Joey Hood: ‘Future is bright’ for US-Kurdish relations
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – “I think the future is bright for US relations with the Kurdistan Region and with Iraq as a whole,” Joey Hood, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, told Kurdistan 24 on Thursday.
“Our commitment there is solid: to seeing a stable, unified Iraq with a strong and viable Kurdistan Region as a part of it,” Hood continued, as he affirmed, “This has been clear from day one of President Biden's administration.”
“He has made clear to us, and we've made clear to the world, I think, through the Strategic Dialogues that we've had, of which the Kurdistan Regional Government has been a part here in Washington,” Hood added.
Indeed, senior US officials now refer to their relationship with the Kurdistan Region as a “strategic partnership.”
That characterization is significantly different from the US view some 20 years ago, when Paul Bremer headed the Coalition Provisional Authority from May 2003 to June 2004 in the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF.)
Bremer favored centralizing authority in Baghdad, while he opposed a federal system. He even wanted to disband the Peshmerga, seeing them as just one more Iraqi militia.
Asked to explain the evolution of the US attitude toward the Kurdistan Region, Hood, ironically, attributed it to the Peshmerga themselves.
“I think what we’ve seen is that the brave Iraqi Peshmerga have proven their worth in defending Iraqi interests against terrorist threats like Daesh and keeping the region, calm and stable,” Hood said, as he noted the many positive developments that have followed.
“Investment has a chance to flourish,” he explained, including “cultural investment,” like the US has made in the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani and in Duhok and the Catholic University of Erbil.
That investment has enabled young people to “prepare themselves for the job market and find good viable jobs that benefit both the United States and the Kurdistan Region,” Hood noted, adding that the US has invested tens of millions of dollars in those institutions, while it has brought students to study in the US, as well.
Hood also affirmed, “We have a robust training and advising mission with the Kurdish Peshmerga, and that's going to continue.”
“The president has been absolutely crystal clear from the beginning of his administration that we are going to remain engaged in a multifaceted way with every part of Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region,” Hood continued, including on security issues, so “we can finally once and for all defeat ISIS.”
“So I think that you're going to see that that rock solid commitment is going to continue through this administration,” he concluded.
Sinjar Agreement needs Full Implementation; PKK is Terrorist Organization
Asked about the Sinjar agreement, which was reached last October between the Iraqi federal government and the KRG, Hood stated, “We want to see it fully implemented, because this is the only way to bring peace and stability to the region--to bring the Iraqi federal government, in coordination with the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Peshmerga, to implement this agreement so that people can go back and live their lives in peace.”
Hood noted that “groups like the Hashd al-Shaabi and the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party]” were preventing this. They “aren't listening to the central government,” even as they are obliged to do so.
Hood explained that “the United States considers the PKK a terrorist organization,” adding, “We're calling on them to end their terrorist activity” and “get out of Sinjar, so that people can return home.”
Iraqis Need to Vote in October Elections
“We call on all Iraqis to go out and vote” in next month’s elections, Hood stated. “This is their chance to have their voices heard, so that they can make a peaceful change in their country.”
“We know that the Iraqi public has called for a change in the way that their government serves them, and these elections are the best way to have their voices heard,” he continued.
But “if the people's voices are not heard, then nothing is going to change,” he added. “So the best way for them to have those voices heard is to go out there and vote, and then vote for the change that they want to see.”
The Iraqi government has asked for international monitors to oversee the vote, and Hood stressed that Washington supports Baghdad’s request. The monitors will come through the United Nations, as well as the European Union.
That will “help us understand,” if the election has been properly conducted or if there were problems with it, he said. “And if there are, we will certainly say that.”