A member of the Scottish Parliament joined a delegation of British MPs to the Kurdistan Region last week in order to meet local leaders and explore ways to strengthen political, cultural and economic ties with the Region.
The delegation, which consisted of members from Westminster’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Kurdistan Region and the Scottish Parliament's Cross-Party Middle East Group, visited Erbil, Suleimaniah, and several other towns in an effort to gain a deeper understanding of the political, social and economic realities in Kurdistan.
Stephen Metcalfe, a member of the UK Parliament, said, “This was my first visit to the Kurdistan Region and we met all those we wished to including the main parties, the Opposition and President Barzani. I can see clear evidence of good economic and political progress and will join my colleagues in our group to encourage further British trade and investment.” “I think that encouraging direct flights from the UK is a pressing priority among many issues we will be raising back in the UK,” he concluded.
In their meeting with President Barzani on Thursday, the MPs confirmed that their visit to the Region had been successful and said that they would report the progress and development that they witnessed here back to their respective governments at home.
President Barzani welcomed the delegation to the Region and said that he hoped mutual relations would develop further between the UK and Kurdistan, and in response to some of the MPs’ questions regarding the former regime’s genocide against the Kurdish people, the President said that the genocide needs to be recognized globally in order to help prevent these crimes from happening again.
In a meeting with the Head of the KRG Department of Foreign Relations on Monday, Minister Falah Mustafa said, “The United Kingdom has been one of the most important foreign contributors to progress and development in Kurdistan. From cultural events like the recent UK film festival in Erbil, to their partnership and assistance in the academic sector, to capacity building and training in the government through organizations like the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the National School of Government, our people have benefited greatly from their presence here.”
Minister Mustafa also said that he hoped that both sides could further improve their coordination and cooperation in other areas as well. “We could both benefit from further developing our already strong economic and commercial relations,” he said, adding that the rule of law in the Region could also be further advanced through additional training programmes and institutional support.
Commenting about the visit as a whole, the APPG administrator Mr Gary Kent said, “This was my eighth visit in six years and it is good to see many positive changes. We also know that there are continuing problems which need to be tackled. More and more people in the UK know where the Kurdistan Region is and we are hopeful that they will come to the Region to see things for themselves. We were inspired by our meeting with students and teachers at a school in Suleimaniah and by news of the forthcoming visit by students from Britain. Such visits are commonplace elsewhere, but we hope that it will soon not be seen as remarkable that British business students and tourists visit Kurdistan.”
Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the KRG Representative to the UK, said, "We welcome this visit by the Westminster and Scottish parliamentarians as part of our continuing programme of exchanges with the UK which last year included several visits by KRG ministers to Scotland, Northern Ireland and England."
She added, "Our relations with the Scottish and Westminster parliaments and governments are on a good footing and we look forward to building on that even more in the coming year through trade, cultural and diplomatic exchanges."
During their six-day visit to Kurdistan, the delegation also met with a number of other officials, including: the President of Diwan at the Council of Ministers, Mr Fawzi Hariri; the Minister of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs, Mr Sabah Ahmed Mohamed; as well as political party representatives (including opposition leaders) and several local administrators. They also paid visits to schools, community centres, non-governmental organisations, as well as businesses and developments.
The visiting delegation was led by Robert Halfon MP. The other visitors from Westminster were Stephen Metcalfe MP, Fabian Hamilton MP, and Gary Kent, administrator of the Kurdistan All-Party Parliamentary Group and a Parliamentary Advisor to the KRG UK Representation in London. The two members from the Scottish Parliament were Hanzala Malik MSP, and his assistant Umbreen Khalid.