforms instigated by the KRG (for instance, laws on press freedom or for the criminalisation of domestic violence) and in part to wider societal changes over which the KRG has had only partial control: the impacts of globalisation and digital media, and the growth of a young urban middle class, better educated and more travelled than their parents. We were also informed, however, that these liberalisations had encouraged conservative and reactionary forces in the Kurdistan Region to mobilise in response, and to seek to resist further reforms. A number of outstanding concerns were brought to our attention: the continuing presence (though apparently in marked decline) of female genital mutilation;[52] instances of differential treatment of men and women by the criminal justice system because of the continuing influence of Islamic or customary law, including instances, albeit apparently now rare, of women being imprisoned for the "crime" of adultery; and the use of violence by the police against peaceful protestors or people in detention.[53] There have occasionally been disturbing cases of investigative reporters or editors being murdered or "disappeared".[54] It was also disappointing to note the extent to which the political process remains overwhelmingly male-dominated, with just one woman in a cabinet of 27.[55] In a meeting with the KRG's High Council for Women's Affairs, we were informed that progress was being made in tackling discrimination and violence against women, but that the passing of progressive laws did not always lead to grassroots changes or to new laws actually being enforced in the courts, and that more education was needed. The KRG has told us that it recognises its promotion of better human rights as a work in progress, and would welcome the UK's mentoring and support in addressing some of the issues.[56] The (female) then KRG High Representative to the UK singled out help from the UK in advancing gender equality as something the KRG would particularly welcome.[57]

MINORITY COMMUNITIES

44. The image of the Kurdistan Region that the KRG projects to the wider world is of a haven of tolerance and moderation in the wider Middle East.[58] We found this to be largely confirmed in the evidence we received.[59] Centuries of uneasy co-existence between Kurds and their Assyrian and Turcoman neighbours that on occasion led to tragic violence appear to have been replaced with relative harmony, and members of both minorities sit at the cabinet table. Christians appear to be largely free from the intimidation and persecution that has been a dismal feature of life in the rest of Iraq since 2003: we understand that a significant component of the Christian community is in fact made up of post-2003 arrivals from the rest of Iraq, seeking a more tolerant environment in which they can live in peace.[60] Witnesses also told us that there was, if anything increasing respect for Yezidism and other local religions as indigenous, ancient and authentic expressions of the faith of the Kurdish people.[61] We do not doubt that there may still be some religious or ethnic-based discrimination at the grassroots,[62] but if there is any institutionalised discrimination within the Kurdistan Region then it was not brought to our attention during the inquiry. We have more concerns as regards relations between Kurds and Sunni Arabs in borderland districts, as discussed later in the report.

45. Islam is a background presence in the law and in the conservative culture of wider Kurdish society, but we found there to be a general respect for the separation of religion and state, particularly among the political elite, who made clear to us that they view the intrusion of literalist and ultra-conservative versions of Islam into party politics as toxic.[63] There are Islamist parties with seats in the Kurdistan National Assembly but they are a more marginal presence than in the rest of Iraq or in most other countries of the Middle East.

46. The KRG's response to the recent massive influx of displaced people-including persecuted Yezidis, Christians, Shabaks[64] and Shia-escaping violence in Syria and Iraq also speaks for the generosity and openness of the KRG, and of the people of the Kurdistan Region in general.

47. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is a genuine democracy, albeit an imperfect and still developing one, and a beacon of tolerance and moderation in a wider region where extremism and instability are on the rise. Its values are broadly our values. The UK is fortunate to have in such a volatile part of the world a partner as relatively moderate, pragmatic, stable, democratic, secular and reflexively pro-Western as the KRG. It is emphatically in the best interests of the UK that the Kurdistan Region continues on its path of democratic development, and has friends and supporters as it does so, particularly at this time of crisis for the Region, when the progress it has achieved over the last 20 years is under threat. The UK Government should engage with it on that basis.

48. The Kurdistan Regional Government acknowledges ongoing challenges in developing its democratic institutions and its human and civil rights culture, and in advancing gender equality, and should be judged on how it responds to these challenges. There are also concerns as to public corruption and media freedom that it must address. In addition, as the Kurdistan Regional Government has stated that it would welcome the UK's mentoring and support in connection with some of these areas, we urge the UK Government to respond positively to this invitation.

Strategic aspects of the relationship

49. The KRG's use of the term "partner of choice" implies awareness, and perhaps carries an implicit warning to the UK Government, that there are other potential partners available for the KRG and that, if the UK were not to reciprocate the offer of closer ties, the KRG might be reluctantly compelled to look elsewhere, including to regimes whose values and interests do not always match ours.[65] The Kurdistan Region's positioning, at the crossroads of Turkey, Iran, the Arab world and the Caucasus, its access to water resources, growing economy and relatively educated workforce, and its status as a rising energy power mean that it is unlikely to lack potential suitors, at least for as long as the Iraqi federal government remains weak and unable to fully assert its authority over Iraq's foreign relations.[66] These same factors make the KRG a potentially valued intermediary for dialogue with regional powers with whom the UK has sometimes struggled to communicate, but which it needs to work with in order to achieve some of its core policies.[67]

RELATIONS WITH IRAN

50. We noted during the inquiry that the KRG's relationship with Iran is strong and, if anything, appears to be growing, despite ideological differences and the Islamic Republic's opposition to Kurdish nationalism (including public rhetoric opposing the separation of the Kurdistan Region from Iraq[68]) and perceived poor record in recognising the civil rights of its Kurdish minority. Iran has been the main buyer so far of the KRG's oil products,[69] and the two governments signed a long-term energy deal in April 2014 (although details of the deal remain somewhat vague[70]). We noted when we visited the Kurdistan Region that Tehran's prompt offer of humanitarian, military and intelligence support to the KRG in June whilst the Western world, including the UK, equivocated over how to respond had had a powerful positive impact at governmental level.

51. It is only rational for the KRG to seek to have effective relations with its powerful neighbour and we do not consider that the apparent deepening of relations should be concerning in itself. The UK Government is itself in a phase of relative optimism over future relations with the Islamic Republic, as we noted in a report last year;[71] however, a return to more normal diplomatic relations continues to be delayed, meaning that, in the run-up to what it is hoped will be a landmark deal on Iran's nuclear programme in 2015, channels of communication between the UK and Iran are still not fully open. Iran is also an ally, of sorts, for the West in the conflict with ISIL, although it is in the current interests of both sides to play that relationship down. We are under no illusions that Tehran is ultimately pursuing its own interests in the Kurdistan Region, as it is in Iraq as a whole. Sources in Baghdad told us that elements at very senior levels of the Iranian regime would prefer Iraq as an Iranian satrapy rather than a sovereign state in control of its foreign policy.[72]

RELATIONS WITH TURKEY

52. In a report published in 2012, we noted that Turkish democracy had reached a "critical phase";[73] a view that subsequent developments have confirmed. Questions have also been raised as to its foreign policy: Ankara's conviction that Syria has no future under Assad is widely shared (including by the UK Government), but the manner in which it has pursued this aim has raised concerns that its regional goals have become increasingly divergent from those of its NATO partners and other Western allies. There are also concerns as to the extent to which Western diplomats still have purchase on the Erdogan government.[74] There is no doubt, however, that Turkish involvement would be crucial if the Syrian crisis is ever to be resolved.

53. Turkey is by far the Kurdistan Region's most important foreign trading partner.[75] Tens of thousands of Turkish expatriates—ethnic Turks and Kurds alike—live and work in the Region. Presidents Barzani and Erdogan have both invested personally in the relationship, with the former on one occasion even appearing at an election rally for then Prime Minister Erdogan and his AKP party in a Kurdish district of southern Turkey. Ankara and Erbil are also joint signatories (against the express opposition of the Iraqi federal government) of what the governments' publicity describes as a "50-year deal"[76] to make Turkey the main client for the Region's gas, and provide the Region with a sea route to market for its oil. The development of relations between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey, a state which has its own Kurdish "problem" and which, until comparatively recently, did not even formally recognise the Kurds as a people, is superficially remarkable. However, as witnesses told us, the relationship is grounded on both sides in hard-headed self-interest, with each seeing the energy deal as potentially transformative: for Turkey's energy security, and ambitions to be the energy hub of the eastern Mediterranean region, and for the Kurdistan Region's economic self-sufficiency.[77]

54. Turkey has come under fire from many Iraqi Kurds for its perceived failure to support the besieged Kurds of northern Syria against ISIL. At the root of the problem, for many Iraqi Kurds, is Turkey's ideological objection to formally recognising the full rights of its Kurdish citizens, including the right to local autonomy, and its criminalisation of the Turkish-Kurdish PKK Party, which is allied to Kurdish resistance leaders in Syria. We understand that within the KRG itself tensions at times arise between the KDP and other political factions as to whether the relationship with the Erdogan administration has become too close, or whether there should be a more public discussion of discontent with Turkey's Syria policy[78] but KRG ministers made clear to us on our visit to Erbil that the relationship between the KRG and Turkey remains solid and that both sides are committed to the full implementation of the energy agreement.[79] It was also made clear that there is frequent dialogue on wider issues, including the war against ISIL and developments in Syria.[80] Our visit to Erbil in October coincided with a diplomatic breakthrough in relation to the siege of Kobane, the mainly Kurdish city on Syria's border with Turkey, which had been encircled by ISIL forces since the summer and had appeared to be on the point of falling. Turkey apparently withdrew objections to the US air-dropping weapons to Kurdish resistance fighters in the city, and also agreed to open its borders to let Peshmerga in from Iraq to help defend the city. We understand that the KRG was closely involved in the relevant discussions.[81] As we publish this report three months later, Kobane remains besieged, but it has not fallen to ISIL, and scores of ISIL fighters have been killed. This marks a relatively rare setback in ISIL's Syrian ground war.

55. The Kurdistan Regional Government has strategic value for the UK Government as a bridge to other regional powers with whom direct dialogue may be difficult, but which the UK must work with in order to achieve the policies to which it is committed. We urge the UK Government to be mindful that if it is unable fully to reciprocate the Kurdistan Regional Government's offer of closer partnership, the KRG might be reluctantly compelled to look elsewhere for support including to regimes whose values and interests do not always match those of the UK.

Strength of current UK Government relations with the KRG

56. The KRG clearly thinks highly of the UK and is grateful for the support present and past governments have offered. But it also took the opportunity afforded by the inquiry to raise with us some concerns about aspects of the bilateral relationship. The underlying message we received was of concerns that the relationship is not deepening at the rate that the KRG would like it to, and of some frustration that some relatively obvious obstacles to improved links between the UK and the Kurdistan Region have not yet been cleared.[82] This is despite the UK Government stating in evidence that it too sees the KRG at its "partner of choice".[83]

57. In its written evidence, the KRG raised diverse concerns about a number of matters, such as the perceived lack of visibility of the British Council in Erbil and a perceived failure by the UK to reciprocate the Kurdistan Region's significant investment in and support for UK universities.[84] The KRG also commented on a visa system for entry into the UK that appeared to be needlessly cumbersome, despite the opening in 2013 of a Visa Application Centre in Erbil.[85] (Written evidence from other organisations noted the unusually high number of rejections produced by the UK's visa application process in the Kurdistan Region, suggesting that the UK Government look into it.[86]). On our visit to Erbil, the KRG also remarked to us on a lack of progress in establishing a joint ministerial committee that had been agreed to during a KRG visit to London in May 2014 led by Prime Minister Barzani. When we put these comments to the FCO, the rather unconvincing response was that the committee was now in existence but (as of November) had not yet met.[87] KRG representatives also expressed some disappointment that a proposed collaboration with the National School of Government International for mentoring in public service reform had not yet come to anything. The Minister, Mr Ellwood, told us that the UK Government was "training civil servants in various ministries and working with them in order to improve the Government's transparency and accountability".[88]

58. We request a progress report from the UK Government on whether the joint ministerial committee agreed with the KRG in May 2014 has yet met and has an agreed programme, and on progress made so far in mentoring the KRG in civil service and public sector reform.

THE FCO'S PRESENCE IN THE KURDISTAN REGION

59. There is a UK Consulate-General in Erbil, the only permanently-staffed FCO premises in Iraq other than the Embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone. In October 2012, after a period of uncertainty, the FCO decided to retain the Erbil CG. (The Basra CG in the south of Iraq was closed.[89])

60. The Erbil Consulate-General, which has fewer than 5 UK-based staff,[90] is run out of a business hotel on the outskirts of the city: staff occupy one floor. We visited the Consulate-General in October: it is evident that it is not optimal either as a working consulate, as the UK's window on the Kurdistan Region, or as a shop-window for the UK in Erbil. The FCO acknowledged this when it gave evidence in November.[91] We do accept that security concerns partly dictate the Consulate-General's set-up, and that the safety of staff must come first, particularly in a city situated so close to the border with ISIL-held territory.

61. The FCO's written evidence, submitted in April 2014, stated that a purpose-built Consulate-General was on schedule to open in the first half of 2015, on land gifted by the KRG.[92] By the time of our visit, it was clear that this deadline would not be met. When we questioned the FCO in November, we were informed that the deteriorating security situation, plus a desire for larger premises to reflect Erbil's growing strategic importance, had sent the FCO back to the drawing board. It told us that it was still committed to opening a bespoke Consulate-General, but that it would not open in 2015.[93]

62. The blunt view of senior KRG figures we met in Erbil was that the UK's failure to secure proper premises gave a poor impression of the UK, and signalled a deeper ambivalence about its commitment to the Kurdistan Region, this in a culture where first impressions matter. They told us that other countries had long ago opened permanent consular offices, and said that over-cautiousness and excessive bureaucracy on the part of the FCO appeared to be partly behind the delay. When we took evidence in London in November, the FCO implied that any bureaucratic problems were more on the Kurdish side.[94] Wherever the truth lies, we would like to see some progress being made. It is very welcome that the UK Government is now committed not only to retaining the Consulate-General but to expanding it. It is difficult to conceive of consular premises anywhere else in the FCO's network that are more strategically important to the UK than those at Erbil, close to the terrorist frontier and to the Syrian border (a country in which we currently have no diplomatic presence), and in the regional capital of one of our most reliable and militarily robust local allies.

63. In a number of previous reports, we have queried whether the FCO has allocated sufficient human resources to a particular embassy or office, or has achieved the right balance of expertise, including specialist country knowledge or language skills. We acknowledge that the FCO has faced an almost impossible challenge in maintaining adequately staffed embassies and consulates in the face of the cuts that have been forced upon it following the 2010 Spending Review. It is welcome that the UK has strengthened human resources in Erbil in response to recent developments,[95] although it was a matter of concern to note, during our visit to Iraq that a long-term vacancy in the Erbil office was being covered only on a part-time basis by existing UK diplomatic staff in Iraq: this at a period of critical importance for the future of the Kurdistan Region, Iraq and Syria. We also take the opportunity to pass on concerns of senior KRG figures that the FCO's rotation policy for Iraq staff had tended to inhibit the development of effective working relationships at government-to-government level. We are aware that Iraq is a difficult posting and that the FCO has a pastoral duty to its staff, but these observations should be taken seriously.

64. The FCO has stated that it is committed to having a permanent consular presence in Erbil for the foreseeable future. This is welcome, given the strategic importance of the Kurdistan Region and the importance of strengthening links with its government and people. However, current consular arrangements are simply not acceptable for the UK: a permanent Security Council member deeply involved in diplomatic and military efforts to repel Islamist terrorism in Iraq and Syria and to resolve both countries' political crises, particularly given that other states, less deeply involved in these issues than the UK government, have some time ago secured bespoke premises. The FCO must now make it its priority to ensure that work proceeds on new consular premises, as a concrete demonstration of the UK's commitment to relations with the Kurdistan Region and in recognition of the importance of the Region and its government to the UK, particularly as partners in the fight against terrorism. We also ask the UK Government to take steps to ensure that the Consulate General is staffed to a level commensurate with its current importance to UK interests.

TRADE AND ECONOMIC LINKS

65. The development of the Kurdistan Region's democratic culture has been achieved in parallel with swift and impressive economic development.[96] The crisis of the last year has struck the economy hard, but annual growth had averaged over 8% for most of the preceding decade,[97] with major urban centres such as Erbil and Sulaymaniyah physically transformed by an almost non-stop construction boom, and the appearance of downtown apartment blocks, hotels and shopping malls. There is, or until recently was, a growing tourism industry. Unemployment is around half that in the rest of Iraq.[98] Two international airports have been built almost from scratch, and the higher education sector has flourished, with 12 public universities in the Region where, prior to 2003, there were just two.[99] We note evidence describing the Region as one of the most business-friendly places for foreign investors in the Middle East, thanks to its light tax regime and regulatory framework, stable political climate and safe working environment.[100]

66. We sought evidence and views on whether the UK has been making the most of these opportunities, and we spoke to a number of representatives of the business sector in Erbil who were either British expatriates themselves or had connections to British-based businesses. The overall impression conveyed was of a sense of under-achievement, and of UK-based businesses failing to take advantage of the opportunities on offer, though whether the blame for this should attach primarily to the UK Government for insufficient dynamism or to a risk-averse British business community was less clear.[101] Written evidence noted that, whilst British companies could not expect to undercut competitors from countries such as Turkey or China, the UK was considered to have the edge when it came to providing high quality goods and services.[102] Areas including banking, agriculture and food technology, tourism and services, and IT were all seen as offering significant opportunities for UK businesses in the Kurdistan Region, but there were calls for the UK Government to do more to publicise them.[103] It was suggested that the UK Government's sensitivity to the delicate constitutional position in Iraq may have led it, perhaps over-cautiously, to hold back from committing to a deepening of trade links, allowing other countries to steal a march.[104] KRG ministers spoke of a general sense of UK businesses hanging back from full engagement in the Kurdistan Region, but they were uncertain what the underlying causes were. Some aspects of the economy were brought to our attention that may not attract investors; difficulties in borrowing because of the Region's non-sovereign status and the uncertainty over its future, past crashes in the property market, the perceived need for political patronage, and a public sector that is still apparently monopolistic in some areas and resistant to reform.[105] We are also aware of concerns that the Region's economic fortunes are too closely linked to the political and trading relationship with the Erdogan government in Turkey,[106] although to a large extent this is a relationship borne of necessity, given the Region's lack of reliable local partners.[107]

67. The UK Government has pointed, amongst other things to its sponsorship of the Iraq-British Business Council, to a number of UK trade initiatives in Erbil, and to the appointment of Baroness Nicholson as UK Trade Envoy to Iraq in early 2014 as policies intended to maximise British trade with the Kurdistan Region,[108] but we sense from the lack of feedback we received on these initiatives that their impact thus far has been relatively low.[109]

68. In relation to the Kurdistan Region's burgeoning oil and gas industry (discussed in more detail later), the only major British, or part-British, business investor in the sector is the British-Turkish joint venture, Genel Energy. With most of the main drilling contracts now apparently signed, and the local giant KAR dominating the downstream sector, it would appear that significant opportunities for UK companies are now limited, although when we had an informal meeting with the KRG's natural resources minister, Dr Hawrami in the summer, he told us that there were still plenty of opportunities for niche service providers, a sector in which the UK was seen as a leader. He expressed surprise at the relative absence of UK firms in the sector. In November, the Minister, Mr Ellwood, told us that the dispute over oil and exports between Baghdad and Erbil may have led British companies to focus their attention on the south of Iraq.[110]

TRAVEL ADVICE AND DIRECT AIR LINKS

69. Several business representatives we spoke in Erbil referred to what they perceived as a false and unhelpful perception that the Kurdistan Region was insecure and unsafe; and they and interlocutors from the KRG suggested that the FCO's Iraq travel advice, which in 2014 was amended to advise against all but essential travel to the Region, sent out the wrong message and hurt businesses. When we put this to the Minister in November, he acknowledged these concerns, noting that travel advice was under frequent review.[111] It is salutary to note that on the day following Mr Ellwood's testimony, a suicide bomber killed six people close to the historic citadel at the centre of Erbil. We understand this to be the most lethal terrorist attack to have struck the city in many years,[112] but it underlines both the fragility of the relative peace in Erbil at present and the challenge of getting travel advice right. We acknowledge that the FCO faces a difficult task in providing travel advice that, on the one hand, acknowledges that the Kurdistan Region has not yet returned to normal, and is unlikely to do so for some time, and on the other does not become one of the very factors that prevents the Region from getting back to normal, by inhibiting business engagement.

70. An issue that was raised with us several times during the inquiry, in particular by various representatives of the KRG, was the absence of direct flights between the UK and the Kurdistan Region.[113] We had understood the UK Government's general position to be that that it does not see it as its role to promote the setting-up of particular routes, and to leave decisions to commercial carriers. (We understand that at least one carrier has, in the recent past, expressed potential interest in launching a London-Erbil route.) However, when the Minister gave evidence, he told us that the absence of direct links was "frustrating", and that "direct air links need to happen".[114] We learned during the inquiry that there is a technical barrier to setting up at a direct route in that the UK Border Agency must first inspect Erbil airport and satisfy itself that it meets UK border security requirements.[115] As of November, when Mr Ellwood gave evidence, this was yet to happen.

71. Given the interest there appears to be in establishing a direct UK-Erbil air link, it is disappointing that this may have been held up by the need for a UK Border Agency inspection of Erbil airport. We press for such an inspection to be made at the earliest opportunity.

UK GOVERNMENT POLICY ON THE ANFAL

72. The UK Government's formal stance on the Anfal has been raised with us during the inquiry as relevant to consideration of the UK-KRG bilateral relationship. In the words of one of our witnesses, Professor Gareth Stansfield, UK policy on this issue is "not only insulting but deeply upsetting" and damages the UK's standing in the Kurdistan Region.[116]

73. The Anfal campaign of 1987-88 was a deliberate strategy to terrorise the Kurdish population of northern Iraq through a mass collective punishment, and to destroy Kurdish resistance to Saddam Hussein's regime once and for all. There were several strands to the campaign; the destruction of thousands of villages and collectivisation of the rural population; sexual violence against women and girls; the forced recruitment of some working-age males as jash (government collaborators) and the mass execution of many men and boys. In the most notorious single incident of the Anfal, Iraqi planes dropped poison gas on the town of Halabja on 16-17 March 1987, indiscriminately killing some 4000 men, women and children. Official estimates put the total number of people killed in the campaign upwards of 50,000: the KRG considers that it may be as much as 182,000.[117] The vast majority of victims were Kurds, but Assyrians and other minorities were also killed.

74. The UN defines "genocide" as, in summary, an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.[118] For the KRG, as for ordinary Iraqi Kurds, it is self-evident that a campaign of such brutality and enormity as the Anfal, directed primarily at the Kurdish people was a genocide. Indeed, in the KRG's view, it was merely the culmination of a sequence of genocidal policies pursued by Baathist Iraq over three decades.[119] For Kurds today, the Anfal is an event not yet confined to the history books: it is a continuing source of pain, particularly for families whose relatives were "disappeared" and whose bodies have never been found. As we learned in Erbil, where we heard from the International Commission on Missing Persons, the work of identifying the hundreds of thousands of anonymous victims of Saddam's tyranny, buried all over the country has barely begun, despite considerable international investment in the previous decade, including by the UK, to help Iraq improve its forensic identification techniques.[120]

75. A small number of parliaments, governments and other international bodies have in recent years come to formally recognise the Anfal as genocide, as have various Iraqi tribunals and federal institutions. On 28 February 2013, the UK House of Commons agreed to a motion "that this House formally recognises the genocide against the people of Iraqi Kurdistan".[121]

76. The UK Government chose not to divide the House when the motion was debated, but its formal stance is not to take a view on whether the Anfal was a genocide. This is in line with long-standing UK policy that the recognition of genocide is, in the words of the FCO's submission to this inquiry, "primarily a matter for judicial decision, rather than for Government or non-judicial bodies".[122] As genocide recognition is not part of UK jurisprudence, this means that in practice the UK would be likely to take its lead from the International Criminal Court, the only international tribunal vested with authority to determine whether particular events were genocide. The ICC, which heard its first case in 2003, is not empowered to make determinations on events dating before its creation. As the KRG and others have pointed out to us, it would therefore appear that, unless there is some unexpected legal change (most obviously, if the ICC's jurisdiction were made retrospective), there is little prospect of the UK Government formally recognising the Anfal as genocide under its current policy.[123] This was confirmed in the Minister's oral evidence in November, when he appeared to imply that the UK Government's hands were tied on the question of genocide recognition, as it was an issue of international law.[124] We suggest that this view is not strictly correct. It would be open for the UK Government to decide to recognise historic events as genocide, notwithstanding the absence of an ICC verdict, as other governments have done in the case of other historic events, and as the Minister's predecessor, Alistair Burt, effectively acknowledged when he spoke in the Commons debate on 28 February 2013.[125]

77. A further question is whether the Government's precautionary approach is understandable and justified. Mr Burt's speech in February 2013 referred to "implications for both today and yesterday" were the Government to agree to recognise the Anfal as genocide, echoing similar views from the opposition front bench. He did not elaborate further, but it could be argued that the UK's current position at least has the virtue of clarity, and that recognising one series of historic events as genocide, absent a judgment from the ICC, would put pressure on the UK Government, in the interests of consistency, to recognise others.[126] These are potentially manifold. In an Iraqi and Kurdish context alone, this would include the terrible suffering of the Armenian and Assyrian communities in the first half of the 20th century; Saddam's persecution of the Marsh Arabs and Mandaeans of southern Iraq in the 1990s; and ISIL's deliberately targeted attacks on the Assyrian and Yezidi communities of northern Iraq only a few months ago. We cannot but note that the issue of genocide recognition has at times proven diplomatically problematic, particularly with regard to Ottoman Turkey's treatment of its Armenian and Assyrian communities. We learned during the inquiry that the KRG itself refrains from taking a formal view on whether these events were acts of genocide, even though descendants of those caught up in that tragedy (both protagonists and victims) are living in the Kurdistan Region today.[127]

78. The KRG is clearly disappointed with the UK's policy, with the then High Representative to the UK telling us that it was "crucial" for the Kurdish people that the Anfal be recognised as genocide. However, the KRG's written evidence welcomed the FCO for being active in marking Anfal Day[128] and other commemorative events, and commended Mr Burt's "finessing" of the UK Government's position during the February 2013 debate.[129] In his speech Mr Burt had acknowledged that the Government's position was "clear" but "not necessarily comfortable or sufficient" and had indicated willingness, on behalf of the FCO, to continue the discussion with the KRG. In this connection, we note that the government's position, quoted in paragraph 76 above, is that genocide recognition is "primarily a matter for judicial decision" [emphasis added] indicating that the Government may be open to dialogue about whether non-judicial factors could be taken into consideration.

79. The terrible events of the Anfal campaign conducted against the Kurdish people in the 1980s appear to meet the UN definition of "genocide". We understand the reasons that have caused the Government not to formally recognise the Anfal as a genocide, but also note that its approach has caused disappointment in the Kurdistan Region and that foreign governments have chosen to recognise past atrocities as genocide, notwithstanding the absence of a legal ruling by a recognised international tribunal. We encourage the UK Government to maintain a dialogue with the Kurdistan Regional Government on the issue, including on what judicial and non-judicial criteria the UK Government may use to determine whether acts constitute genocide. We welcome the Government's recognition of Anfal Day and would encourage it to continue to reflect on other ways in which it could help commemorate the Anfal, in order to show its identification with the suffering endured by the Kurdish people.


37   KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15), paragraph 44 Back

38   KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15), paragraphs 48-56. See also Dlawer Ala'Aldeen (KUR 1), paragraphs 7 and 14 Back

39   Foreign Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2012-13, The FCO's Human Rights Work in 2011, HC 116, paragraph 45; Foreign Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2013-14, The UK's Relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, HC 88, paragraph 134. See also Professor Gareth Stansfield (KUR 14), paragraph 8 Back

40   Q137 [Dr Ali Allawi] Back

41   See also Dlawer Ala'Aldeen (KUR 1), paragraphs 14 and 15; British Council (KUR 4) paragraphs 4.1 and 4.2 Back

42   See also British Council (KUR 4) paragraph 3.3; Professor Dlawer Ala'Aldeen (KUR 1), paragraph 7 Back

43   See also Ranj Alaaldin (KUR 18), page 3 Back

44   Q6-7 [Professor Gareth Stansfield and Professor Charles Tripp] Back

45   The multi-party system of government that has evolved informally in the Kurdistan Region is similar to the system formally enshrined in procedures for the Northern Ireland Assembly. In both cases, an unusually inclusive form of governance, though recognised as imperfect, was thought to be necessary in order to shore up an inherently fragile political process, in part by ensuring that the "spoils" of government are shared out widely. In Germany, a governing "grand coalition" currently holds 80% of Bundestag seats. Back

46   Q1-5 [Professor Gareth Stansfield and Professor Charles Tripp]; Q7 [Professor Gareth Stansfield]; APPG Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KUR 12) paragraphs 48-51; Genel Energy (KUR 2), paragraph 5; Professor Dlawer Ala'Aldeen (KUR 1), paragraph 4 Back

47   See also KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15), paragraph 51; Foreign and Commonwealth Office (KUR 6), paragraphs 19-21 Back

48   Q2 [Professor Gareth Stansfield] Back

49   Q136 [KRG High Representative to the UK] Back

50   Q1-3 [Professor Gareth Stansfield] Professor Gareth Stansfield (KUR 14), paragraph 8. See also Q136 [Peter Galbraith] Back

51   Foreign and Commonwealth Office (KUR 6), paragraphs 4 and 25 Back

52   Q103 [KRG High Representative to the UK] Back

53   See also "Anger Lingers in Iraqi Kurdistan After a Crackdown", New York Times, 18 May 2011 Back

54   Foreign and Commonwealth Office (KUR 6), paragraph 26; HC Deb, 15 January 2014, cols 286WH and 294WH [Westminster Hall] Back

55   Q103 [KRG High Representative to the UK] Back

56   KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15),paragraphs 60 and 61 Back

57   Q104-105 Back

58   Q75 [KRG High Representative to the UK] Back

59   Q28 [Professor Gareth Stansfield]; Genel Energy (KUR 2), paragraph 4 Back

60   KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15), paragraph 34 Back

61   Q28-29 [Professor Gareth Stansfield] Back

62   Q28 [Professor Gareth Stansfield] Back

63   Q62-63 [KRG High Representative to the UK] Back

64   Shabaks are an ethno-religious community of northern Iraq, speaking a language related to Kurdish. Their religious practice is syncretic, containing elements of Islamic and pre-Islamic beliefs. ISIL have persecuted them Back

65   See also KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15), paragraphs 45 and 62 Back

66   British Council (KUR 4) paragraph 3.2 Back

67   The FCO is currently committed, amongst other things, to "leading international efforts to resolve concerns about Iran's nuclear programme", "protecting the UK against terrorism, and "working for peace and long-term stability in the Middle East and North Africa", including, in Syria, "supporting diplomatic efforts that lead to an end to violence and process of genuine political transition, and investigations into the grave human rights situation." (Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "FCO Policies" [accessed January 2015]) Back

68   "Iran warns of fallout from Iraq disintegration", Press TV Online, 30 June 2014. See also APPG Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KUR 16), paragraph 20 Back

69   Q35 [John Roberts] Back

70   Q49 [John Roberts] Back

71   Foreign Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2013-14, UK Policy Towards Iran, HC 547 Back

72   Edward Oakden of the FCO told us that "the sort of Iraq that Iran wants to see is very different from the sort of inclusive Iraq … which we want to see" (Q155) Back

73   Foreign Affairs Committee, Twelfth Report of Session 2010-12, UK-Turkey relations and Turkey's Regional Role, summary. HC 1567 Back

74   "Biden to meet with Erdogan as divide between US and Turkey widens", The Guardian, 21 November 2014 Back

75   Q134 [Dr Ali Allawi]; KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15),paragraph 24 Back

76   "Turkey's Best Ally: The Kurds", New York Times, 22 June 2014 Back

77   Q23-24 [Professor Gareth Stansfield] Q36 and Q44 [John Roberts]; Q90-91 [KRG High Representative to the UK] Q133 [Peter Galbraith]; Professor Gareth Stansfield (KUR 14), paragraph 10; APPG Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KUR 12), paragraph 41 Back

78   We understand that the KDP tends to shares Ankara's hostility to and suspicion of the PKK's Syrian-Kurdish sister party, the PYD, whilst other parties in the coalition want the PYD to be given more support in its fight with ISIL. Back

79   In June, the KRG Representatives told us that recent events in Mosul and Syria had made the bilateral relationship with Ankara stronger, not weaker (Q106) Back

80   See also KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15),paragraphs 24-27 Back

81   See also Ranj Alaaldin (KUR 18), page 2 Back

82   See also Dlawer Ala'Aldeen, a former KRG Minister (KUR 1), paragraph 8 Back

83   Foreign and Commonwealth Office (KUR 6), paragraph 3 Back

84   KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15),paragraphs 45 and 54 Cf British Council (KUR 4), paragraphs 5.3-5.4 and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (KUR 6), paragraph 31 Back

85   KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15),paragraph 58 Back

86   APPG Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KUR 12) paragraphs 28-32; British Expertise (KUR 3), paragraph 10 Back

87   Q198-199 Back

88   Q201. The FCO's written evidence states that the National School of Government International has, since 2007, been working at senior levels of the KRG civil service to help improve service delivery. (Foreign and Commonwealth Office (KUR 6), paragraphs 15-18) Back

89   HC Deb 16 October 2012, cols 18-9 WS. See also APPG Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KUR 12) , paragraph 27 Back

90   Foreign and Commonwealth Office (KUR 6), paragraph 39. (As of April 2014, when the evidence was submitted). Where UK-based staff number fewer than 5, the FCO does not, for operational and security reasons, disclose exact numbers Back

91   Q191 and 197 [Tobias Ellwood MP] Back

92   Foreign and Commonwealth Office (KUR 6), paragraph 38 Back

93   Q192-197 [Tobias Ellwood MP and Edward Oakden] Back

94   Q193 Back

95   Q191 [Tobias Ellwood MP] Back

96   Genel Energy (KUR 2), paragraph 2 Back

97   Foreign and Commonwealth Office (KUR 6), paragraph 8 Back

98   "Unemployment Increases in Kurdistan Region", Iraq Business News, 12 September 2014. UNDP in Iraq website provides national figures. [Accessed January 2015] Back

99   Ebiz Guides, "Kurdistan Region of Iraq" (2012), page 195. See also Dlawer Ala'Aldeen (KUR 1), Back

100   Genel Energy (KUR 2), page 1 Back

101   Q10 [Professor Gareth Stansfield] Back

102   KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15), paragraph 44 Professor Gareth Stansfield (KUR 14), paragraphs 15 and 16; APPG Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KUR 12), paragraphs 18-24 Back

103   Genel Energy (KUR 2), paragraph 16 Back

104   Q10-11 [Professor Gareth Stansfield] Back

105   APPG Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KUR 12) paragraph 6; Genel Energy (KUR 2), paragraph 17; Q135-136 [Peter Galbraith] Back

106   Q24 [Professor Gareth Stansfield]; Q 134 [Dr Ali Allawi] Back

107   Q 132 [Peter Galbraith] Back

108   Foreign and Commonwealth Office (KUR 6), paragraphs 10-12 Back

109   See also KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15), paragraphs 42, 46 and 47; APPG Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KUR 12), paragraphs 13 and 14 Back

110   See also KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15), paragraph 43 Back

111   Q207 Back

112   APPG Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KUR 12), paragraph 8; Foreign and Commonwealth Office (KUR 6), paragraph 4 Back

113   APPG Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KUR 12), paragraph 33 Back

114   Q206 Back

115   Foreign and Commonwealth Office (KUR 6), paragraph 13 Back

116   Q30 Back

117   KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15), paragraph 7. The UK Government considers that up to around 100,000 Kurds may have died (HC Debs, 28 February 2013, col 559) Back

118   Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (adopted in 1948).  Back

119   Q108 [KRG High Representative to the UK] [Wesminster Hall] Back

120   See also KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15), paragraph 59 Back

121   HC Debs, 28 February 2013, cols 529-565WS [Wesminster Hall] Back

122   Foreign and Commonwealth Office (KUR 6), paragraph 40 Back

123   KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15), paragraph 37; Professor Michael Bohlander (KUR 5), paragraphs 3 and 16-23 Back

124   Q216 Back

125   See also Professor Michael Bohlander (KUR 5), paragraph 5-15 Back

126   Q30 [Professor Charles Tripp] Back

127   Q110 [KRG High Representative to the UK] Back

128   The KRG declared Anfal Day in 2007 as a commemorative event for victims of the campaign, taking place each year on 14 April. It is marked by expatriate Kurdish communities and their friends and supporters around the world. Back

129   KRG High Representative to the UK (KUR 15), paragraphs 37 and 38 Back


 
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Prepared 21 January 2015