Washington, DC (us.gov.krd) – ‘We thank America for saving our people who were stranded in the mountains in 1991, for liberating Iraq in 2003 and for standing by us when ISIS attacked in 2014,’ Kurdistan Regional Government Representative to the United States Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman told an audience of US military veterans, Kurdish community members, government officials and distinguished guests at a reception at the KRG Representation in Washington on July 30.
The event was held to honor and thank veterans of US military and humanitarian operations in Kurdistan and Iraq. The guests included KRG Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir, Iraq’s Ambassador Lukman Faily, US generals and soldiers of all ranks involved in Operation Provide Comfort I and II in 1991, as well as the military actions of the 2003 Iraq War. Others included US State Department officials including Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Matt Amitrano and former Consul General in Erbil and current Director for the Office of Iraq Affairs Joseph Pennington, as well as General Mick Bednarek who headed the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq in the fight against ISIS until recently, former Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Congressmen Ruben Gallego and former members of Congress Lincoln Davis and Peter Hoekstra. Members of the Kurdistani community, including Yezidis and Christians, were also present.
Minister Mustafa, Head of the KRG Department of Foreign Relations, told the guests, ‘I want to say thank you to all of those that served in Iraq and all those that are not here today. We give thanks for the sacrifices that have been made. These sacrifices have not been made in vain.’
General David Petraeus (pictured) former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq during the Surge, spoke positively of his experiences in Kurdistan, saying, ‘You do indeed have friends other than the mountains and many of them are here this evening.’ He added, ‘All of us remain very grateful for the way that the Kurdish people and the Kurdish leaders took us into their Region, took us into their homes and took us into their hearts. And the truth is that we did the same.’
The event corresponded with the 24th anniversary of the end of Operation Provide Comfort I and the start of Provide Comfort II. The operations were initiated in response to a retaliatory assault by Saddam Hussein’s forces after the Kurdish Uprising in 1991. Having suffered chemical bombardment and genocide during the Anfal Campaign only a few years earlier, hundreds of thousands of Kurdish families fled into the mountains of Turkey and Iran as Iraqi troops advanced. An estimated 1.5 million refugees languished without food and water in the mountains and on the borders of Iran and Turkey until April 1991 when a US-led coalition initiated humanitarian and security operations.
General Jim Jones, former National Security Advisor, also delivered remarks, calling his time serving in Kurdistan as a Colonel in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit during Operation Provide Comfort, ‘one of the best things, if not the best mission that I was ever asked to perform in uniform’. He added, ’We know that the Kurds are our best friends. We felt that then, and we feel that today.’
General Jay Garner, who was the highest ranking officer during Operation Provide Comfort, called the audience to action. He said, ‘Do as I have done. Write to your Congressional delegation and tell them, “We need to provide the weapons directly to the Kurds’.” General Garner was responsible for the delivery of aid to hundreds of thousands of refugees in 1991. With his humanitarian experience, he was appointed to lead the reconstruction of Iraq following the 2003 war.
General Michael Barbero, who served three tours in Iraq and regularly visits the Kurdistan Region said, ’Thank you to our most loyal friends, our brothers and sisters in Kurdistan’.
Also in the audience were veterans of the Iraq War in 2003, many of whom served alongside Peshmerga soldiers. In her remarks, Representative Abdul Rahman spoke to the sacrifices of all of those who served in Iraq. She said, ‘The sacrifices of your sons and daughters in Iraq were not for nothing. Your sons and daughters liberated and protected us from a genocidal dictator, enabling us to start on the path towards democracy and self-rule. Today we are proud that our Peshmerga are working closely with your forces on the ground and in the skies to fight against ISIS terrorists on behalf of civilization.’