June 7, 2016

President Barzani sends message to conference in Washington on Operation Provide Comfort

Washington, DC, USA (us.gov.krd) – A message from Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani was delivered by Minister Falah Mustafa, the Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, yesterday at an event marking the 25th anniversary of Operation Provide Comfort.

The statement was delivered at a conference hosted by the Middle East Institute, a leading Washington-based think tank, titled Operation Provide Comfort: Reflections and Lessons for Today. Others speakers included retired US generals Anthony Zinni and Jay Garner, who were involved in the operation, and diplomats, academics and military and humanitarian experts from the US and Kurdistan, including Khaled Salih, an independent Kurdish scholar and former KRG advisor and spokesman. Iraq’s Ambassador Lukman Faily was also present.

The President’s message referred to the key decision by the international community to stop Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror by the passing of UN Resolution 688 in April 1991. That resolution was the precursor to Operation Provide Comfort, a military-humanitarian operation on an unprecedented scale that saved hundreds of thousands of lives after close to 2 million Kurds fled Saddam’s forces in the spring of 1991 to the mountains bordering Turkey in Iran. Thousands died of hunger, exposure and the cold and yet they remained in the mountains for fear that Saddam’s forces would use chemical weapons against them if they returned home.

President Barzani’s message said, ‘That Resolution and Operation Provide Comfort gave the people of the Kurdistan Region, for the first time after a very long period of suffering and pain, a sense of hope and they began to optimistically look into the future. Resolution 688 enabled us to demonstrate to the world that we can transform this land of mass graves and misery into a land of hope and coexistence. That Kurdistan is a Region of opportunities and not vengeance, a region where human dignity matters far more than absurd nationalistic and racist propaganda whose end result was the destruction of so many lives.’ He went on to thank those who stood against Saddam Hussein’s regime. ‘I would like to thank the international community from the depths of my heart and on behalf of the people of the Kurdistan Region for the brave decision to act against the Saddam regime,’ he said.

The President’s message concluded with a call for support to the Peshmerga who are fighting ISIS today. ‘I call upon your support and prayers for Kurdistan’s Peshmerga forces fighting our shared enemy, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The Peshmerga represent a school of thought which emphasizes courage, sacrifice and selflessness, and throughout history they have become a symbol of our national pride,’ he said.

The US, UK, France, Turkey and several other countries launched Operation Provide Comfort in which food and medicine were air-dropped to the refugees on the mountains and a safe haven created to encourage them to return home. This eventually led to the creation of a no-fly-zone over Iraqi Kurdistan which enabled the people of the region to hold Iraqi’s first free elections, leading to the creation of a parliament, government and other institutions.

The conference was organised by the Middle East Institute with panel discussions on the enduring lessons of the operation and lessons learned for today’s crises in Iraq and Syria. Several panelists argued that a key reason for the success of the Operation was the people of Kurdistan who welcomed the assistance and used the opportunity to bring about stability and relative peace. General Zinni, Chief of Staff of Combined Task Force Operation Provide Comfort; Honorary Chairman of the Board, Middle East Institute, delivered a keynote address in which he reiterated that much of the success of the operation was because of the resilience, courage and determination of the Kurds and that such efforts had failed in other countries.

After delivering President Barzani’s statement, Minister Mustafa also delivered his own remarks setting out the impact of the operation then and now, while Kurdistan Regional Government Representative to the United States Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman spoke of her personal experience of Operation Provide Comfort.

Minister Mustafa said, ‘This operation led by the U.S., UK, and France did much more than just provide comfort. It provided hope, has created lasting friendships, and opened new possibilities for freedom, democracy, and an overall safe and brighter future for the people of Kurdistan.’ He said that the experience of 1991 has influenced Kurdistan’s attitude towards the displaced and refugees who seek shelter there today. He said, ‘The grim hardships endured by the people of Kurdistan have helped to formulate our own moral and ethical principles that are today apparent in our open-door humanitarian policy.’

He referred to the financial and humanitarian crisis facing the people of Kurdistan today while the Peshmerga are fighting ISIS terrorists. ‘With these immensely difficult challenges in our midst, we have called upon the international community to direct its unwavering support to the people of Kurdistan,’ he said. ‘We fight to protect what we have worked hard to forge over the last 25 years, and we fight to defeat terrorists at their doorstep.’

He concluded by saying, ‘We will never, never forget the heroic actions of Operation Provide Comfort – in many ways, the current Kurdistan Region and all of our successes are the legacy of that wise decision taken in 1991.’

KRG Representative Abdul Rahman, who was exiled in London at the time of the Kurdish Uprising and subsequent exodus, told the audience that among those that fled Saddam’s brutal regime were members of her extended family, including her elderly grandfather for whom the cold and hazardous journey was too much and who died along the way. She described how her brother set out from London to find their relatives stranded on the border. She also expressed her thanks to the American military who were involved in the Operation. The conference was attended by several retired and current US military servicemen as well as US officials, academics and media as well as member of the Kurdish community and media in the Washington, DC area.

Read the full transcript of President Barzani’s message here.
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