The Kurds’ two friends
Not long after I arrived in Erbil, I paraphrased an old #Kurdish proverb by noting that “the Kurds can count on two friends: the mountains – and the United States of America.” Now, as I finish my service as U.S. Consul General, I believe more than ever that the special bond between the #United_States and the people of this region will endure. Our friendship has been forged over decades. When I stood near Minare Park in April and spoke to commemorate the anniversary of Operation Provide Comfort, I reflected on the military and humanitarian victory thirty years ago that galvanized this special bond between our peoples and laid the foundation for a region I have come to cherish.
I feel privileged to have played a small role in building upon that foundation over the past year. Despite all the challenges of the pandemic, we succeeded in adding some bricks and mortar to make the relationship stronger and more resilient. We celebrated the shared history from thirty years ago, but we also made history. My government has assisted our Kurdish partners in continuing to bring the #Peshmerga under one command and we have provided over $250 million in security assistance over the past year. As a result, the courageous Peshmerga that helped to repel ISIS are now in a better position to secure the region for generations: a more unified Peshmerga means a stronger and more unified IKR (Iraqi Kurdistan Region), and a better Iraq.
Faced with the worst pandemic of modern times, my #USAID colleagues leapt into action to assist the IKR in battling COVID-19. We provided ambulances and medical equipment to health officials in #Erbil, funded the rapid construction of a #COVID isolation ward in #Duhok, and delivered refrigerated trucks to health officials in #Sulaymaniya to assist with their vaccination drive. As the biggest donor to #COVAX, the United States has contributed to the delivery of hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses to Iraqis. On the economic front, we have worked with the Development Finance Corporation to fund a $250 million investment into the region’s oil and gas sector, and we have partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to invite U.S. companies to help unlock the IKR’s #economic potential. From Duhok to Sulaymaniya, we are nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit of the region’s youth by investing in small and medium sized businesses because we know that the engine of a dynamic private sector is what fuels security and prosperity.
If a civilization is only as rich as its art and its history, then the #Kurdistan_Region is as rich as any land on earth. From #Lalish temple to the #Badinan gate, from the tomb of #Nahum to the intangible artifacts of music and literature, my team and I are proud to be working with Kurdish partners and some of the world’s most prestigious institutions to preserve the IKR’s precious cultural heritage, so it will be forever available for future generations to appreciate.
Despite our many successes, we should remain clear-eyed about our challenges, and about what might fracture the foundation that we have worked so hard to build. Our mutual commitment to human rights should always be resolute, even in the face of economic difficulty. So long as the IKR remains a place where human rights are paramount, it will be a beacon to its neighbors. And that beacon will shine brightest if it remains politically united: a unified Kurdistan Region is good for the people of the IKR, good for Iraq, and good for the world. My time here has been the highlight of my career as a diplomat, and I will never forget the warm hospitality of my Kurdish hosts. Although diplomats are often called upon to rub shoulders with the rich and powerful, I have never felt more honored than when breaking bread with ordinary Kurds. To all of them, I offer a heartfelt “zor supas.” While I shall miss the grandeur of the region’s mountains, I will miss the greatness of its people even more.