WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) – Michael Pregent, a long-time US intelligence officer whose work has focused on the Middle East and included a year with the Peshmerga, explained to Kurdistan24 why it was important for the US to maintain a military presence in the Kurdistan Region after the defeat of the Islamic State (IS).
Such a presence would permit “the US to have a counterinsurgency operational capability” in the area, he said.
“It allows us to continue to work with both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi government to go after [IS] sleeper cells, as [IS] changes to the Al-Qaeda model,” Pregent explained.
He noted “US forces on the ground” would bring “stability to the area.” They would also “send a message to disruptors in Iraq, such as the Hashd al-Shaabi” and help ensure they “won’t try to move into Hawija, Kirkuk, or other areas.”
Pregent served 28 years in US intelligence, first in the military and then as a civilian in the Defense Intelligence Agency. From 2005 to 2006, he was an embedded advisor with the Peshmerga in Mosul, after which he was stationed in Baghdad until 2010.
During his years in Baghdad, Pregent regularly returned to Mosul to track the growing politicization of the Iraqi military under former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
In key respects, Pregent anticipated the central problem that would burst on the scene four years after he left Baghdad: a sectarian Shia government resented by the Sunni Arab population. That sense of alienation was a major factor facilitating IS’ conquest of Mosul in 2014.
In addition to tracking the Sunni insurgency, Pregent also worked on the challenging problem of malign Iranian influence—on the Iraqi government, its security and intelligence apparatus, and among the Shia militias.
Last week, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the coalition forces fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, told the Pentagon press corps, in answer to a question from Kurdistan24, it was his “personal belief” US forces should remain in Iraq after IS’ defeat and he would recommend doing so to his chain of command.
Townsend declined to say whether he meant a US presence in the Kurdistan Region, Iraq proper, or both. However, it seemed most likely he would recommend both, as that would offer the greatest advantage from a military perspective.
Like Townsend, Pregent also believes the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 was a mistake that should not be repeated.
Pregent noted a continued US military presence would “give stability to Iraq” and send “a message to Iran,” among others.
Like so many Americans who have worked with the Peshmerga, Pregent retains a great fondness for the Kurdish people and regularly returns to the Kurdistan Region.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany
(Rahim Rashidi and Kawa Khidir conducted the interview in Washington, DC)