WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – “The Kurdistan Region could serve as a model for the rest of Iraq,” Joey Hood, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, said on Tuesday.
Hood testified to the Middle East subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He then spoke with Kurdistan 24 and described US policy toward the Kurdistan Region.
“We want to see a viable and prosperous Kurdistan Region within a democratic, unified Iraq,” Hood said, before suggesting that Kurdistan could serve as an example for other parts of Iraq.
Kurdistan as Model for Iraq
Hood pointed to the Kurdistan Region’s achievements “in supporting investments to rebuild and to give people jobs and to create opportunities and to help the displaced go home.”
Hood cited American efforts to help the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) combat corruption, noting that the US has been working “for several years” with Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani on a project “to remove ghost workers and ghost employees from the pension rolls and from the salary rolls.”
“I think this can be very effective in providing a model for the rest of Iraq,” he stated.
Indeed, on Wednesday, the KRG Council of Ministers approved a draft reform bill which is to be submitted to the Kurdish parliament.
Before assuming his current position, Hood was charge d’affaires at the US embassy in Baghdad, so he is very familiar with the situation in Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region.
Hood’s remarks echoed those of Rep. Juan Vargas (D, California) who, during the hearing, recounted an earlier visit to Erbil, when the fight against the Islamic State still raged.
“It was interesting to me to see how hard-working the people were, even with that very difficult situation,” Vargas said. “They were doing quite well. You saw cranes everywhere,” although the fighting was not far away.
Lt. Gen. Jay Garner (US Army, Retired), who oversaw Operation Provide Comfort in 1991, and initially led the US effort at Iraqi reconstruction in 2003, spoke similarly.
“Kurdish Iraq is the Iraq we wanted to have. Kurdistan is what we wanted Iraq to be,” Garner earlier told Kurdistan 24.
US sees Demands of Iraqi Protestors as Legitimate
Hood also expressed sympathy with the aims of the protestors in Iraq, including the need to end corruption and to counter malign Iranian influence.
“The United States is intent on offering a positive partnership to the people of Iraq and their leaders who want to put Iraq first,” he told Kurdistan 24. Such an “unmatched partnership” includes “humanitarian assistance, stabilization assistance,” as well as support in business development and investment.
Hood also stressed the need for Iraqi leaders to rebuff Tehran, when it tries to interfere in Iraqi politics. They must “first and foremost, tell the likes of Qasim Soleimani [head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps], “No, thank you,’” he said. “We want a normal relationship with Iran.”
In his testimony to the sub-committee, Hood explained that “armed people,” backed by Iran, were “infiltrating the protests, particularly at night.”
“Even as I was coming in here, I saw reports of armed men going around and shooting in a particular area,” he continued.
Yet Hood thought that such brutal tactics were unlikely to succeed, as “this young generation is fed up, and they feel like they have nothing to lose.”
He also stressed that Iraqis understand that Iran is behind the attacks on protestors. “People refer to ‘the third party’ as a euphemism” for those who are responsible, “meaning it’s not the Iraqi government, and it’s not the Iraqi people,” Hood said.
Hood also defended US support for reconstruction and stabilization activities in Iraq. Describing an exchange with Anbar leaders, he explained, “I went out to Fallujah, and I saw these tribal shaykhs, sitting in a huge room like this and saying, ‘Yes, we wanted to kill you before, but now we want to be partners with you.’” So, “I said, ‘Okay. If that’s the bargain, we’ll be here to help.’”
Hood also related an extremely meaningful visit to “a half-destroyed monastery” in northern Iraq, ravaged by the so-called Islamic State.
“I can’t tell you what a moving feeling it is,” he told the congressional panel, being in such a place and “know that our money is going to restore that from what ISIS tried to do to it.”
“I’m reminded every single day from things like this that I wear—this is the Lords’ prayer in Aramaic,” Hood said, pointing to his wrist.
“To be sitting in a mass among Chaldean Christians and to hear them recite this prayer in the language of Jesus is just one of the most moving experiences you can have in your lifetime.”
“No Americans were killed in the Kurdistan Region”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R, Illinois), a member of the Middle East subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is an Air Force veteran who fought in Iraq.
After the hearing, Kinzinger also spoke with Kurdistan 24, which noted that Iran was trying to incite the Iraqi protestors against the Kurdistan Region. Asked if that was a threat to US interests, he said that it was.
“It’s a threat, it’s an issue,” Kinzinger replied. “Iranian influence is corrosive, long-term” and it is “detrimental.”
“They’re trying to tear [Iraq] apart, so they can have influence,” he said.
The Congressman also described his warm feelings for the Kurdish people. “I’ve been to the Kurdish regions there,” Kinzinger stated, “and I love the Kurdish people.”
“If you look at the Iraq war,” he continued,” no Americans were killed in the Kurdish regions.”
Like Hood, Kinzinger emphasized US support for the Iraqi protestors. “We’re very concerned about what we’re seeing,” he said. But “seeing people stand up” for freedom and self-determination “is encouraging.”
Iraq “is a very important place for us,” he added. We want to make sure “everybody in Iraq has rights” and “a voice” and that Iraq is “a way better country in the future, with hope and opportunity.”