The People of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq join with all Americans in honoring their valiant warriors on this Veterans Day. We as a people will always be thankful to American veterans for their courage and valor in liberating Iraq from the genocidal regime of Saddam Hussein.

As Kurds, we feel a powerful bond with American veterans. In 2003, Kurdish forces — known as Peshmerga — fought alongside American forces and suffered more casualties in liberating Iraq than any of America’s other coalition partners. Following liberation, we contributed to the Baghdad Security plan, fought insurgents in Fallujah and Basra, and helped bring peace to all of Iraq.

The people of the Kurdistan Region welcomed Americans with deep gratitude as friends, allies and liberators. American forces always found the open hand of friendship in Kurdistan. Since 1991, not one U.S. soldier or citizen has been killed or wounded by hostile action in Kurdistan.

For us in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, this is a historic time of great promise and also great risk. After decades of oppression and suffering under Saddam, we eagerly embraced the Iraqi constitution, which guarantees our right to govern ourselves as a federal region within the Republic of Iraq and to create a free, safe and prosperous land for all. Signs of hope and prosperity throughout the entire Kurdistan Region are inspiring. Hundreds of foreign companies are investing in Iraq’s future, using Kurdistan as their gateway. New libraries, schools, universities, hotels, police academies, housing complexes, soccer fields and amusement parks are being built throughout Kurdistan. Fourteen universities are educating a new generation of students in the full spectrum of technical and liberal arts disciplines.

We are committed to building institutions of democracy and a tradition of genuine pluralism. We have embraced the values of religious tolerance, free press and the protection of women’s rights. Christians persecuted elsewhere in Iraq have found safe refuge in Kurdistan. Women are performing vital roles in the government at many levels. For the first time ever we have vibrant political opposition groups represented in parliament. Unlike other elections in our part of the world, the ruling coalition won by 59 percent of the vote, not 99 percent.

While we have made enormous progress in a very short time, we recognize that there is still much more work to be done toward having a more transparent and efficient system of governance. That said, a strong foundation has been laid, and the people of the Kurdistan Region look to the U.S. to support its continuing safety and progress.

But Veterans Day 2011 is also a time of great risk in Iraq. Many feel that Kurdistan’s sincere commitment to building a lasting partnership with fellow Iraqi countrymen under the rule of law has not always been honored by a reciprocal commitment. With the imminent departure of U.S. forces, the Kurds of Iraq remain committed to the peace and stability of our land, and we are committed to working with all Iraqi leaders to preserve and build on the opportunity for freedom that America’s sacrifices have given to the Iraqi people.

After centuries of oppression, the Kurds of Iraq cherish the opportunity to enjoy both self-determination and freedom from oppression. Despite the indelible scars of the past, the Kurds have been remarkably resilient and a force for peace in Iraq. We need America’s continuing commitment and support to preserve and build on these great gains.

We honor the past sacrifices and friendship of the United States and unequivocally support its historic commitment to peace and democracy. We honor and remember your veterans today. We sincerely hope America will remember us as we work to forge a lasting democracy on the foundation of the freedom it has given us. Let us all hope that in years to come, American veterans will be able to look at Iraq as a living legacy of their honored service and take pride in what we have built on the foundation they laid.

Barham Salih is prime minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

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