June 8, 2016

Transcript of Head of the Department of Foreign Relations’ address to Washington on 25th anniversary of Operation Provide Comfort

Washington, DC, USA (us.gov.krd)Below is the transcript of the speech of H.E. Falah Mustafa Bakir, Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, as delivered Monday, June 6, 2016 at the Middle East Institute’s commemoration of the 25th anniversary of “Operation Provide Comfort: Reflections and Lessons for Today”.

Excellencies, Ambassadors and Generals, Distinguished Guests, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The 5th of April 1991 is a landmark date in the history of the people of Kurdistan, for it marks the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 688, calling on Iraq’s former Ba’ath regime to halt its systematic, brutal oppression of the Iraqi people, including those in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Often, it takes a humanitarian crisis and great suffering to bring international attention to the cause of an oppressed people. Examples are Rwanda, Sudan, Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, and also Operation Provide Comfort for Iraq.

This particular resolution paved the way for the initiation and implementation of OPC.

In fact, 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.

Without this support, the fate of nearly two million people who sought refuge on the bitterly cold mountains on the borders of Iran and Turkey would almost certainly have been sealed.

Instead, because of this act of humanity and friendship, we were able to change direction and usher in an era of success and democracy in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

In many ways, OPC went above and beyond its original humanitarian mandate, as it subsequently provided a genuine source of stability from which Kurdistan could flourish and thrive.

The progress made in the Kurdistan Region in the last 25 years since the operation has been astonishing.

Previously, we were suffering from a catastrophic humanitarian crisis situation, in need of desperate help.

The Region is now a safe haven which has opened its doors to provide humanitarian assistance to millions of displaced people and refugees.

Certainly, the grim hardships endured by the people of Kurdistan have helped to formulate our own moral and ethical principles that are apparent today in our open-door humanitarian policy. From the period between the operation in 1991 and the removal of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, it cannot be said that the people of Kurdistan enjoyed prosperity, harmony, or peace.

Indeed the situation remained difficult in all of Iraq.

But because of the heroic success of Resolution 688, the situation was never allowed to disintegrate into the ferocious attacks that we had suffered before.

Although we did not have much of an economy or great resources, at least we knew there was protection from our friends monitoring the skies above.

That was the very first seed from which our current success has grown.

And so once the regime was toppled in 2003, we were ready to learn, to grow, and to serve as responsible and helpful members of the international community.

Today, we are confronting an intense military and humanitarian crisis on behalf of the entire world, at the tip of the spear, as we are told time and again by friends from abroad.

Our ability to win this war – and we are winning these battles every day – would not have been possible without the contributions from our friends 25 years ago.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This current crisis has provided a bleak reminder of what Kurdistan and its citizens endured under the era of Saddam Hussein.

Indeed, just as in 1991, today we find ourselves facing another humanitarian catastrophe, one which has required equal military and humanitarian effort.

Just as in 1991, this crisis has resulted in millions of displaced people, many of whom have survived genocide fear for their lives, and are living in large-scale camps.

Just as in 1991, the current burden is much too great to bear alone, and the assistance of the international community has become a prerequisite to achieving long-lasting resolutions.

As you may know, the KRG is currently experiencing a severe economic crisis.

We are in the midst of a war with perhaps the most brutal terrorist entity in modern history.

We are dealing with a considerable humanitarian crisis and consequentially hosting 1.8 million refugees and internally displaced people.

Furthermore, we were expecting much more from the federal government in Baghdad in terms of the fight against Da’esh and with the humanitarian and economic crises. We fight to protect what we have worked hard to forge in the last 25 years, and we fight to defeat terrorists at their doorstep.

While we are facing these difficult challenges, we have called upon the international community to direct its unwavering support to the people of Kurdistan.

Only together can we accommodate the large influx of refugees and internally displaced people who have sought and continue to seek refuge in the Kurdistan Region.

Only together can we work effectively to combat Da’esh and diminish its military influence in the region, which is important for global security.

Indeed, Kurdistan Region faces a lack of the required fiscal and technical capacities to go-it-alone, and thus cooperation is essential as we move forward.

The KRG has made significant strides to resolve the current period of instability, restore security, and adopt sound fiscal and economic policies.

On the frontlines against Da’esh, the Peshmerga forces have been the vanguards of global security through their successful militarily campaigns against terrorists, although not without the ultimate sacrifice of our brave Peshmerga martyrs.

We have undertaken difficult but important process of implementing measures to help us manage the current economic crisis.

The KRG sees an opportunity and is committed to resolve the current crisis which has had great regional implications.

However, we call on the international community to acknowledge our challenges and provide assistance accordingly, as we are bearing much of the burden in the fight against a very brutal international terrorist network.

We have the strength and the resilience – this is part of our intrinsic character, and it has certainly been tested for generations. But in our part of the world, it is very difficult to achieve stability and peace all alone.

For us in Kurdistan, our lesson is clear; we must never again allow ourselves to be isolated.

Our past has guided our current actions and forced us into the life of negotiating our very existence with stronger regional powers and oppressors.

In fact, it is friendship and partnership that have facilitated Kurdistan’s path to a brighter future, against enormous odds.

However, when bearing in mind the current challenges faced by the Kurdistan Region, it is vital that now, more than ever, this friendship and partnership remains robust.

It is in everyone’s best interest, and it is necessary for global peace and security in the Middle East but also in capitals, cities, and towns all around the world.

We will 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.

In conclusion ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you to the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, and all other counterparts for their actions to develop and successfully implement OPC.

Thank you.
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