This past week’s visit by Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, to the United States underscored the special relationship that has developed between the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and the United States. President Barzani and his delegation were not only received in the Oval Office by President Obama, but also spent five days being shuttled around D.C. to meetings with the highest echelons of the U.S. political system. The meetings included a lunch with Vice President Joe Biden and a meeting in the U.S. Capitol Building with the congressional leaders hosted by Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.
In each meeting, our American friends emphasized the long-standing relationship between the United States and the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. But more importantly, during the Oval Office meeting, the United States’ relationship with Iraqi Kurdistan was regarded to be of the highest priority to the Obama Administration.
President Barzani came to the U.S. to have one question answered: Will a withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq mean a withdrawal of U.S. commitment and engagement with Iraq and Kurdistan? During our meetings, we heard an emphatic “No.” We were continuously told that the U.S. will remain engaged and help the political forces in Iraq overcome their differences. The administration also expressed interest in seeing the Kurdistan Region continue to develop and prosper, while at the same time continuing to play a leading role in Iraq’s democratization.
But most satisfying to me, was not U.S. commitment to remain engaged, nor the U.S.’s appreciation for the positive contributions of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. Rather, it was the fact that I am finally seeing a special relationship between the United States and Kurdistan take root—one that goes beyond a tactical relationship and the exchange of niceties, to a more substantive and strategic relationship. It will be a relationship where mutual concerns get discussed and strategies for respective goals and aspirations will be outlined.
This relationship between a superpower and a region within a transitioning country should not be taken for granted. Not many heads of state, nor premiers of say Scotland, Quebec or other federal regions, get invitations to the Oval Office. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to make certain that this special relationship continues to blossom. We must ensure that our friendship, and partnership with the U.S., steeped in a history full of tragedies, betrayal and camaraderie, continues to fulfill our people’s hope for a prosperous and promising future.