British Secretary: Syrian Kurds Should Be Included In Syrian Opposition

By WLADIMIR VAN WILGENBURG – RUDAW  22.2.2013 – ERBIL, Kurdistan region — The British Secretary of State for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt visited Baghdad and Erbil in a tense time in the region to enhance cooperation between Iraq and the UK. Burt told Rudaw in an interview in Erbil that the British government thinks that the Syrian Kurds should be included in the opposition to strengthen the legitimacy of the opposition.

On Twitter, Burt Tweeted from Baghdad that over the next 30 years Iraq will become very wealthy and influential. “It is crucial that all Iraqis have a stake in this new wealth and a peaceful future,” he said. However, he also saw difficulties.

“All [politicians] I spoke to want to overcome differences, but [are] few willing to take 1st step. Compromise needed – democracy cannot be zero sum.” After leaving Baghdad, he said it was “clear that divisions between communities remain and many feel excluded from politics.”

What was the main goal of your visit?

The main reason to visit Iraq was to co-chair the first meeting of the ministerial trade council. This was an initiative by Foreign Minister Zebari following meeting with the UK foreign secretary last September where they believed it was useful to create an even deeper contact between the United Kingdom and Iraq around as much around trade and business and other issues as well. So, the purpose of my visit was to co-chair that. It gave an opportunity for business to directly talk to ministers in Baghdad about issues facing them. This is a trade council off course for all of Iraq. Because our interests are much wider. I am the fourth British minister to visit in six months. And like my colleagues I have been to Erbil, other colleagues have been to Basra to emphasize the relationship we have with Iraq as a whole. That was the principle purpose. Second purpose was for political discussions and meetings with people in Baghdad and Erbil to discuss issues facing Iraq at a sensitive time and also the regional issues.

 On Twitter you said that “Clear that divisions between communities remain and many feel excluded from politics “. What did you exactly mean with that?

I think we are all well aware of the current tensions in at present in relation to Iraq that are well covered. The message from the United Kingdom is firstly that the details of resolving these matters is very much a sovereign issue for those in Iraq. Secondly to say particularly in fledgling democracies, the institutions of democracies need to be build up. And one of those is to remember to engage in discussion.  There are very few issues that cannot be solved by continually to talk them through and each side to be prepared to make the sort of concessions that would allow things to move forward. So yes, that was our view. But yes, we recognize the tensions in society here.

That’s also what you talked about with KRG here?


The US  government gave a negative advice for Exxon mobile to come here [in Erbil]. What was your advice to BP in Iraq?

I think I would be way exceeding my brief if I was to reveal any advice or information we gave to a commercial company in confidence. Suffice is to say that our role as foreign and common wealth office is for those ask advice of companies to do it as straightforwardly as we can, but allow UK commercial companies perfectly properly to make their own decisions and we have to give the information that makes them to understand the complications of any decision which they make. And we believe we have quite properly done this and it is up to BP to make its own decisions on what it does.

 Are you optimistic about the future of Iraq after you spoke with the different politicians?

Financially, and as far as prosperity is concerned, anyone would be optimistic about Iraq. It has extraordinary potential for natural resources: oil and gas and resources will not be an issue. What Iraq has to demonstrate is that it is able to handle those resources and that it has a commercial infrastructure able to cope with this wealth that is to ensure that it has an effective banking system. And that it has a legal system, a rule of law able to deal with commercial disputes and alike. And it needs to demonstrate it is an easy place to do business. It needs to look to some barriers to do business. But all countries have issues and are we broadly optimistic? Yes, we are. We talked to politicians who understand the issues and understand in a sensitive time such as this that the option must always be to talk. And we hope the politicians will follow this through and that accordingly democratic institutions will be strengthened. But there are some difficult choices for Iraqi leaders to take we have to consider that.

What do you think the role Erbil plays in the current political climate?

Off course, it is highly significant. The Kurdistan region is doing well. It is coherent. Its stable. And plainly is effected what happens in the rest of the country and obviously though its engagement of government intends to play a full part in the future of Iraq. But again it would be naïve to ignore the tensions and difficulties between Erbil and Baghdad, but again strong determination is always to talk this through a constitutional fashion, and that’s what we detect.

Do you also know there is a debate the recognition of the Kurdish genocide in the British parliament. What is happening there?

 The United Kingdom position is that as a government we do not take a decision on genocide. We follow the decisions of international court and their rulings. And we would follow such a ruling in a case if genocide would be declared here, the United Kingdom would follow and accept that ruling. We recognize that Saddam Hussein’s regime affected many people and that the Kurdish region certainly suffered incredibly pain. And we look at Halabja massacre with deep horror. However, in ration to a technical definition of genocide, that’s not a decision that the UK government takes. So we listen to the debate very carefully, but we will listen to an international court decision on the matter.

Did you also talk about addressing the issue Syrian refugees here? And the Domiz camp? Is the British government doing anything to help to local government here to help refugees?

We are the second largest international donor to refugee aid and humanitarian aid to Syria. We donate to the UN ad follow the UN program. It will all be channeled through the UN. But we know we support refugees who left Syria throughout the region and we acknowledge absolutely the support that been given in Iraq to now probably near 80,000 refugees and support flowing in to Syria for people try to support people there. The United Kingdom is playing its part. But we believe the most important thing that can happen is that the conflict has got to come to an end. We back the special UN envoy [Lakhdar] Brahimi efforts to secure a political transition. Assad must go and it must stop the killings of its people. The sooner this stops the better. And the Syrian people should get a chance to a democratic future.

What do you think about the fact that Kurds are not part of the Syrian opposition?

The United Kingdom is very keen that the Syrian Kurds do join the Syrian National Opposition Coalition. We feel the coalition would be strengthened if Kurds are represented there. We also feel it would be a good thing for Kurdish aspiration to be taken in to account in the coalition. In our efforts to date with coalition representatives we have urged them to recognize the different needs and aspirations of minorities in Syria including the Kurdish population. So we feel a combination of coalition leaders listening and in cooperating that and Kurdish leaders sit down as part of the coalition and we feel that would be good progress in building up the legitimacy of the opposition in Syria so that they are in the position for the political transition encouraged by the UN.