Welcome, and thank you all for taking the time to join us on this, our 240th anniversary of independence. I’d like to particularly thank
- President Masoud Barzani,
- Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani,
- KRSC Chancellor Masrour Barzani, for joining us here this evening.
Let me also welcome regional political, military and security leaders, our friends in the diplomatic community, religious, business, and cultural leaders, colleagues from the educational and media fields, civil society activists, and of course our Ambassador Stu Jones, who has kindly joined us from Baghdad tonight.
Two hundred and forty years ago, our nation’s early leaders had no way of knowing whether our bold experiment in democracy would succeed or fail. Some of our first Presidential elections, for example, were so contentious that candidates such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams refused to speak to each other for decades, only putting their differences behind them as their passions cooled toward the end of their lives.
Decades later, our country was torn apart by a civil war, when over six hundred thousand Americans died fighting for ideas: ideas about freedom, about rights, about governance, and about the shape of the American future. This is all to say: we are no stranger to trouble; we understand that democracy is hard work, and we know it can take a long time to get right. We also serve as living proof of what can come of a nation that invests in democracy, in transparency, and in the free market. The U.S. is proud to support our Iraqi and Kurdish partners as you confront your own challenges including the thread posed by Da’ esh, the humanitarian crisis involving more than 3 million IDPs, and the need for political reconciliation and economic reforms. With U.S. support I have seen real progress on improving security, strengthening democratic institutions, and increasing economic prosperity.. but more remains to be done.
After almost three years in Iraq, including two at the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, I will be leaving Erbil later this summer but I am sure the excellent relationship the U.S. has with the Kurdistan region will continue with my successor. I will always treasure the friendships I have made here in Iraq and the Kurdish region. I want to thank you all again for joining us here on this very special day, and with that I would like to invite our very own Ambassador Stu Jones to the stage to welcome you as well.