PM Barzani's UK visit puts Kurdistan on the map: APPG Director

"It's a way of putting Kurdistan on the official map and allowing people in the UK to understand better what the Kurdistan Region is about."

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The recent visit of the Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani to the United Kingdom is a way of putting the Kurdistan Region on the map, the Director of the UK's All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kurdistan (APPG) Gary Kent told Kurdistan 24 in a televised interview this week. 

"It's a way of putting Kurdistan on the official map and allowing people in the UK to understand better what the Kurdistan Region is about, and I would say that a lot of people appreciate that Kurdistan is a vital ally that is standing up for religious tolerance, and that it fought extremism," he said. 

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Kent clarified that, as the Director of the APPG, he doesn't speak for the British government. 

"I'm from an independent group, but we work as closely as we can with both the UK government and the Kurdistan Regional Government," he said. 

The group, which includes British MPs from different parties, was established in the British parliament to "promote friendship and understanding between the peoples of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and the UK."

According to Kent, the "people will remember the sacrifice of the Peshmerga in fighting Daesh (ISIS), our common enemy and in saving Kurdistan, the Peshmerga and the Kurdish people defended us. So these visits, I think, are vital for the UK as a trusted partner of both the Kurdistan Region and Iraq to help to overcome the problems that there are between Erbil and Baghdad."

Moreover, he said that since 2006 the professional staff in the UK Consulate in Erbil has increased. 

"It's bigger and more senior than representations in some sovereign countries, and I think that shows the importance to UK foreign policy of the Kurdistan Region because it is central to the Middle East," Kent said. 

He added that the Kurdistan Region is in "a very tough neighborhood, as I've said, but it has shown itself over the years capable of reform."

Kent noted that the position of women in the Kurdistan Region has improved, and there is religious tolerance. 

"It's a really important attribute that is not always seen in the Middle East, but you know, as I say, there has to be further and faster reform to encourage private businesses," he said. "I am very glad, for instance, to see that it now is taking less and less time to be able to set up your businesses because there needs to be a lot more private enterprise rather than just people working for the state, and that way you can help to reduce and eliminate corruption (wasta)."

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Kent highlighted the need for "a lasting settlement that allows the Kurds their rights under the 2005 Iraqi constitution, and that's never really been carried out in so many ways." 

"And the other thing I think is that British goods and services are very popular and respected," he said. "So I think we should be encouraging more investment, and all of that can help the Kurdistan Region to improve its own workings." 

Importance of reform

Kent underlined the need for reform in the Kurdistan Region. 

"Kurdistan making itself a better partner and fitter and more dynamic is the way that it can both stand up for itself and have a good partnership with the UK, which is a big diplomatic mission, and they're very senior," he said. 

Moreover, he pointed out that the US is building the biggest US consulate in the world near the Kurdistan 24 headquarters in Erbil.

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"I mean, there needs to be, as our reports have said over many years, and as the government there says, concerted economic and political reform, and far less reliance on oil and gas and state employment, more reliance on agriculture, and tourism, and light industry and projects that also help protect the environment," he said. 

"There's, for instance, a campaign for Halabja to be the first green city in Iraq," he added. "And environmental considerations are really very important because Iraq and Kurdistan are going to be, I think, really badly affected as time goes by by climate change." 

He also stressed "the need to improve and increase the rule of law" and noted that the UK "has been helping with judicial training." 

"There's the whole role of the Peshmerga, which needs to be professionalized and unified, and that's really one of the big priorities of the UK government," he said. 

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Kent also underlined that the UK government seeks a strong KRG within a unified Iraq. 

"And it can talk to both Erbil and Baghdad about the formation of the government which obviously is now taken, what was six, seven months and that needs to be accelerated," he said. "But in the end, I mean, the UK, the US, Germany, France, have been really very important allies, but they can't do the business of nation-building for the Kurds."

He noted that Prime Minister Masrour Barzani earlier said there is a lot of untapped potential in the relationship between the UK and the Kurdistan Region. 

"And I very much hope that all sorts of projects, the Green City perhaps in Halabja, encourage young people to get more involved, trying to help Kurdistan to punch above its weight diplomatically," he said. 

"There's a lot else happening in the world," he added. "I mean, obviously, Ukraine is a huge issue, and that's taken up a lot of bandwidth in the UK and others. But our friends in Kurdistan deserve not to be forgotten, and that's why they've come here."

"I think this is a great visit, and I hope that very much comes out of it for mutual benefit between my country, the UK, and yours."