A fact-finding mission to Erbil and Baghdad in May by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Kurdistan Region concluded that Kurdistan is a vital “entity that deserves concerted assistance to boost its capacity and play a positive role in the Middle East,” calling on the UK to “help the Kurds to stand on their own feet.”
The mission, carried out by the APPG group on the Kurdistan Region, produced a 20-page report, written by Gary Kent. The informal report released last Thursday stated the “jury is out on whether the referendum was a strategic error or one that could yet gain dividends.”
The report will be sent to ministers, diplomats, and others.
The United Kingdom, along with other neighboring states, opposed the referendum held last September in which 93 percent of people voted for independence.
Following the region’s controversial vote on independence, Iraqi forces and Shia militias drove the Kurdish Peshmerga out of Kirkuk and other disputed territories.
“We were horrified by Baghdad’s vicious and violent reaction to a peaceful vote of intention rather than immediate breakaway, as was widely signaled before and after its official announcement in June,” the APPG said.
“The violence makes a mockery of the first article of the Iraqi constitution which insists that Iraq is a voluntary union: the Kurds can check out but never leave, it seems,” the report concluded.
The report urges the UK government to back a strong Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) within Iraq.
“Many Kurds are disappointed by the UK government’s honorable opposition to the referendum, but the fundamental relationship is good and can be improved by an active programme of official and voluntary efforts to help the Kurds stand on their own feet. And that is in the UK’s interests too,” the report said.
“Kurds have the right in principle to leave a voluntary union although any departure and new and closer relations should be negotiated with Baghdad. But independence is off the agenda for now, and the priority is to make Iraq work and help build a strong KRG,” the report said.
The report called on Baghdad to respect the constitution. “Kurdistani rights in Iraq should be copper-fastened by the constitution and not given or taken at whim,” while at the same time urging the Kurds “to adopt robust pragmatism in their dealings with Baghdad.”
However, the report also called on Kurds to reform their economic system which is too dependent on oil and alleged the Kurdish government relies far too much on state employment.
“We say that Kurdistan needs to adopt a capitalist model with the balance between market and state and individual and collective rights suiting Kurdistani needs. A new tax system could include a wealth tax so that sacrifices are shared more equally and funds are raised for a welfare state,” the report said.
Moreover, the British MPs called on the UK to set a date for a visit by the KRG Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to meet with UK Prime Minister, Theresa May.
PM May invited KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani in December last year, ahead of the referendum. However, until now, the Kurdish official has yet to visit the UK.
The report also revealed that the Kurdistan parliament would form its own All-Party Parliamentary Group for Britain. It’s unclear who will head this new group.
Finally, the report called on the UK to organize an official trade mission to the Kurdistan Region after the formation of a new Iraqi government and the Kurdish parliament elections scheduled for September. It also called for reforms to the visa process for Kurds.
“In all this, there is a major and mutually beneficial political and commercial role for the UK, which is keenly desired by the Kurds,” the report concluded.