University of Vermont

Speaker Says Kurdistan Needs Continued U.S. Support

Quabad Jalal Talabani, representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq to the United States, said Monday at a lecture in the Davis Center that although the United States shouldn’t act as a “world policeman,” it does have a moral obligation as a super power to defend oppressed people across the globe.

Among them, he said, are the millions of Kurds living in Kurdistan – a roughly defined geo-cultural region within Iraq, encompassing the northwestern Zagros and the eastern Taurus mountain ranges where Kurdish culture, language, and national identity have been preserved. Talabani, who was brought to Burlington by the Vermont Council on World Affairs (VCWA) as part of a national speaking tour, said he’s especially concerned about an agreement to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by January of 2012.

“For a Kurd who actually likes the U.S. being in Iraq and who has fought alongside U.S. troops, this would be a nerve-racking experience,” said Talabani, who is the son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. “Iraq is still very fragile, and we are not strong enough to stand on our own from a security standpoint. My message (to the U.S.) is to stay interacted and engaged with us militarily, economically and in other ways.” 

Sponsored by the Political Science Department, the Middle East Studies Program and VCWA, Talabani came to UVM on his way to speaking engagements in Maine and New Hampshire. He spoke primarily to students from the political science department, including those from a course taught by Gregory Gause, professor and chair of political science and Middle East expert, titled “International Relations of the Middle East.”

“I thought he was an extremely able proponent of the Kurdish case,” said Gause, who was recently interviewed on National Public Radio about current issues in the Middle East. “Obviously, Arab Iraqi politicians would have other things to say about Kirkuk and oil issues, but I thought he was extremely frank and open for a diplomat. He certainly had the ability to connect to an American audience.”

Talabani told students that even though Iraq’s fledgling, multi-party government has competing factions and can be messy and bureaucratic at times, the region has tremendous economic potential if the private sector is allowed to flourish and more U.S. companies invest in the area. He cites the inability of Kurdistan – among the world’s most oil rich regions – to effectively manage its natural oil and gas reserves as the single largest obstacle to moving the country forward.   

“It’s important for students to understand the responsibility of America as a super power,” said Talabani, who was a top negotiator in the drafting of the Transitional Administrative Law, the first Iraqi constitution since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. “Sometimes you have a moral obligation to engage in places where people are being oppressed. In my opinion, action is always more important than inaction.”