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 British MP hails Iraqi Kurdistan as regional leader in religious tolerance  

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British MP hails Iraqi Kurdistan as regional leader in religious tolerance  13.1.2011  
By Namo Abdulla and Hawar Abdul-Razaq

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January 13, 2011

ERBIL-Hewlêr, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — Iraqi Kurdistan is a more “progressive” Muslim region than the other Muslim countries of the Middle East in regard to the treatment of minority religious groups, said a British lawmaker on Saturday.

“Let me tell you why I think Kurdistan is a progressive Muslim region,” said Robert Halfon, a member of the Conservative Party in the British parliament. “A few days ago, we were in Sulaimaniyah and we went to a quarter which was a Jewish quarter, and this quarter had a preservation order to preserve the quarter.”

“Tell me which other country in the Middle East has a Jewish quarter and they are preserving it,” added Halfon, who was part of a delegation of several British lawmakers and diplomats visiting the semiautonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Originally Jewish, Halfon is the member of parliament for Harlow in the southeast of England.                   

British lawmaker Robert Halfon sees Kurdistan as a more progressive Muslim region than the other Muslim countries in the Middle East - Photo: Sherwan Muhsim/Rudaw

He said he felt sympathy for the Kurds because, just like his own Jewish people, they had suffered a “holocaust,” referring to the 1988 gassing of 5,000 civilian Kurds in Halabja, which was just one part of the murder of more than 182,000 Kurds by Saddam Hussein in the late 1980s.

As a person who had lost family members in the Jewish Holocaust of Nazi Germany, Halfon said he would work “hard” with his other British colleagues to make the massacre of the Kurds recognized as “genocide.”

“After 1945, the world said genocide won’t happen again,” said Halfon. “But in 1988 it allowed it again.”

The British delegation visiting Kurdistan last week included Nadhim Zahawi, another Conservative Party lawmaker; Lord Clement-Jones, a member of the House of Lords; Gary Kent, a Labor Party parliamentary advisor,
www.ekurd.netwho lobbies for Kurds; Mathew Doyle, currently advisor to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair; and John McTernan, an opinion writer for The Scotsman and The Daily Telegraph.

Such a visit and other recent ones paid by more high-ranking world leaders to Kurdistan indicate the fact that, in the wake of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraqi Kurds have never enjoyed such heights in their international relations.

Kurdistan’s booming economy, of course, has always been one of the greatest factors in improving its foreign relations.

“There has been an economic miracle,” said the Conservative Party’s Zahawi, while describing Iraqi Kurdistan, which sits on giant oil and gas reserves.

The Kurdistan Regional Government estimates its oil reserves to be in the order of 45 billion barrels, nearly one third of Iraq’s total 143 billion barrels.

Although there are 45 international oil companies presently active in the Kurdish oil fields, British companies number only five. The British politicians said one of the aims of the visit was to increase the United Kingdom’s investment and trade volume in the semiautonomous region.

One of the initial steps, Lord Clement-Jones said, would be trying to establish the issuing of business visas at the UK Consulate in Erbil to Kurdish entrepreneurs who were interested in pursuing economic ties with the UK.

On Saturday, at about the time of Rudaw’s interview with the British politicians, the New York Times published a list of the top international tourist locations for 2011 – Kurdistan came in at number 34.   

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