I SUPPORTED intervention in Iraq in the Parliamentary debate – intervention designed to help the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces against the mis-named “Islamic State” (IS), a barbaric terrorist group that glories in mass killing, abduction of women and children and propaganda videos of beheadings. I am glad that the overwhelming vote authorised the Royal Air Force to conduct operations against them.
During the debate, some MPs referred to the 2003 invasion of Iraq in wholly negative terms, which fails to tell the full story. The invasion was welcomed by very many Iraqis, particularly the Kurdish people and the Shia Muslims living in the south. It has been estimated that since the 1960s a million Iraqis “disappeared”, presumed murdered during the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
Telling a joke about him or his family could get you mutilated or killed – one MP from the Shia community told me how her brother had his tongue cut out for telling a joke in the wrong company. In the Kurdish north around 4,500 villages were wiped out, and a million Kurds fled. The late 1980s saw 182,000 lives lost – and in 1988 came the horrific use of chemical weapons at Halabja.
The British parliament, along with many others, recognised that this campaign involved genocide against the Kurdish people. Is it any wonder that in 2003 Kurdish forces, known as the Peshmerga, fought alongside the UK and the US in the liberation of Iraq?
Over the last few months, we have witnessed the attempt at another genocide by the IS against the Yazidis, an ancient religious and ethnic community. Vian Dakhil, Iraq’s only Yazidi MP and someone I know well, pleaded for the Iraqi parliament to help as the Yazidi people fled the terror.
Vian herself was injured in a helicopter crash as she tried to help. Although many were rescued, they lost their homes and their security. Unknown numbers perished. At least 1,000 women and children have been kidnapped by IS and their whereabouts are unknown.
I am deeply troubled that the international community was so slow to act. The United Nations doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect” counted for little during the past few months in western and northern Iraq. The only people to help were the Kurds from the Kurdistan region of Iraq and from the north-east of Syria.
I am the co-chair of the Kurdistan region of Iraq All Party Parliamentary Group and have had the opportunity to visit several times. I have seen the region develop into a thriving, open society.
This is under attack from IS. As the Iraqi army fled from Mosul in June, the Peshmerga stood and defended their region. I am sorry that the British Government did not give support to the Kurdistan regional government much earlier than they did.
Kurdistan has opened its heart and arms to the many refugees who have fled to its territory. Many escaped from sectarian fighting and car bombs in Iraq, and in the last three years, many fled from the conflict in Syria. During the past two months, the number of refugees has soared as Sunni, Shia, Christians, Yazidis and other minorities fled from the IS advance. The unstinting support and protection given to these refugees is a credit to the Kurdish people.
I was able to visit a refugee camp near Dohuk in northern Iraq, not far from the border with Syria. There were 75,000 refugees living there – effectively a small town – with another 75,000 living in the local area amongst the host community.
The recent influx means that a region with a population of five million people has taken in over 1.4 million refugees. There is a desperate need for much more support from the international community.
It is right to respond to the request of the democratic Iraqi government to provide assistance, but to imagine that IS will recognise a border on a map is a nonsense. The situation in Syria has to be part of the planning in taking on IS.
When Parliament met last year to discuss action against the regime for using chemical weapons against its citizens, some were against doing anything because it would make things worse. At that time, the estimate of the dead in Syria was 100,000. We did not intervene and the dead number more than 200,000.
I support the UK being part of the military coalition in Iraq. However, only by recognising that the situation in Syria led to the success of IS in Iraq will the international community find ways to deal with both situations.
Meg Munn is the Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley.