If there was one point I wanted to convey most clearly to the crowd I spoke to at the University of Central Florida last week, it was that Americans should be proud of where Iraqi Kurdistan is today. There may be mixed emotions and controversy about U.S. involvement in Iraq over the past seven years, but one thing is very clear: the Kurdistan Region is thriving. We have a burgeoning secular, civil society, with an emerging democracy. So while we still have much work to do, and more progress to make, Iraqi Kurdistan is a shining example of the good that has come out of American sacrifice and investments in Iraq. And Americans should be proud of it.
During my two-day visit to Orlando, I had the opportunity to address students and faculty at UCF, thanks to its Office of Global Perspective—which today administers one of the United States’ first Kurdish Political Studies Initiative. UCF’s Kurdish Studies Initiative was inaugurated two years ago, and Pulitzer-prize winning former reporter John Bersia, who is now the Special Assistant to the University President for Global Perspectives, and his capable team including Mark Freeman and Gabriela Othon, did a wonderful job organizing the event.
Coinciding with a time when U.S. combat forces have now fully withdrawn from Iraq, the event provided an opportunity for some poignant reflection on the state of the country today, and what is around the corner. Continuing stability, obviously, is the foremost concern.
From the perspective of the Kurdistan Region, we desire to ensure that all of our progress is not compromised by neglect or hidden agendas. We have done a lot with the opportunities given to us, and we have much to lose. Indeed, since Iraq’s liberation, the investment licenses granted by the Investment Board of the KRG for projects in housing, banking, industry, tourism, education, agriculture, communications, and health service have amounted to nearly $13 billion. Iraqi Kurdistan is an island of stability in an otherwise turbulent part of the world.
This is exactly why we were thrilled when U.S. officials recently announced a plan to open a diplomatic consulate in Erbil and Basra, as well as maintain temporary facilities in Mosul and Kirkuk. We see this decision as one in a series of steps by the United States to honor the pledges of President Obama and others for deeper and broader relations with Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region.
Our support does not end with President Obama, however. During my trip to Florida I had the chance to meet with Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL 8th), and I also addressed political and business leaders at a forum hosted by Orlando’s Foreign Relations Council. Following on from other recent visits to Denver Colorado, and Columbia South Carolina, it is clear from my visit to Orlando, that it is very important to get beyond Washington, DC to inform Americans all over the country about the significant progress being made in Kurdistan. We have much support, but it is essential to highlight the important role the leaders of the Kurdistan Region are playing to build a viable, federal democracy in all of Iraq.