ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani to Downing Street on Friday, telling him that friendship between their nations is of “enormous importance.”
“I want you to know that our friendship, our relationship with you, with the Kurdish public is of enormous importance and we value that direct communication and the increasing economic relationship,” Johnson told Barzani.
Barzani is in the UK on a three-day trip to discuss strengthening relations. He has met Britain’s Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
Johnson recalled fondly his visit to Erbil in 2015, when he met with British troops training the Peshmerga during the war against the Islamic State group (ISIS).
“I remember when I was in Erbil, I was allowed to drive a Jaguar. We had the biggest Jaguar Land Rover show of anywhere in that part of the world,” he said, and was pleased to hear from Barzani that the cars are still popular in the Kurdistan Region.
“It’s very popular and they are doing quite good business, not only in Kurdistan, but in all Iraq,” said Barzani.
Automotive trade between the UK and the Kurdistan Region is strong, according to Sardar Bebany, head of the leading automotive company in the Kurdistan Region, which buys around $100 million in vehicles annually.
After their meeting, Barzani tweeted he was “delighted” to meet Johnson and they discussed security issues and economic ties. “I appreciate the PM’s continued commitment to further strengthening ties with KR [Kurdistan Region] & Iraq,” he said.
The UK has helped to train the Kurdish Peshmerga during the war on ISIS and is part of a team of international allies working on major reforms of the Peshmerga ministry.
Defence Secretary Wallace said it was a “pleasure” to meet Barzani and discuss “our shared interest in regional stability.”
“The UK has an enduring commitment to the people of Kurdistan. We continue to support this through military education of Kurds and Iraqis in our outstanding institutions, building strong links between our militaries,” he tweeted.
Foreign Secretary Truss said she reassured Barzani of the British government’s commitment to stability of the Kurdistan Region, October 10, elections, and growing trade between them.
It was her first meeting with a foreign representative in her role as foreign secretary after a cabinet shuffle on Wednesday. Barzani said they discussed “ways to further improve our strong bilateral ties, UK’s support to KR [Kurdistan Region], regional stability, along with other pressing issues.”
The UK has been an important ally of the Kurdistan Region for decades. Thirty years ago, former British premier Sir John Major played a key role in declaring a no-fly zone in the north of Iraq, providing a safe haven from the Baath regime that allowed Kurds to gain some autonomy. An Erbil street was named after him in April.