Kurdish aspirations: FCO should help to prevent new conflicts

11 February 2018

There's a clear risk of new fighting in the Middle East, according to a Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Kurdish aspirations and the interests of the UK.

Past victories risk causing tomorrow's wars

Those who fought against Daesh shared an enemy, but differed in their vision for what should replace it. Now, as Daesh is defeated, past victories risk causing tomorrow's wars, says the Committee. The UK's interests are threatened by these conflicts, and examples involving Kurdish groups have already occurred.

As the Committee began work on the inquiry last October, after Iraqi Kurds held a referendum in favour of independence, there were clashes between their forces and those of the Iraqi federal government. January 2018 saw a Turkish-backed offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces in Afrin. This inquiry by the Foreign Affairs Committee looked at the factors underpinning these conflicts, and makes recommendations to the FCO about what the UK's response should be.

In Iraq, despite the depth of the differences between the federal government and the Kurds, a negotiated solution is possible. The Committee believes that in order to achieve this, and avert conflict, the FCO should formally offer to play an enhanced role in facilitating dialogue. It should also be prepared to criticise both sides when necessary.

However, the FCO had little to say to the Committee about signs of corruption or the curtailment of democracy in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). It also appeared reluctant to criticise Baghdad over the role of Shi'a militias connected with Iran, or restrictions placed on the KRI that will only likely drive the Kurds towards departure. The FCO should not shy away from speaking out over these issues.  

For Syria, the inquiry focused on the role of the People's Protection Units (YPG), whose forces are currently being targeted by Turkey in Afrin. During the war against Daesh the UK provided airstrikes to support the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of which the YPG is the preeminent component.

The Report therefore concludes that the YPG's expansion in northern and eastern Syria was assisted by UK military support. The group now controls more than a quarter of the country, and this has raised the risk of conflict.

Chair's comment

The Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat MP said:

"The UK has a stake in the conflicts examined by our Report. It should play a role in helping to resolve them. In Iraq, we praise the FCO's recent diplomatic work and recommend that it should offer itself in an enhanced capacity in the future. 

But, in Syria, we need to look past the acronyms to see a serious policy difference between our allies with clear implications for the UK. For Turkey, the YPG is a terrorist organisation connected to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), but for the United States, it has been a leading ally against Daesh in Syria and has received weapons from the US. Where does the UK stand?  

The FCO's view is currently incoherent. The evidence to our inquiry argued that this group was linked to the PKK, even though the nature and extent of these links is debatable. But the FCO seemed uncertain about whether these links existed at all. That is not credible, and the FCO should have a clear view of its own rather than repeatedly referring to 'reported' links."

Further information

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