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Sykes-Picot denied the Kurds a nation - there is still time to reverse that injustice

It was a different age and one that has gone, but our involuntary incorporation into what became Iraq has been a source of great misery for the Kurds.

You'll be hearing a lot this week about Sykes-Picot, a secret agreement signed by British and French diplomats 100 years ago. It aimed to carve up the collapsing Ottoman Empire between France and Britain but was overtaken by events. For us Kurds it has come to symbolise the decision to deny Kurds nationhood and to force us to be part of Iraq.

It was a different age and one that has gone. But our involuntary incorporation into what became Iraq has been a source of great misery for the Kurds. It may have looked like a good idea from afar for the Kurds to balance Shia and Sunni communities and for our more mountainous, water-rich and verdant geography to complement the hotter deserts of the south.

But the Kurds, who are not Arabs, were never really welcome as equals in the new Iraq. We were either neglected or repressed. That repression led to Saddam Hussein's genocide at the end of the 20th century and our successful eviction of the genocidal dictatorship from most of the Kurdistan Region in 1991.

We only survived the Baathist backlash because Britain and other great powers set up a no-fly zone under which we managed to begin building a new autonomous region. Yet when Iraq was liberated, as we see it, from Saddam Hussein we decided to throw in our lot with Iraq and seek to make it work.

We helped put together functioning governments in Baghdad and Kurds supplied people for key posts such as Foreign Minister and President, as is still the case for a largely ceremonial position. We achieved a decent democratic and federal constitution in 2005 and it was endorsed by 80% of the people in a referendum. But it has been more like Stalin's Soviet constitution of 1936 - great in theory and ignored in practice. Time and time again, we have been denied our rights. We never received our share of the budget and arms and training were denied to our Peshmerga, although officially recognised as part of the Iraqi defence forces.

All our budget entitlements were halted in 2014 at the whim of the then Iraqi Prime Minister, who even denied Turkish ministers the right to visit our capital, Erbil on one occasion. We tried to get a revenue-sharing agreement back and the deal worked for a few weeks. We now rely on our own independent oil exports and are trying to diversify the economy so we are not so reliant on oil whose prices have plummeted.

A decade of broken promises by Baghdad has now been added to nearly a century of repression. It is also clear that Iraq fell apart in 2014 when Daesh suddenly captured a third of Iraq. We had been warning for many months of the rise of the extremist organisation in Mosul. We specifically warned the Iraqi Prime Minister that it was about to be taken but he told us to mind our own business.

We will help take back Mosul but how that is done will be very important in reassuring Sunnis that they will not once again be ignored or repressed by a Shia dominated government in Baghdad - the cause of disaffection which drove many Sunnis into thinking that Daesh was the least worse option than Baghdad.

We must be candid and realistic. We tried to make Iraq work but were spurned. We certainly want to be independent not just to fly a flag but because sovereignty will give us more ability to solve our basic problems. But we will still share a space with the rest of Iraq and insist that the divorce is amicable. It is time for Kurdistan Region and Federal Government to honestly start negotiating this issue, and we will need to enter into agreements with Baghdad on water, economics, security and much more.

We may even end up in some sort of confederation. We may well find that we get on better as neighbours rather than reluctant subjects. Anniversaries have a neatness in history but the reality is bound to be more complex. It will take time and we will ask our friends in Britain, Europe, America, Turkey and Iran to help us. But the game is up for the old Iraq as much as the days when diplomats could decide the fates of other peoples at the stroke of a pen.

Karwan Jamal Tahir is Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK. He tweets @KarwanTahir

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Technology can change the world – provided we have a measure of democracy, too

You could say we need a technological revolution for the many, not the few. 

Over the last five decades, the American Consumer Technology Association’s annual jamboree has grown to become the world’s largest tech show: attracting over 190,000 visitors and 4000 companies, with 7,460 reporters filing 59,969 reports over the course of four days in Las Vegas. In the process, it has achieved an almost mythical status – from unveiling the first-ever home VCR (Philips 1970) to Bill Gates’ resignation from Microsoft in 2006, and has included cameo appearances by the likes of Jay-Z and Barack Obama.

As a fully qualified geek (Electrical Engineering degree, 20 years in tech – before it was cool) and the shadow minister for Industrial Strategy Science and Innovation, I couldn’t resist seizing the opportunity to venture to Las Vegas while on a family holiday to the US’ west coast; hoping, against all hope, to see the progressive future of a technology-enabled, more equal world.

If only.

But I did emerge with a renewed conviction that technology can solve our problems – if we use it to do so.

In some ways, the most remarkable thing about the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was the way it demonstrated how technology has taken over our entire world. CES was a car show in the middle of a health show, which happened to be around the corner from a home show, which was adjacent to a sports show that was next to an entertainment show. Just about every sector was represented.

Nissan had a huge stand for their new autonomous vehicle showcasing the ‘Brain-Vehicle Interface’, as did Philips for their new sleep enhancing devices, and Huawei for their connected home. In 2018, technology can be used as an enabling platform to aid just about everything. And in a world where near enough everything is politicised, technology is very political.

But this was not evident from CES: not from the stands, neither the keynotes, nor the participants. There were few speakers from civic society nor governments, and those politicians who attended – such as Donald Trump’s Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao – talked only of their ‘excitement’ at the sunlit uplands technology could guide us to. The show existed in its own, largely self-sufficient world. While Ford created an entire street to show off its autonomous cars, there was no reference to who would pay for the road, pavements, lamp-posts and guttering if only robots worked.

And as a politician rather than an engineer, it is the societal impact that matters most to me. One realisation brought about by my visit is that I have greatly under-estimated the consequences of driverless vehicles: communications, parking, urban layout, and public transport are all likely to be deeply impacted. The automobile industry is working to position cars as your personal moving office-cum-front room-cum-hotel-cum-lecture theatre; where you can work, maintain personal and social relationships, unwind and learn – all while going from A to B. How will crowded, under-funded public transport compete?

At the show, Nissan launched its Brain-to-Vehicle technology, which reads the driver’s brainwaves to determine when the car’s intelligence should intervene. Although I'm personally unsure about the inclusion of brain surveillance in the driving experience, it may well be the next logical step as we increasingly give up our data in return for ‘free’ services. Certainly the anthropologists at Nissan argued that this was the very definition of assisted artificial intelligence.

Fortunately, autonomous vehicles are not the only way to get around. Improvements in battery technology mean that – between electric scooters capable of folding away into airplane carry on, and electric bikes with the power of motorcycles – personal mobility has become a market in its own right.

Personal health and sport were also big themes at the event. Philips has brought back the night cap, which not only looks far more fetching than the Victorian original, but is now also capable of lulling you gently into a slumber before monitoring the quality of your sleep. Orcam’s discrete camera-glasses for the visually impaired can read text and recognise people, whilst L’Oréal’s UV Sense is a sensor small enough to be worn comfortably on your fingernail that detects ultraviolet exposure.

One aspect of the show that has remained largely unchanged is its demographics. Whilst the glossy adverts on the walls depict women and BME people using technology, those actually designing it were, with a few exceptions, male and largely white. As always, there were no queues for the women’s loos and while there were not any ‘F1 girls’, the gender balance was improved largely by attractive women, who were not engineers, being employed to ‘explain’ technological advances.

Weeks later, the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos was also dominated by technology, which the Prime Minister used as a fig leaf to cover the absence of vision for Brexit. Lacking in both the CES and Davos, was any sense that the interests of the many had any significant stake in what was going on. We need a Labour government to help change that.

Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and the shadow minister for industrial strategy.