UK ‘committed partner’ of KRG, envoy says

“We are your friends; you are partners. And we are here as long as you wish us to be here,” Mr. Hunt said
David Hunt, the UK Consul General to Erbil (left), is pictured during his interview with Farhad Rasul of Kurdistan 24, Sept. 27, 2021. (Photo: UK Consulate General Erbil/Twitter)
David Hunt, the UK Consul General to Erbil (left), is pictured during his interview with Farhad Rasul of Kurdistan 24, Sept. 27, 2021. (Photo: UK Consulate General Erbil/Twitter)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The United Kingdom’s Consul General to Erbil, David Hunt, stated in an exclusive interview with Kurdistan 24 that London is a “committed partner” of the Kurdistan Region.

The interview aired Tuesday night, during which the British diplomat shed light on a number of issues, including bilateral UK-Kurdistan Region relations, Iraq’s Oct. 10 election, diversity in the KRG, among others.

Mr. Hunt assumed his post in early September, replacing his predecessor Mr. James Thornton.

UK-KRI relationship

The United Kingdom and the Kurdistan Region have a close diplomatic relationship. In mid-September, Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani paid an official visit to London. He met with senior British officials, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the secretaries of state, education and defense.

“The president’s visit to the UK was really successful,” Mr. Hunt said of Barzani’s three-day visit, which included a stop at the country’s prestigious military academy of Sandhurst to meet Kurdish and Iraqi cadets.

“I have such a high level of ambition for what we can achieve together. We can expand this relationship by creating a better trading environment, bringing more UK businesses to export here, [and] more businesses from KRI to export to the UK,” Mr. Hunt said.

“We have got strong cultural and societal links that we can build on and, hopefully, flourish during my time here. The Kurdish diaspora in the UK is extremely successful. I want to tap into all of that potential and try to release it, so we can grow the relationship,” he added.

“It was our primary objective to reassure our friends that we are a committed partner and friend for a long term.”

UK role in Defeat-ISIS coalition, Peshmerga reform

The UK is an active member of the international Defeat-ISIS coalition, which has helped both Iraq and the Kurdistan Region’s forces to repel the threats of the terrorist group.

By providing air support and training to Kurdish and Iraqi soldiers within the framework of the US-led alliance, the UK has played a pivotal role in combatting ISIS. In addition, following the territorial defeat of the terrorist organization, the UK focused efforts on helping unify and modernize the Kurdistan Region’s Peshmerga forces.

Reform and unification of Peshmerga forces are a “shared objective” of the anti-ISIS coalition, Mr. Hunt affirmed, adding that he has a team at the consulate that is helping advise the Kurdish troops.

Despite the military defeat it suffered in 2017, ISIS remnants can still launch hit-and-run attacks targeting civilians and security forces equally, particularly in territories disputed between Iraq’s federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

“It’s a great concern,” the diplomat said of the increasing security threat, ensuring that the UK “will stay the course, so the people of the region are protected from the threat of ISIS.”

Coexistence in Kurdistan

In a region usually shaped by ethnoreligious conflicts, the Kurdistan Region has been thriving as a safe haven for its distinct cultural, religious, and ethnic components that have been able to coexist peacefully among the Kurdish population.

“That coexistence must be protected, nurtured, and cherished. And I know the KRG are undertaking steps to ensure that happens,” Mr. Hunt noted, adding his country works alongside Iraqi authorities to ensure diversity flourishes.

The UK is investing in “multi-million-pound projects to continue to ensure that there is freedom of religion and belief across the wider Iraq, but there’s a lot within KRI, which is usually positive, and we should look to it and learn from it.”

He added that the Kurdistan Region has a sizable role to play in creating a more prosperous and tolerant society in Iraq.

Presenter Farhad Rasul explains well-known Kurdish figures to the UK Consul General David Hunt
Presenter Farhad Rasul explains well-known Kurdish figures to the UK Consul General David Hunt, Sept. 27, 2021. (Photo: Screengrab/Kurdistan24)

Iraq’s Oct. 10 election

Iraqis on Oct. 10 are heading to polling stations across the country to vote in members of the fifth national council of representatives.

To assist with preserving election integrity and credibility, international observers from the United Nations and European Union will closely monitor, assist, and support Iraqi electoral authorities before and during the election.

Through the UN and Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), the UK has financially donated to help bring a “fair and free election” to the country, according to the consul general. 

Mr. Hunt also urged all parties to refrain from any act of violence that could undermine the process, which he described as “a really important moment for Iraq.”

“There should be an atmosphere for people to vote for whoever they wish to. [And] any acts of violence, we utterly condemn,” said the diplomat, who also called on eligible voters to participate in the election.

Erbil-Baghdad security cooperation

As a result of the lack of security coordination and cooperation in the disputed territories, the areas have seen elevated risks from both armed paramilitary groups as well as ISIS remnants.

One way to create that “absolutely critical” cooperation would be through forming what Mr. Hunt calls “joint bridges” between Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army.

“The quicker we can get the joint brigades between KRI and Iraq to tackle the threat, the better. And if we can advise and support, of course, we will,” Mr. Hunt added.

‘We are here as long as you wish us to be here’

Regarding whether the UK will remain in the Kurdistan Region for an extended period, the British diplomat gave his “absolute reassurance” that his country is a committed security partner to the autonomous Kurdistan Region.

“We are your friends; you are partners. And we are here as long as you wish us to be here,” Mr. Hunt said, adding that his country is in the Region “to increase stability and security.”

Kurdish food, clothing, nature

On top of developing bilateral ties between the UK and Kurdistan Region, Mr. Hunt has another “big objective,” he said: enjoying Kurdish cuisine.

Having been here for less than a month, he has been able to “extensively try” Kurdish food, with kebab and dolma being his favorites so far.

He also went to Sulaimani recently.

“I spent the whole time looking out the window because it was so beautiful. I mean, this is the most beautiful region with huge potential for tourism and developing interests from the wider region,” Mr. Hunt said.

He also said that the Kurdistan Region capital of Erbil “is lively and vibrant” and that he wants to “get under the skin and understand” Kurdistan.

“It is a peaceful language. And actually, it is a very logical language in terms of its grammar,” he said of the Kurdish language, of which he had taken 50 hours of classes before arrival.

Gender Balance in Kurdistan Region

At the top of its governing bodies, the Kurdistan Region has at least three leading female figures, including two ministers and the speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament.

“I think it is wonderful that there’s a strong gender balance within the KRI in terms of senior positions,” Mr. Hunt said, stressing the influential role women play in organizational decision-making.   

What do you think of the future of Kurdistan?

The Kurdistan Region “has incredible prospects. It has highly skilled and very capable people. You have young people with a high level of ambition who want to go out in the world and do things. Your prospects are really strong,” he explained.

“You know I look at the Chevening scholars that are we are funds come from the UK. We have had over 100 Chevening scholars. They come to the UK. We fund their Master’s programs. They are brilliant people.”

“Your people will deliver great success for this Region. It is all about human capital. Those people can go on and take this Region further onward than it already is. So, I believe the prospects are very bright,” Mr. Hunt said.

“I am hugely optimistic for the UK-KRI relationships as well because we had such good links.”

Twitter and Kurdish people

“What is very clear to me is within the KRI, people are really brilliant on Twitter. They automatically come back to you. They tell you what they think. You can go back to them. You can engage with people. Immediately. And that’s really powerful,” the British diplomat stated.

“#TwitterKurds is an amazing hashtag whereby if you put it into your message, immaterially people come back to you with views. So, it is like an immediate kind of opinion polls or survey of how people feel.”

Interview conducted by Farhad Rasul