In 1991, Saddam Hussein’s troops, having been pushed out of Kuwait, turned their guns once again on the Kurdish people in northern Iraq and on the Shiite people in the south. The Kurds, having suffered genocide and chemical bombardment at the hands of the regime, fled to the mountains bordering Turkey and Iran. The humanitarian crisis that followed, as an estimated 2.5million people tramped through the mud and snow enduring starvation and death of their children and elderly, was broadcast on Britain’s televisions.
Thanks to Prime Minister John Major and others, Britain, France, Turkey and the United States established a no-fly-zone over Kurdistan and a safe-haven to which the millions of tired, bereaved and devastated families could return. The British armed forces intervened under the UN to establish camps to which the refugees could return before finally returning to their homes.
Those daring acts of compassion saved thousands of lives and the people of Kurdistan have never forgotten who it was that came to their aid. President Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region, has personally thanked Sir John Major for the role he played in bringing about the safe haven.
Now, 18 years after those events, we find the Conservative party struggling to give voice to a meaningful policy towards the Kurdistan Region and Iraq as a whole. This may be due to concern that the party should distance itself from the mistakes that were made in Iraq after the war of 2003, which has left a bitter taste for those who supported the war and were horrified by the mistakes that ensued. While this is understandable – the Conservative party supported the invasion – is it not time for the party to move on and to tackle Iraq and engage with its people?
Surely it would be in the party’s and the UK’s interests for British politicians and the country as a whole to recognise that whatever views they may hold on the invasion or liberation, Iraq is an important strategic player in the Middle East and the world. The country is rich in oil, gas and other minerals. It has a large population compared with other states in the region and will in the future reclaim its place as a key policymaker and trade destination in the Middle East.