It is a mark of the recent success of Kurdistan that the questions that reverberated in my mind as I travelled around were not about safety and security but about tourism. There are of course many people from the wider region who enjoy the sights and hospitality of Kurdistan but I would say that if international tour groups – I hope many from the UK – are not flocking to the Region in the coming years then something will have gone badly wrong. The tourism potential in Kurdistan is rich; the Region’s historical heritage extraordinary.
Suleymaniya Museum has some truly remarkable artefacts. And it was good to see the cream of UK archaeologists – from Reading University and Cambridge – so actively involved in working with Kurdish colleagues. But what cheered me most was seeing streams of schoolchildren being taken round the Museum. It is so important for young people to know the history of their land.
Of course, while in Kurdistan Region I was able to have a series of high-level political meetings with Presidents Barzani and Talebani, PM Nechirvan Barzani, a number of KRG ministers, senior party officials and Goran leader, Noshirwan Mustafa. Those discussions were and will remain private, but there was no disguising the frustration that Kurds feel about the current state of politics in Iraq. Further consultations and discussions across the political spectrum seem likely as Iraq tries to emerge from this difficult period. I have certainly taken away a strong message and will pass that on to London.
My hope is that the current disagreements do not detract from the obvious upbeat mood surrounding the return of Nechirvan Barzani as PM. We have a lot to offer commercially and business between UK and KRG is developing well.
We hope and expect that the new government will take up its responsibility to accept back Kurds who UK courts have ruled should not continue living in Britain illegally. The return of failed asylum seekers, criminals and others who cannot stay in UK is a normal part of international relations between countries and a regular, daily occurrence the world over.
For our part, we are working on several issues to expand relations with Erbil. I hope that we will be able to offer a fuller visa service by the end of the year. My colleagues in the UK Department for Transport hope in the next six months to be able to pave the way for commercial operators to fly direct from London to Erbil. I hope, too, that shortly London will make a decision to move the Consulate General in Erbil to new, more suitable premises.
The vibrancy, determination and optimism of the Kurdish people is infectious and a joy to behold.