ISIS remain ‘very much intact’, should be taken seriously: PM Barzani

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region Masrour Barzani warned on Friday that the Islamic State (ISIS) is “still very much intact” and must be taken seriously as he continues to meet with senior White House officials at the sidelines on a security conference in Germany.
“ISIS is still very much intact,” Prime Minister Barzani told the The Atlantic magazine in an interview on Friday.

“Yes, they have lost much of their leadership. They have lost many of their capable men.But they’ve also managed to gain more experience and to recruit more people around them. So they should not be taken lightly,” he added.
ISIS controlled swaths of land in Iraq and Syria in 2014 but was later declared defeated in the two countries in late 2017 and early 2019 respectively. Supported by the US-led Global Coalition against ISIS, Kurdish Peshmerga have fought the jihadists since its emergence to prevent it from reaching the Kurdistan Region.

However, Iraqi parliament passed a non-binding resolution in early January to expel all foreign troops on its soil – particularly those from the US - following the assassination of two top Iranian and Iraqi commanders in a US strike in Baghdad. Kurds and some Sunnis did not attend the session, with the former insisting they want these forces to stay.

Barzani’s comments to the outlet came before a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in Germany to “boost military and security cooperation” against the jihadists. He is also expected to meet with US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Saturday morning.

Pompeo hailed the meeting as a "productive conversation" in which he thanked Barzani for his "steadfast partnership and commitment to ensuring the security of US facilities and personnel in the Kurdistan Region."

“Our American allies are a vital part of the Global Coalition in the fight to defeat ISIS once and for all,” Barzani said in a tweet after the meeting.
“Acknowledging the positive role of the Kurdistan Region in bringing peace and stability to the region, both sides stressed the need to boost military and security cooperation to combat terror threats in the region,” a post-meeting statement from Barzani’s office read.
The US has provided the Peshmerga with military and financial support, as well as training an estimated 40,000 fighters as part of the global counter-ISIS coalition.

Kurdish officials have warned multiple times that ISIS is re-emerging, demanding the continuation of international support to Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

In an interview with France 24 in early February, PM Barzani warned of “a great possibility of the reemergence of ISIS.”

“They can regroup very easily and recruit because all the root causes that led to the rise of ISIS and the collaboration of people with ISIS still exist: there is no political instability, there is no prosperity and there is no strong security,” he told France 24’s Marc Perelman.

American officials too have warned of the militant group’s resurgent threat.

ISIS is returning as “an insurgency, as a terrorist operation… as a single front,” with 14- to 18,000 members fighting for the group between Syria and Iraq, James F. Jeffrey, US Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS warned late last month.

A Pentagon Inspector General report covering the last quarter of 2019 warned the group has been able to retain “enough manpower and planning capabilities” and “freedom of movement” in areas with a sparser Iraqi security force presence.

The expulsion of Peshmerga forces by Iraqi forces in areas disputed by Erbil and Baghdad in late 2017 led to the creation of a security gap in these areas, allowing ISIS sleeper cells to regroup and conduct insurgent activities such as bombings, ambushes, kidnappings, extortion, and arson.

Iraqi security forces continue to conduct anti-ISIS operations in the area, launching the “Heroes of Iraq” operation on Wednesday to target the group’s sleeper cells in areas bordering Syria and Jordan. They announced the end of the operation’s first phase a day later. 

On the same day as the first phase’s conclusion, ISIS militants attacked a village in Khanaqin, Diyala province, killing a Peshmerga soldier, one civilian, and an Iraqi army officer, and wounding seven.



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