Brits, including the son of a neighbor, died creating and defending the Kurdish safe haven after the Gulf War. Iraq's Kurdish President Talabani gives thanks for this in a letter to Tony Blair (from The Sun via normblog and American Future). I'm posting it as a tribute to the dead. It's a bit too nice to Blair, but you may find it worth reading.
Now the democratically-elected parliament has honoured me, a Kurd, with the post of Presidency. This is a symbol of the promise, integration and unity of the new Iraq.
Let nobody mislead you, the Iraq that we inherited in April 2003, following the British and American-led liberation, was a tragedy.
The Ba’athist criminals had starved the country of an infrastructure and the people of their freedom.
Apart from the Kurdish safe haven, Iraq was a playground for thugs and a prison for the innocent.
Saddam’s war against the Iraqi people was on-going; we have evidence which demonstrates that the regime was executing its challengers until the last days of its rule.
It was that war, lasting almost forty years, which was the true war of Iraq.
We have all heard of the genocide, gassing, ethnic cleansing, mass murder and the environmental vandalism of the territory of Iraq’s historic Marsh Arabs.
We understand that there is no turning the clock back. Instead, we press ahead with democratisation and justice.
Unfortunately, Saddam’s former henchmen and religious extremist associates have chosen to fight their losing battle, which in turn has made post-liberation Iraq less stable than we would have wished.
Yet true Iraqis have largely shunned the terrorists, and their cowardly acts are increasingly becoming limited and confined to certain areas.
Millions of brave Iraqis defy terrorism and reject dictatorship every day, without fuss, and certainly without attention from the television cameras.
We undertake to rebuild a shattered country scarred by decades of tyranny. With unwavering resolve we support plurality, egalitarianism, and the political process.
Building a democratic federal Iraq is a difficult, and slow, but rewarding process.
Those who doubt the swiftness of transition must keep in mind that a state such as Iraq is a cultural, ethnic and linguistic mosaic that was only ever held together by brute force, thus, political speed can kill.
Nevertheless, January saw Iraq’s first free and open general election, leading to the first democratically-elected government of our desolate history.
Yet our struggle for a better, emancipated Iraq is only due to the consistent and unwavering support of Prime Minister Blair, the British people, and the coalition of the willing.
For many Iraqis, the positive role that Britain has played is a welcome change.
From our colonial master, Britain has become our democratic guardian.
In 1991 I saw at first hand how Prime Minister John Major, fresh from the liberation of Kuwait, bravely led the way in implementing a safe-haven for Iraqi Kurdistan.
For 12 years, heroic RAF pilots, with the support of neighbouring Turkey, flew in Kurdish skies to prevent Saddam from completing the anti-Kurdish genocide that he had started in 1987.
We were finally able to start rebuilding the 4,500 villages destroyed by Saddam’s regime and to begin the process of nurturing civil society and democracy.
And now thanks to Prime Minister Blair’s courageous and principled decisions, we can recreate this throughout Iraq.
Of course the liberation of Iraq has been controversial, as all wars should be.
Sadly in this case, war was not the “best” option, it was the only option.
Under Saddam, war was never controversial, never discussed, simply ordered and executed by him and his thugs.
Iraqis sometimes wonder in amazement what the debate abroad is about. Why do people continue to ask why no WMD was found?
The truth is that Saddam had, in the past, used chemical and biological weapons against his own people, and we believed he would do so again.
Of course Saddam himself was, in the view of those who opposed him, Iraq’s most dangerous WMD.
Instead of continually focusing on the negative, the British, who will soon commemorate the 60th anniversary of VE day, should know that in the eyes of the majority of Iraqis, it was you who brought us our own victory day.
Britain should be proud that the liberation of Iraq has in our eyes been one of your finest hours.
History will judge Prime Minister Blair as a champion against tyranny. Of that I have no doubt.
We are not reticent about expressing our great thanks to the British people and paying homage to tragic British losses.
Every Iraqi family, in fact, has lost a loved one because of Saddam. Every Iraqi understands the pain of conflict, the grief that accompanies war.
We honour those who sacrificed their lives for our liberation. We are determined out of respect to create a tolerant and democratic Iraq, an Iraq for all the Iraqi people.
It will take time and much patience, but I can assure you it will be worth while, not only for Iraq, but for the whole of the Middle East.