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Wolfowitz Reassures Iraqi Kurds of U.S. Commitment

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

LAKE DOKAN, Iraq, June 17, 2004 – The United States stands firmly behind its Kurdish allies and feels the best bet for their future is in a united, democratic Iraq, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Iraqi Kurd leaders in northern Iraq today.

"We Americans think it is very important that Kurds should be first-class citizens in their own country," Wolfowitz said in a press conference with Kurdistan Democratic Party President Massoud Barzani in Irbil today. "It's important because an Iraqi government that treats its Kurds as first-class citizens will treat all its people as first-class citizens."

Barzani described Wolfowitz as "a dear and close friend" of the Kurdish people. "We would like to take this opportunity to express our thanks and appreciation to him, and through him to the people of the United States and also to President Bush for the great support that they have provided for our people," he said through an interpreter.

Wolfowitz said he is impressed by the evident prosperity in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. What the Kurdish people have accomplished here in the past 12 years shows "what their commitment is to freedom and what they can contribute to a new and free Iraq."

Wolfowitz was accompanied by Army Gen. George Casey, the U.S. Army vice chief of staff who has been nominated to be the next commander of coalition forces on Iraq; and Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, who after the sovereignty transfer June 30 will become the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.

After meeting with Barzani, the entourage flew by helicopter to Lake Dukan for similar meetings with Jalal Talibani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

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