‘Iraq needs vigorous and healthy debate about its future’: UK Ambassador
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Mark Bryson-Richardson, the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq, discussed climate change, Iraq’s security challenges, future projects, bilateral trade between the UK, Iraq, and the Kurdistan Region, and numerous other topics in this exclusive interview with Kurdistan 24.
“At a more local level we’re making the Embassy and our Erbil Consulate greener – reducing our use of plastic, increasing recycling, minimizing waste, and being more energy-efficient.”
Q: You were appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq in late June and started your work the following month. What has been the biggest challenge you have faced as Her Majesty’s Ambassador in Iraq since then?
A: There are a number of challenges facing Iraq and the UK, but I would highlight the need for all of us to do more to tackle climate change. There are strong champions for environmental work both within and outside of the Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Governments, and we hosted a number of Iraqi experts at the COP26 climate change summit in the UK last November. Together we all of us – governments, NGOs, intergovernmental organizations, and individuals – need to do more to tackle this global challenge. In Iraq, there have been positive steps on reducing gas flaring, minimizing desertification, coping with changing weather conditions, and supporting global energy transition away from fossil fuels. But there is much more to do. At a more local level we’re making the Embassy and our Erbil Consulate greener – reducing our use of plastic, increasing recycling, minimizing waste, and being more energy-efficient. But we are finding ways to make progress and continue to look for more.
"I welcome and encourage the coordination, cooperation, and reform that is taking place between and within Iraq’s security forces, which is an important part of confronting the security challenges that Iraq faces."
In a Jan. 30 tweet, you expressed your concern about the recent rise in violent incidents across Iraq. You have also said that "The targeting of political parties and their leaderships, business, and most recently, Baghdad International Airport is completely unacceptable.” What do you think is behind this rise in violence and what do you think can be done to reduce it?
Iraq needs vigorous and healthy debate about its future and what policies and steps to adopt, but that debate should happen peacefully in the Parliament, in the media, across civil society, and when needed, in the courts. There is a role for all of us in supporting those institutions and helping to strengthen them. I also welcome and encourage the coordination, cooperation, and reform that is taking place between and within Iraq’s security forces, those recognized in law or the constitution, this is an important part of confronting the security challenges that Iraq faces.
“Attracting more investment into Iraq is dependent on getting the right business environment and we are keen to help create that.”
Obviously, the UK mission in Iraq “encourages a continued focus on the peaceful formation of the new government.” What are UK’s expectations/hopes from the next Iraqi government?
We will of course continue to support the next government’s efforts to tackle the threat from extremist groups such as Daesh (ISIS), address the drivers of terrorism, and find sustainable solutions for reintegrating vulnerable populations into communities in an equitable, accountable, and human-rights compliant way.
We hope to support Iraq in conducting reforms and structural changes in the face of challenges that face all of us such as the global transition away from hydrocarbon, climate change, and demographic transition. We want to see more bilateral trade and investment and believe that UK companies can support Iraq’s transition away from fossil fuels, providing greater resistance to external shocks to energy prices. UK companies can also play a part in building Iraq’s private sector capacity. Attracting more investment into Iraq is dependent on getting the right business environment and we are keen to help create that.
That is why we have provided 24 million pounds (approximately $32 million) over the last three years to the World Bank’s Iraq Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Fund. It’s also why we are providing 14 million pounds (approximately $19 million) to aid demographic transition over the next five years and are providing 6 million pounds (approximately $8 million) for technical assistance to Iraq over the next three years.
“The UK looks forward to continuing its close and productive relationship with Iraq under the new government.”
Does your country support the "national majority" government in Iraq called by Sadrist movement leader Muqtada al-Sadr and his Sunni and Kurdish allies?
It is for Iraqis to decide what kind of government they want. The UK looks forward to continuing its close and productive relationship with Iraq under the new government.
“According to the latest available figures, overall bilateral trade between the UK and Iraq (including the Kurdistan Region) amounted to £626m for the year to the end of September 2021.”
On the trade and economic side, how significant is trade between the UK and Iraq (including the Kurdistan Region)? What are the most prominent commodities and materials that are exchanged?
According to the latest available figures, overall bilateral trade between the UK and Iraq (including the Kurdistan Region) amounted to 626 million pounds (approximately $846 million) for the year to the end of September 2021. UK exports accounted for 450 million pounds (approximately $608 million) of this; Iraq exports were 176 million pounds (approximately $238 million). Because of the disruption caused by Covid, trade levels in both directions have unfortunately declined compared to the previous year.
We have a number of companies doing great work in the educational, infrastructure, defence, and security sectors. There are also more UK companies interested in working here – whether in these sectors or others – including healthcare and renewable energy.
In terms of commodities, our top export to Iraq is medicinal and pharmaceutical products. These amount to 18% of all exports. Other top exports include electrical goods, beverages, and industrial machinery. Working with our Department for International Trade team based in the Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate in Erbil, we are committed to increasing our trade partnership with Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.
“In the Kurdistan Region, we are seeing more and more organizations involved in the education sector, we also see growth potential in sectors such as Food & Drink, Technology, and Health where we already have a good footprint.”
What are the most prominent British companies currently operating in Iraq and Kurdistan Region? Are there any particular areas of cooperation that you hope to expand upon with the Kurdistan Region and the wider Iraq in the coming months and years?
In financial services, it’s great that we have a British global bank, Standard Chartered, active in the market. Other notable companies include Jaguar Land Rover, which has showrooms in both Baghdad and Erbil, and of course, Umbro is present in the market and makes and sells the Iraqi national football strip. In addition, BP, Shell, and other British companies are active in the energy sector.
As a legacy of the UK hosting COP26 and together with the Prime Minister’s ambitious plan for a green industrial revolution, we are keen to do more in the renewables and water sectors in Iraq. We are also keen to see British business continue to drive efficiencies in Iraq’s power generation capability. The UK has some excellent UK solar power companies, and we are working with them to provide a compelling offer to Iraq. In the Kurdistan Region, we are seeing more and more organizations involved in the education sector, we also see growth potential in sectors such as Food & Drink, Technology, and Health where we already have a good footprint.
“The British Embassy and our partners at the British Council are continuing to expand our partnership with Iraq over the coming year, and this will include a new £6 million, three-year Technical Assistance Facility to strengthen capability within the Government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government to implement priority reforms.”
Does your embassy have any future events or projects planned that you can tell us about?
The British Embassy and our partners at the British Council are continuing to expand our partnership with Iraq over the coming year. This will include a new six million pounds (approximately $8 million), three-year Technical Assistance Facility to strengthen capability within the Government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government to implement priority reforms. We are providing 1.5 million pounds (approximately $2 million) to the UNDP Funding Facility for Stabilisation which contributes to the provision of electricity, education, housing and healthcare for around 2.7 million Iraqis in five governorates formerly occupied by Daesh. Our Women’s Voices First Project will support local Women Rights and Civil Society Organizations through grants, capacity building, networking across Iraq/KRI to implement projects to achieve women, peace and security priorities.
Later in the year, we will launch a new round of our Chevening Scholarship programme, which provide fully-funded scholarships to around 30 aspiring young Iraqis to study a master’s programme in the UK, to help them become Iraq’s next generation of leaders. The British Council’s Digital MAPS programme is supporting content creators operating in the media, arts, and cultural sectors to develop strategies and content which promotes inclusivity and openness in the public sphere in Iraq, especially in the virtual space. Follow @UKinIraq on Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date on our work.