Retired US Col. Richard Naab and retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner speak with Rudaw's Shaho Amen on September 24.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Two retired US military officers with a quarter century’s experience in Kurdistan and Iraq see the Kurdistan Region’s independence vote as a result of Iraqi regimes which have failed Kurds and other minority groups like Sunnis and Christians.
"They've tried very hard to be a part of the Iraqi government for 14 years now. But that hasn't worked,” said retired US Lt. Gen. Jay Garner.
The White House told the Kurdistan Region to “call off” Monday's referendum, describing it as “particularly provocative and destabilizing” in the disputed areas.
Garner explained his view differs because the self-determinative vote is an example of people expressing “their will and what they want and we should support that because that's the democratic way in doing things."
The general retired in 1997 after having commanded Patriot missile batteries in the Gulf War and coordinated with Kurdish fighters in the early 1990s. After the US invasion in 2003, Garner was named Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority before being replaced by Paul Bremer after three weeks in the post.
"You're having a referendum on independence,” said Garner. “I'm very supportive of that and of the Iraqi Kurdish region becoming independent.”
The American called Kurdistan "probably the most strategic place in the Middle East for us."
Col. Richard Naab was involved in Operation Provide Comfort in 1991 and has previously described US policy as flimsy and said he cried when his country left in 1992.
He told Rudaw that US leaders need to be better informed regarding Kurds and their referendum.
"We have to make sure to reassure them that it's not and geographic, aggressive movement. It's rather giving the Kurds what they should've had from the very beginning — their own land, their own language, their own money, their own passports. That's what every Kurd aspires to have. That for us seems to be a no brainer, it should be,” he said.
Hours after Naab’s remarks, Iran closed its airspace with the Kurdistan Region.
"They can handle the Iranians better than we can," he claimed if the United States continues to support Kurdistan. "If we're on their side [the Kurds], we'll be on the right side."
Naab credits Kurds with knowing their neighbors well.
"Kurdish politicians are very clever. They know how to handle, they know how to deal in this snake pit ... [I've seen] for the past 26 years. But they can deal with it. I'm very optimistic about their ability,” he explained.
Garner believes nations who say they care about Christians are ignoring their plight in Iraq and not recognizing the Kurdistan Region’s sheltering of hundreds of thousands of Christians and other minority groups through the war with ISIS.
"Iraqi Kurdistan has become a sanctuary for Christians. In 2003 there were over 1.5 million Christians in Iraq and now there are probably 300,000 left — or less. And most of them are here because they are protected here,” he said.
“I think the Western Christian community ought to realize that if they do not recognize an independent Kurdistan that there will no longer be a Christian element in this part of the region.