Dutch-Kurdish cooperation is excellent: Dutch Consul General

"We were partners even before the battle against ISIS was here, because there have been long standing relationships already for a couple of decades.”
Dutch Consul General Jaco Beerends to Erbil (Photo: Wladimir van Wilgenburg/Kurdistan 24)
Dutch Consul General Jaco Beerends to Erbil (Photo: Wladimir van Wilgenburg/Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Dutch Consul General Jaco Beerends to Erbil told Kurdistan 24 on Wednesday that Dutch-Kurdish cooperation is excellent and underlined that the large number of Dutch Kurds also makes “our job a bit easier here.”

“We have a lot of ties, especially because there's a big group of people here that have an affiliation with the Netherlands and that is because in the times when the Kurdish people were very much under pressure from the Saddam regime, many people fled to the Netherlands and many of them returned.”

According to the former Dutch ambassador to Baghdad there are around 7,000 Kurds with Dutch passports in the Kurdistan Region.

“We meet daily people that are in business in government that have either a Dutch passport or have, like we say it's sometimes an orange heart, they care for the country,” Beerends said.

“This partnership goes along many different parallel ways. It's not only about economics, it's not only about military cooperation. It is a tie that for one thing came from the fact that in a time of need, many Kurdish people fled to the Netherlands and we are now I think more in a phase where we cooperate also business wise in a way that is mutually beneficial to both the KRI (Kurdistan Region) and the Netherlands.”

Read More: Kurdistan Region’s stability remains important for the Netherlands: Defense Minister

On Tuesday, the Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren visited the Kurdistan Region and met with PM Masrour Barzani. She was the third Dutch Minister to visit the Kurdistan Region this year. Earlier this year also the Dutch Minister Justice Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius visited the Kurdistan Region and the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Liesje Schreinemacher.

“We visited the Prime Minister, kak Masrour Barzani, and here he emphasized the fact that we are definitely partners. We were partners even before the battle against ISIS was here, because there have been long standing relationships already for a couple of decades.”

Dutch Military Mission

He added that the Dutch currently have around 120 to 130 Dutch soldiers in Erbil. However, the Dutch are planning to end their force protection mission in the Erbil airport by May. “They will slowly be phased out,” he said. “And then another coalition partner will take over their task there.”

However, this does not mean the Dutch advisory mission as part of the coalition will end and the Dutch also support the Peshmerga reform process, as part of the Multi-National Military Advisory Group (MNAG), together with the US, UK and Germany.

Until now there are still forces from the Kurdistan Democratic Party's (KDP) Unit 80 and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's (PUK) Unit 70 that are not part of the Ministry of Peshmerga.

“We still do invest also in Peshmerga reform, and we do that through an advisory mission so we have a particular high ranking military official here that advises in this process of Peshmerga reform and we will continue to do so we will continue that work for the coming time.”

Political tensions

However, he added that the process is not going well due to political tensions between the PUK and KDP.  “We are not in an easy phase at this moment. The reform, of course, needs two sides. We're talking here about a process where we're not only reforming a military structure, but we're also trying to bring together two sides of Peshmerga forces (the 70s and 80s forces).”

He said this task of uniting the different Peshmerga forces is getting more difficult when there are tensions between the two ruling political parties. “It gets more difficult to execute this task when you try to form them into one organizational structure.”

“We ask the regional authorities here to be aware of the fact that if we want to work with you, we need unity,” he underlined. “The politics of this military reforming process is essential in getting the job done,” he added.

However, he said they are still positive about the future. “We're pretty sure that we can together with the MOPA (Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs) make a difference.”

“I think both parties know that there is a bigger cause here, when there is a way forward because both sides need each other. They need each other for one to have to be able to have a dialogue with Baghdad,” he added. “They need each other to secure the safety and security of Kurdish people.”

However, he doesn’t believe the two partisan forces will be united by next year. “I think that's impossible.”

Nevertheless, he mentioned that PM Masrour Barzani also showed his good intentions in the way forward and added that many Peshmerga brigades were integrated already. “We have a vision of reaching a benchmark in 2025, today I also heard from people I talked to from the other side (PUK) that they have the exact same intention they want to proceed with this process.”

“They think it is essential to bring Kurdistan as a region further. So yeah, I sincerely think it will happen but I don't think that will happen overnight. There are quite some challenges that need to be won. So, it will be a long process. I think the process will go slow, but in the end, I think this is the way forward, definitely.”

Agriculture

He also added that the prominent sector that the Dutch “work together with the authorities here is indeed like you said, the agricultural sector. We have a number of things that we have been doing there for years and we still do.” The Dutch also this year were represented at the AgroPack in Erbil.

He said that the “Netherlands is the second largest exporter in the world of vegetables and the fourth largest exporter of fruits, and we are not a really big country. We do have more people than live in Kurdistan, we are about 17 million, but the size of the country is the same as the size of Kurdistan.”

He added that the Netherlands is very similar in terms of the surface of the country. “So that means that on this small surface, the Netherlands did very well in production of vegetables and fruits and we do that because of the fact that we have innovated a lot in this field.”

“So we're trying to assist the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) as well with some of these policies: How do you get a sector of the ground and how do you get the framework in place to have the sector developed”.

Read More: Kurdish company owner says Dutch-Kurdish cooperation helps Kurdistan’s agricultural sector

The Dutch have also supported potato farming in the Kurdistan Region. Last year, along with PM Masrour Barzani, the Dutch opened a big potato factory in Duhok, worth 5.8 million Euros, jointly funded by the Dutch Foreign Ministry and Bashar Mushir Agha Goran’s Kurdistan-Holland Company.

The Dutch Consul General Beerends underlined that potatoes use less water than wheat. “If you grow wheat, you need a lot more irrigation.”

“Water is of course going to be very scarce and when you look at climate change and how it affects Iraq as a whole country but also include the sun of course, water is going to be a big problem.”

“Some people say that water will be the gold of the next century because it's going to be scarce in some regions and if you are able to produce foods using less water, you are definitely on the cutting edge of what is needed.”