Keeping Iraq Together May Be A Fading Hope (OPINION)
By GARY KENT
Parliamentary debate about potential British airstrikes also concerns de facto partition at home and abroad. Will Labour formally split before or after the world recognises that Iraq and Syria probably cannot continue in their current form?
First, David Cameron's government must win enough MPs to agree that RAF jets fly over Syria and help crush Daesh. Cameron's campaign of persuasion began with a detailed Commons statement where he calmly answered questions from 103 MPs.
He emphasised solidarity with France and that action is legal. UK jets would make a difference, the priority is destroying Daesh but Assad's departure must follow.
He said no British boots on the ground are proposed and reconstruction would follow, with the pledge of at least £1 billion from Britain for stabilisation and reconstruction.
He won sceptical Conservatives over but Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn was not swayed although most of his Shadow Cabinet seem convinced. Labour has yet to decide to support or oppose Cameron or allow its MPs to vote freely. Either way, Labour is split and will lose credibility with rebellions, resignations or merely muddle.
There will be a Commons debate and possible crunch vote next week. Labour MPs are consulting party members while Corbyn's allies muscle MPs with the implicit threat of the sack if they back Cameron.
Labour opponents claim that bombing hasn't worked in Iraq where Daesh lost some but won other ground. But airstrikes saved the Kurdistan Region and helped liberate Kobane and Sinjar, and Daesh has lost one third of its Iraqi gains.
They also say that 'We must also be careful that we do nothing to increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks at home.' Seven terror plots have been foiled and Britain is already attacking Daesh in Iraq and supporting action in Syria. To argue that foreign and security policy should be based on the reaction of a fascist 'caliphate' means shutting up shop as a power of credibility or influence. It is craven appeasement.
Kurdistani views should count and KRG High Representative to the UK, Karwan Jamal Tahir is briefing MPs. He says Iraqi Kurds 'used to say we have no friends but the mountains but over the last 25 years our friendship with Britain and the wider West has changed that for the better.' He thanks Britain for the no-fly zone and safe haven from 1991 until 'your decision to help overthrow the vile dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in 2003 allowed a new Iraq to emerge.'
He adds that when Kurdistan was attacked by Daesh last August 'Swift airstrikes by Britain, America and France and the actions of our own Peshmerga saved us again. We could have been overrun by Daesh without these airstrikes.' The senior diplomat concludes that 'The British Parliament must make its own decisions.
We certainly need your help on many fronts and ask that you consider our urgent needs in making your decisions. British airstrikes in Syria as well as Iraq are, however, welcomed by us as part of a wider strategy to defeat Daesh.'
There is little discussion so far of the viability of Iraq and Syria, even as we seek to reinstate the border between them. Labour's John Woodcock, who was on our recent delegation to Kurdistan, urged Cameron to 'have the courage to say that the Abadi Government are far from being a great improvement on their predecessor and that the political settlement in Iraq is broken' and any long-term solution requires recognising that and rebuilding Sunni self-government. That may also imply an independent Kurdistan.
Labour MP and Kurdophile, Dave Anderson asked Cameron to agree with former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN, that ultimately the world will have to redraw the map and create a Sunni state in Iraq and Syria.
Cameron was less categorical about the One Iraq policy: 'I hope that that will not be necessary...we should try to respect the territorial integrity of those countries...many countries around the world manage to hold together despite having ethnic and religious differences within them. '
It would be a slight counsel of despair to believe that we have to end up with a Sunnistan, a Shi’astan and a Kurdistan. We should try to do what those countries want, which is to help to bring them together.'
That may be a fading hope. Sunnis may not break with the jihadists without a new deal. We already have de facto partition and if that extends to and knocks Labour out of contention then Cameron and his Conservative successors in the coming decade will have to manage the demise of Sykes-Picot. A century ago Picot apparently signed their agreement in ink and Sykes in pencil. Let's hope any unravelling will not be written in more blood.
Cameron rightly says the number one issue is defeating Daesh. He outlined a solid and clear package of proposals to cope with a complex crisis and is winning support, which may confirm deep Labour splits. The coming week in Westminster will be fraught and decisive.
* Gary Kent is the director of All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). He writes this column for Rudaw in a personal capacity.
The address for the all-party group is firstname.lastname@example.org The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.