Eliminating the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq does not seem to be an easy mission that will happen anytime soon; it seems rather impossible. The terrorist attacks against Iraq exposed how weak the Iraqi army is, how fragile its military structure and intelligence services are, and how it is unable to protect its country against any attack.
Some believe that the responsibility of the army’s failure to fight IS should be borne by the political authority ruling the country since 2004, which was unable to build an army based on a unified doctrine. Others consider the policies adopted by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki faulty and the maliciousness allowed the terrorist group to enter the country, while the political conflicts between the central government and the Sunni leaderships provided an embracing environment for the group in Sunni provinces.
Secretary-General of the Ministry of Peshmerga Lt. Gen. Jabbar Yawar spoke to An-Nahar regarding the situation in Iraq in general, and in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in particular, in light of the IS threat, which occupied a number of Iraqi provinces, reaching the besieged Kobani.
The peshmerga harasses IS
The Kurdish military leader welcomed the international aid provided to the KRG, which is fighting a crucial battle against IS. He said, “The military aid which reached KRG saved it from falling into the hands of the terrorist group and allowed peshmerga forces to move from the negative defense position to the striker position, inflicting heavy losses on IS.”
Yawar does not hesitate to say, “The peshmerga forces’ position in the fight against IS is much better than the Iraqi army’s position. We are in a continuous fight along the 1,050-kilometer [650-mile] border of five Iraqi provinces, starting from Mosul to Erbil and passing through Kirkuk, Saladin and Diyala.”
He said, “The peshmerga forces have liberated the Mosul Dam and continues to liberate the rest of the regions that have fallen into the hands of IS, while creating plans to completely achieve this.”
The fall of Mosul and Anbar
Yawar attributed the fall of Mosul and Anbar to several reasons, most importantly, the fragility of the army in both provinces. He said, “The army in Mosul was fragile, and its six military units failed to withstand IS. There were also the political conflicts between the Sunni blocs and the government in Baghdad, which prevented these forces from fighting IS in Mosul, Saladin and parts of Kirkuk. These forces either handed over their advanced and heavy weapons to the group and fled, or joined and began to fight alongside IS.”
“The lack of a unified fighting doctrine among the army, and the shortage of air support, were all elements that contributed in the army’s quick collapse and IS’ occupation of a number of Iraqi provinces, especially the Sunni ones,” he said.
The difficulty in liberating Sunni regions
On the subject of the army’s situation in provinces in general, Yawar said that he found “a certain difficulty in liberating the Sunni-dominated regions from IS, such as Anbar, Saladin and Mosul, especially after it fell into the hands of the terrorists who took over its weapons on June 10.” He said that although they used all available means, the Iraqi forces were unable to liberate the city of Heet in Anbar and Tikrit, the center of Saladin province. “The situation on the field unfortunately proves that IS only controls the Sunni-dominated regions. We hope that our Sunni brothers, who are suffering the group’s injustice, will cooperate with the federal government and the KRG in order to eliminate this terrorist group,” he explained.
How did IS reach Erbil’s borders?
When asked how IS was able to reach KRG even though its intentions to occupy the region were obvious, Yawar answered with regret: “We knew before the group attacked Mosul on June 10 that it was up to no good in Iraq and Mosul. We were alerted by the joint committees and meetings that we used to hold in Baghdad, that there were some suspicious and dangerous movements on the borders with Syria. We were advised to strike them at an early stage, but we did not listen. The federal government and its former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, believed our proposals were political outbidding. Even when IS attacked Mosul, we asked them to allow us to support the federal forces there, but they told us that they were able to fight back themselves. Then Mosul fell, its residents fled and, due to Maliki’s faulty policy, IS was able to reach Baghdad’s borders.”
When asked why the terrorist group was able to reach Erbil, Yawar said, “When IS’ attack began, the peshmerga fought with all its strength, but it does not own advanced weapons such as the ones the group took from Mosul, because Maliki’s government never reinforced, trained or funded the peshmerga forces, although they are official governmental forces, according to the federal constitution.
“Despite all this, the peshmerga withstood IS from June 10 until the beginning of August. However, when we ran out of munitions and had no source of getting any, the group was able to penetrate our defense and move toward Erbil. Yet, thanks to Washington’s assistance and some of the countries participating in the international alliance, we were able to change the negative defense equation in Erbil and attack IS to liberate our lands,” he said.
Baghdad will not fall
The Kurdish leader ruled out the possibility of Baghdad falling for the time being, according to the available security data. “Until now, the Iraqi army can protect Baghdad and prevent the penetration of IS, which has spread in neighboring regions, such as Amiriya, Fallujah, Saqlawiyah and Ramadi,” he said.
We helped Kobani as much as we could
Commenting on the criticism of certain Kurdish parties inside Kobani, regarding the lack of support provided by KRG to the besieged city, he said, “Despite the differences with certain Kurdish political parties in the city, the KRG expressed its readiness to support our brothers in the city and we asked Washington and its allies to help the resisting Kurdish fighters.
“We helped them as much as possible, and the KRG’s president affirmed this. But, we cannot offer more. We are still waiting for international aid. The region initially includes 5 million people, add to that one and a half million displaced from Syria and the Iraqi provinces. We are helping them and taking care of them, and this is a huge burden.”
Yawar said, “The region has not been able to help Kobani like it should, due to its tough and complex geographic location, as it is 300 kilometers [185 miles] from the Syrian border, and it’s hard for aid to reach it. Kobani’s situation is geographically similar to Gaza or Sinjar.”
Yawar is not afraid that IS, which he believes is an extension of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, will persist. He said, “The situation in Iraq and Syria today is similar to that of Tora Bora and Afghanistan. The airstrikes are beneficial for the peshmerga, Kobani and even for the Iraqi government, as they halt the advance of IS militants and drain them. These strikes also destroy IS warehouses and heavy weapons. But, to free these areas completely from IS, a comprehensive international operation should be put in place, like the one in Afghanistan, and there should be an actual training campaign for the Iraqi forces to defend themselves. However, I rule out the possibility of a foreign land intervention in Iraq, with the existing conflict between the ruling political parties.”
No Kurdish expansion
Political circles have been talking about a Kurdish expansion in an attempt to build the awaited state. In this regard, Yawar says, “We are part of the federal state, and neither of us expands into the other’s territories. Until now, there aren’t any official international borders between us and the federal state. We have some problems in many regions administratively. But the KRG and Baghdad are both facing IS threat. We should destroy it first, then resort to the constitution to solve the pending problems with the Baghdad government regarding the land, oil, the budget and Peshmerga.”
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