Sir John was greeted with special warmth and admiration in all his meetings with officials and members of the public who remember his instrumental role in establishing a safe haven in Kurdistan in 1991. Saddam Hussein launched attacks against the Kurds after they rose up against his regime following the First Gulf War and his campaign of genocide against them. Sir John rallied European and US support for a UN resolution to establish a safe haven and no-fly-zone to protect civilian Kurds who were being killed by Iraqi troops. The move saved thousands of lives and enabled the Kurds to hold the country’s first free elections a year later which led to the establishment of the Kurdistan Parliament and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
In his meeting with President Barzani, Sir John noted the remarkable progress and achievements made in Kurdistan over the past 20 years and said that the pace of development and change would make Kurdistan unrecognisable two decades from now. President Barzani and Sir John discussed the political process in Iraq and the wave of change and uprisings across the Middle East.
Following the opening of the Consulate General, President Barzani hosted a cultural evening for Sir John who was accompanied by the British Ambassador to Iraq Michael Aron, Brigadier General Max Marriner, the British Consul General in Erbil Chris Bowers and Sir John’s Chief of Staff Arabella Warburton.
On the second day of his visit, Sir John met with Prime Minister Barham Salih and several other ministers. He also addressed the Kurdistan Parliament following a meeting with Dr Kamal Kirkuki, the Speaker. In his address, Sir John said, “I stand here with a sense of pride and pleasure. Pride in the role Britain has played in supporting Iraqi Kurdistan. And pleasure at seeing the progress you have made in developing a democracy, in building your economy, and in helping to stabilise Iraq as a whole.”
He added, “The recent street demonstrations across the Middle East and North Africa have shown the world that millions of people in this region want democracy. It is a demand for freedom and accountable government. They want to influence how they are governed. Since the fall of Saddam, Iraqi Kurdistan – and Iraq as a whole – has led the way in taking steps towards democracy. You have confronted many of the challenges that others will now face.
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