Conflict & Justice

A Kurdish British lawmaker goes back to Iraq on a mission to boost support for the peshmerga

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Kurdish men display weapons for sale at an arms market in Irbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Credit:

Azad Lashkari/Reuters

Nadhim Zahawi has a unique perspective on the situation in Iraq: "I'm a Kurd by birth, a Tory by politics but above all I'm a British subject of Her Majesty the Queen."

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He's been that since before he was 10. That's when he and his family fled Iraq during Saddam Hussein's time in power. They settled in England, where he is now a member of parliament, representing the district of Stratford-on-Avon.

Zahawi no longer has family in Iraq, but he says he still has many friends there, including a front-line commander for the Kurdish peshmerga militia. That friend called him one night, saying he wasn't sure the Kurds could hold back fighters from ISIS. But then came news of American air strikes on the Sunni extremists, which enabled the peshmerga to advance and regain lost territory.

British MP Nadhim Zawahi of the Conservative Party

British MP Nadim Zawahi of the Conservative Party

Credit:

Wikimedia Commons

That foreign help is what the Kurdish fighters need the most, Zawahi says. They need equipment on the front lines, and, in the longer term, better training and coordination with Western allies.

What they don't want, says Zahawi, is "our boys and girls, our men and women — American or British — on the front, fighting the fight for them." The Kurds believe it's their fight, and one they can win if they have the proper weapons and training in place.

Zahawi is currently in Irbil, the city in northern Iraq that serves as the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region. Before recent clashes with ISIS, in which the jihadi group pushed close to the city, Irbil was considered one of the safest places in Iraq.  

Zahawi says he flew to Irbil to view the situation first hand and report back to the British parliament. He's hoping to secure more support, especially given the effect American air strikes and humanitarian aid have had.

"If you were here on the ground, you would see that the US air strikes have been the pivotal factor in helping the peshmerga, Kurdish forces, push ISIS back," he says.

But even in his ancestral home, he still feels the pull of his current one. "I pinch myself every morning ... that my father decided to flee Iraq in the '70s," Zahawi says. "I am humbled that [the people of Stratford-on-Avon] have chosen a Kurdish immigrant born in Baghdad as their representative."