US Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who led Operation Provide Comfort, calls for unity among Kurdish parties
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – In an exclusive interview with Kurdistan 24, retired US Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner said the Kurds in Iraq face three threats, including political disunity.
In 1991, Garner was Commanding General, Joint Task Force Bravo-Operation Provide Comfort in northern Iraq. He was appointed Director of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq in April 2003, shortly after the second Gulf War began, although he was replaced in May by Ambassador Paul Bremer.
The first threat facing the Kurds today is internal disunity, Garner told Kurdistan 24.
“The PUK [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] and KDP [Kurdistan Democratic Party] don’t speak to each other and until you put that together, it's going to ruin Kurdistan,” he said. “You got to be together to survive and you're not together, and that's a huge, huge threat.”
“As you know, when you're together you have a large block of votes that you can control with national elections, you can make the Prime Minister, you cannot do that when you are split apart,” he underlined ahead of Iraqi elections scheduled for Oct. 10.
The general said that in practice the three Kurdish provinces could block any amendment in Baghdad that endangers the Kurds.
“If they're split apart and the three of them aren't together, then Parliament can pass any kind of bad legislation they want to pass against Kurdistan,” he stressed. “So that's the internal threat you have of not being together, and it is going to ruin you if you are not together.”
The second threat to the Kurds is that the Iraqi government is controlled by Iran, he said. “You have the Iranians putting pressure on you here to get rid of the Americans and the Iranians have already told you're going to pay a terrible price for letting the Americans stay here.”
One Iraq Policy
Another challenge for the Kurds today is the ‘one Iraq policy’ followed by the US State Department. “They say you have one Iraq, so you don’t have [a separate] Kurdish or Arabic Iraq,” Garner explained. “So that means that anything that you ask for a Kurdistan has to be agreed with by Baghdad, and Baghdad is going to keep you from getting a lot of things.”
He underlined that the failed one Iraq policy has been the same since 2003.
“Every year we get a new ambassador, and every year you get a new Consul-General appear and every year you get a new Commander General down in Baghdad, we change leaders every year on the American side, and they start every year with old policy … and it always fails. And so we've done that 18 times, and it failed.”
“We have proven every year for 18 years is wrong and we should change it,” he said.
“So until the US changes that terrible policy, and other countries too you're going to have that international for it so you have three serious threats. The lack of unity here, the military threat in the region and the political threat.”
Despite the challenges, Garner said the Kurds have come very far since 1991. “When I was here you had over 4,000 villages … destroyed,” he said. “Probably 5,000 villages have been destroyed."
“Nearly all the people, I'd say, 90, probably 98 percent of the people were the mountains,” mostly in Turkey, or in Iran, and “the only people here were few Peshmerga that had followed a rearguard action in order to let the people evacuated to the mountains.”
The retired general said when he left Kurdistan he told his military colleagues, then Gen. Jim Jones and Col. John Abuzaid: “We've all fallen in love with the Kurds, but I said there's no way they can survive, they can't make it. There's nothing there for them to be able to make it. So you take it from there for 5000 destroyed villages no running water, no electricity, all the towns shot up, no economy, road roads terrible, if at all.”
In contrast, Kurdistan now has four- and five-star hotels, great restaurants, good roads, a good infrastructure and a vibrant economy, Garner said.
“You have problems – and there's a lot of problems in Kurdistan like there are in any civilized country. But if you look at what it is today and what it was 30 years ago, and it's impossible you think for them to come this far,” he said.
“I'll tell you this; I think in world history, if you go and review the oral history you will never find that great a leap, from where you were in ‘91 to where you are today,” he said.
“I think it's the greatest leap of civilization in world history for the improvement of a civilization. It’s incredible and I'm very proud of what the Kurds have done.”
Message for Young Kurds
Garner also had a message to the Kurdish youth, whose fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers grew having to fight.
“They fought Saddam Hussein, they struggled every day and the condition’s weren’t well, but they built what you have today,” he said.
“And my message to the youth is you have to have that same sort of strength and courage. You have to face the threats as your fathers, your grandfathers did, and you need to continue to build on Kurdistan, as it is now, to make it better and better every year. And you do that for the next generation for your children.”
Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly