KRG High Representative pays tribute to Sir John Major

Dear Sir John Major

Twenty five years the Kurds in Iraq were once again at the mercy of a genocidal dictator and the British public was horrified and angered by scenes of hundreds of thousands of Kurdish families fleeing for their lives to freezing conditions on the mountains. They kindly responded with blankets and food.

You responded by mobilising your Cabinet, the European Union and the Americans to establish a no-fly zone and a safe haven to which the Kurds could return. Your decision to do this under UN Security Council Resolution 688 of 5 April 1991 should be an important part of a balanced picture of British involvement in my country.

You rightly conclude in your memoirs that “Genocide was averted, and literally tens of thousands of lives were saved. So too, I think, was the reputation of the allies, which would surely have been harmed had we turned a blind eye.”

If anything, you understate the number of lives saved. We know we would have been subdued by Saddam and slaughtered in our scores of thousands. As you saw on your visit to the Kurdistan Region five years ago, you are considered a national hero in Kurdistan.

It may all seem like a long time ago to many but it is ever-present for us. We may have some sharp words to say about older British interventions as we move in May towards the centenary of the Anglo-French and secret Sykes-Picot agreement, which began a process which led to the Kurds being marooned in a state called Iraq.

But we refuse to be defined passively by our history and we and the British have moved on. The achievements of liberating Kuwait and instituting the safe haven in the Kurdistan Region are amongst the finest hours of the UK and should never be forgotten. They also show that the UK is capable of judicious interventions that make a real difference.

Without your leadership, the Kurdistan Region would no longer exist and the Middle East and the world would be without one of the main bulwarks against a new genocidal threat, the so-called Islamic State or Daesh which we have turfed out of our territory although we still face them along a 650 mile border.

Your safe haven enabled us to start our journey to freedom, develop much of our region from scratch, helping for the first time those who survived genocide, and to play our part once more in the international community.

We explored for oil and gas, which Saddam had long neglected, and made peace with Turkey. Our economy became dynamic and lifted living standards but has recently been hammered by the slump in oil prices, budget cuts by Baghdad, the influx of nearly two million extra people, and war. But we will survive, with help from our friends, and our moderate model of a tolerant Muslim society can do much to undermine the appeal of Daesh.

Today, we not only thank you from the bottom of our hearts but also argue that British diplomacy, economic and political expertise, and military force can do much to help us overcome Daesh and continue to build a new Kurdistan Region.

Sir John, you did the right and brave thing in 1991. We know some argued you should not intervene in supposedly sovereign affairs but we are alive and kicking because you put humanity first. We salute you and stand with your country.

Yours sincerely

Karwan Jamal Tahir, Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK

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