The citadel in central Erbil, Kurdistan Region. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Twenty-six years after the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 688, the United States in cooperation with the United Kingdom and France launched Operation Provide Comfort that established the No-Fly Zone over the 36th parallel and shielded much of what is now the Kurdistan Region from aerial strikes by the Iraqi air force.
"This is [in Kurdistan] what we wanted to happen in Iraq," said US Ret. Lt. Gen. Jay Garner in the Kurdistan Region in December 2016.
Several US retired military officers including Gen. James L. Jones and Gen. John Abizaid returned to the Kurdistan Region and spoke to Rudaw about their experiences
"The real project of making Iraq better is up here, not in Baghdad," Garner added.
Dlawer Ala’Aldeen, the former minister of higher education for the KRG recalled how after the Gulf War he mustered all of his charm and persuasive powers
to convince former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to start the process that led to the establishment of the No-Fly Zone in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“During one of my conversations with Mrs Thatcher, she asked me: ‘Why have the Kurds always fought against Baghdad and sought separation.’ I responded: ‘If you were married to someone who treated you like Saddam treated the Kurds, would you not divorce him?’ She concurred, and said ‘I had never thought about that, but do not let Dennis (her husband) hear this,” Ala’Aldeen told Rudaw in 2014.
The impetus for the resolution was the resulting humanitarian crisis after when in early March 1991, Kurds in Iraq launched an uprising against Saddam Hussein, weakened after the Gulf War.
Hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled into the mountains and were subsequently trapped, cold and starving.
Security Council resolution stated members were "Gravely concerned by the repression of the Iraqi civilian population in many parts of Iraq, including most recently in Kurdish-populated areas, which led to a massive flow of refugees towards and across international frontiers and to cross-border incursions..."
Cuba, Yemen, and Zimbabwe voted against the resolution, while China and India abstained.
Twenty-six years later, Kurds have successfully defended their territories against ISIS, and have announced their intention to hold a referendum on self-determination that could be a further step towards independence.