Tom Kmiec: Kurdistan Region on right path toward democracy

Canadian Member of Parliament

OTTAWA (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdistan Region is on the right path toward building a democracy that would strengthen stability and security in the greater Middle East, Canadian Member of Parliament Tom Kmiec said in a recent interview.

Kmiec, who also serves as Deputy Shadow Minister for Finance, is the founder and co-chair of the Canadian Parliamentary Friends of the Kurds, an all-party caucus dedicated to cultivating dialogue and fostering parliamentary ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Kurdistan 24 recently sat down with him at the Canadian Parliament where the lawmaker spoke at length about the Canadian government’s positive relationship with the Kurdistan Region and offered some advice to the new KRG leadership.

Rinse and Repeat

Kmiec has been a long-time friend of the Kurdish people and has put in a great deal of effort to ensure the voices of Kurds in his constituency in Calgary, and indeed those of Kurds across Canada, are brought to the government.

He told Kurdistan 24 that having a concern for the Kurdish issue is simply showing a concern for the developments and security in the Middle East, in general.

The MP underlined that the Kurds have long suffered under successive authoritarian regimes in Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria across the different parts of the Greater Kurdistan, and should be able to realize their human rights. These rights, Kmiec explained, include the right to educate their kids and give them names in their native language.

“We know that in the past when human rights of Kurdish people, in whatever part of Kurdistan they were in, was taken away, or central governments would infringe on their democratic rights, that there would be unrest, it would lead to conflict, it would lead to violence in the end, and all those things lead to more instability in the region,” he said.

Fulfilling Kurdish rights is “about security, it’s about stability in the region, and it’s about ensuring the economic and democratic future of the people in the different parts of Kurdistan, so I think that’s why it’s important, that’s why I’m concerned about it,” the MP added.

Kmiec advised the KRG to exercise what he called the “rinse and repeat” method of developing a democratic state, a practice which he said has been used in the British parliamentary systems across the world.

It is “a peaceful transition of power,” the MP told Kurdistan 24, “it’s your ability to hold elections, and have political parties compete.”

“Even if there’s one political party that was in power that loses or the people have changed, then there is a peaceful transition of power,” Kmiec added. “That’s the mark of an emerging, kind of, civic democracy that’s actually functional and working, and it just shows that it’s on the right path, that Kurdistan is on the right path toward democracy.”

Kurds Reliable Allies in Middle East

The Canadian lawmaker highlighted the Kurdistan Region’s significant contribution in the ongoing war against the so-called Islamic State since the terror group emerged in Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Indeed, western allies, including Canada and the United States, have hailed the Kurdish Peshmerga as the most effective ground troops in the military defeat of the Islamic State.

When the terror group began its blitzkrieg of northern parts of Iraq, the Peshmerga held firm and even advanced to disputed areas, that Iraqi troops had abandoned, to protect the Kurdistan Region’s border.

The Kurdish people “bore the brunt when ISIS spilled over the border and then started to make its trek toward Mosul and then further south on its way toward Baghdad,” Kmiec said.

“It’s a testament to the [KRG] leadership that they didn’t break, and it allowed time for the allied forces, whether they’re American, Canadian, or any one of the other allied forces, to bring troops, to bring aircraft, to bring supplies, and then to support those on the ground who were doing the hard fighting of pushing back ISIS.”

According to Kmiec, the Kurdish effort in the fight against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria, where the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) played a major role in defeating the terror group, is the reason western nations look toward Kurds as “reliable allies in the Middle East.”

“We immediately think of the Kurds regardless of where the boundaries are…because we know we can count on them to provide an effective militia on the ground.”

Great Opportunity for Canada

The Canadian lawmaker underlined the importance of Kurdish autonomy and the general stability it would provide to the broader Middle East.

“We know that if we have people in the different parts of Kurdistan who feel safe in their areas, who feel like their human and democratic rights are being respected by their central governments…without having a central government tell you, ‘You’re not allowed to do that,’ all of those things lead to more stability, it leads to more economic activity,” Kmiec said.

The MP noted that economic stability in the Kurdistan Region would provide a golden opportunity for Canada in the long-term as it continues to establish its “people-to-people relationship” with the Kurds.

Read More: Canada eager to stay connected with renewed energy in Kurdistan Region: MP

“I think the long-term is Canada getting more invested in the region, and companies [having] that security that if you send employees overseas, if you hire people locally, then there is opportunity to both make money, to get exchanges going,” he stated.

Kmiec said Canada’s Kurdish diaspora continues to grow, and if Ottawa supports Erbil and helps it become stable, these Kurds in the diaspora can do business with their country of origin which would, in turn, present new economic and business opportunities.

Parliament-to-Parliament Relationship

Kmiec underlined that Canadian parliamentarians value their friendship with the Kurdistan Region and one of the main efforts the all-party Parliamentary Friends of the Kurds is engaged in is building a deeper parliament-to-parliament relationship.

He revealed that the group now has a mini office in the autonomous region’s capital, Erbil, connected directly to the Canadian embassy, along with dedicated staff, “which is doing more than just trade, but it’s starting to establish those parliament-to-parliament” ties.

Read More: Canadian lawmakers optimistic about improving ties with Kurdistan Region

We are exploring the opportunity of “having an exchange of parliamentarians, so a group of parliamentarians from Canada traveling to the region,” Kmiec told Kurdistan 24. “That’s one of the building blocks; it’s one of the starting points.”

According to the lawmaker, a trip to Kurdistan would give Canadian parliamentarians the chance to sit with their Kurdish counterparts and exchange advice on how the system in Ottawa works and how they can integrate it in Erbil.

“Those parliament-to-parliament relationships are really, really important,” Kmiec explained, “it’s a much deeper relationship that goes just beyond governments talking to each other.”

Get the Economy Right

In his interview with Kurdistan 24, Kmiec offered some advice to the new leadership in the KRG: improve and expand the Kurdistan Region’s economy.

The Canadian MP encouraged the KRG to develop its private sector so that “private businesses, just everyday people, can have all the opportunities that are available without having government get in the way and stop them from creating new jobs and developing their own businesses and growing the economy.”

Kmiec advised the autonomous Kurdish government to set “the baseline rules” which citizens know and understand and can abide by to then be able to grow small, local businesses.

He also warned against corruption, which undermines a government’s civic institutions and people’s faith in those institutions.

“Corruption is also incredibly wasteful, it wastes a lot of taxpayer dollars and the revenues that are always in short supply because you always have an infinite amount of things that your population is asking you to do and you have a limited amount of resources,” the Canadian lawmaker said.

“On the ground” corruption is “corrosive to the long-term integrity of the democratic system and to the long-term integrity of the parliamentary system that the KRG is trying to establish.”

Kurdistan Independence a Long-term Project

The issue of Kurdish autonomy has been discussed for years, and Kurds across all four parts of the Greater Kurdistan continue to fight for their rights under respective regimes in Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria.

Indeed, the Kurds in the Kurdistan Region have come the closest in recent years to fulfill the dream of independence.

The Kurdistan Region’s historic referendum in 2017 was a major milestone and is still considered a victory despite the central government in Baghdad rejecting its legality and a lack of support from western nations.

Kmiec said the struggle for Kurdish independence across all the different parts of Kurdistan is “a long-term project.”

“There’s always talk in Kurdistan about uniting all the different parts, and everybody seems to be in a rush,” he told Kurdistan 24. “I always talk about how the different political parties in the different regions need to at least reach some type of basic agreement on what is the outcome that’s wanted.”

“If you want western support, you have to play by western expectations of the rules. Basic human rights need to be protected, basic democratic rights need to be ensured, and it’s not always easy, it’s not always simple, but in the long-term, it gets you that western support that you want.”

Kmiec acknowledged that many Kurds felt they were abandoned, especially following the end of the war against the Islamic State and the aftermath of the independence referendum, but the Canadian MP encouraged them not to lose hope.

There are “a lot of parliamentarians in different western countries who are still paying attention to Kurdish issues and what’s going on in the region in Kurdistan,” he said.

“We still care, and we’re still paying attention; we’re still pushing our governments to do more than what they’ve done in the past.”