He watched as they uncorked several bottles of Château Margaux, a wine that costs anything from £200 a bottle to £1,200, depending on the vintage.
‘We’re sitting there drinking the Château Margaux and a minister says to me: “We don’t have enough money to pay our Peshmerga.” ’
The dinner had both members of the KDP and the rival PUK present — it’s no surprise that the street protests are directed in part at the whole political class as much as any one party.
Diplomats refer delicately to ‘transparency issues’ — that is, corruption.
There has yet to be a ‘Kurdish spring’, says Professor Stansfield. President Barzani has seized the opportunity presented by Isis, promising to go ahead with a referendum on Kurdish independence.
This might have been an attempt to distract people from their economic misery — or he might have been acting on the long-held and deep desire of Kurds for the safety of their own state.
Regardless, western governments hope he is not serious, because they have always insisted on the territorial integrity of Iraq. ‘This leaves British policy in a shambles,’ says Professor Stansfield.
Iraq, though, is simple compared with Syria.
There, the US-led coalition is bombing in aid of a Syrian Kurdish militia called the YPG, the most effective ground force against Isis.
But the YPG are in a tacit alliance with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. They are advancing not just against Isis but against a range of rebel groups, including some armed by the Americans.
In Syria, the US is involved in a proxy war against itself.
The Turks — whose chief fear is not Isis but Kurdish nationalism — have been shelling the advancing YPG. Which means that the US is backing both a Nato ally and the militia that ally is attacking.
The YPG, for its part, may not be too keen on Kurdish independence in Iraq, because they hate President Barzani — who would be father of this new nation — and are allied to the rival PUK.
The YPG is more concerned about Turkey than Iraq, which is not surprising given that it is effectively the same organisation as the PKK, the Kurdish nationalist group inside Turkey.
Because the PKK is internationally proscribed as a terrorist organisation, Britain and other western governments have to pretend the two — the PKK and the YPG — are different.
That is a fiction, as Iraq is itself these days, and Syria too.
But Iraq is a necessary fiction. The alternative might be truly bloody ‘sectarian cleansing’. One Sunni tribal leader told me he feared the genocide of millions of Sunnis in Baghdad.
The truth is that both Iraq and Syria long ago ceased to exist as nations. ‘Iraq is broken,’ says Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman.
‘People talk about, “Oh the Kurds want to break up Iraq…” First of all, it’s broken already, and second, we didn’t break it. It was broken from the day it was created. It’s never worked as a country.’
The Kurds are putting that belief into action in the disputed territory of their future border.
Consumed by the battle against Isis, all that western governments can do is to avert their eyes.