The UK “can act and make it clear to the world” that atrocities committed by the Iraqi government against the Kurdish people should be recognised as genocide, a Conservative MP has said.
Nadhim Zahawi, who was born to Kurdish parents in Iraq, told the Commons that “the Iraqi Kurds endured a systematic military programme of discrimination, demonisation, removal and death” that could not be considered a war crime since “it was not a conflict – one side could not and did not fight back”.
“Recognising the Kurdish persecution as genocide will send a strong message to those totalitarian regimes around the world,” he added, opening a backbench business debate on 28 February 2013.
Meg Munn, Labour MP and chair of the all-party group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq, said “the scale of these atrocities is clear and not seriously challenged”.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the campaign group Kurdish Genocide Task Force, asserted it is “indisputable” that the removal of Saddam Hussein “saved the Kurdish nation from being destroyed by genocide…and brought about an independent, progressive free nation in the shape of Kurdistan”.
Winding up for Labour, shadow Foreign Office minister Ian Lucas cautioned that it would be “a big step” to pronounce what happened in Iraq a genocide.
“The appropriate approach is to work through international justice bodies,” Mr Lucas said. “We must work together to make sure the pain, suffering and grief that they have endured is not shared by another group of people ever again.”
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, in response to a point raised by Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, acknowledged that “with the wisdom of hindsight” the UK had been wrong to continue selling arms to Iraq in the 1980s.
Mr Burt said he recognised “it is clear that appalling atrocities were carried out against the Kurds” but stated there was no change in government policy.
Designating genocide is a “complex legal position”, the minister argued, and “not a casual decision to be made”.
Iraqi government forces launched a drive in 1987 and 1988 to reassert government control over Kurdish areas in the north. The campaign, dubbed “Anfal” or “spoils of war”, saw tens of thousands Kurds killed or misplaced