ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in separate phone calls Tuesday, discussed the latest developments in the war against the Islamic State with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and Masoud Barzani, former President of the Kurdistan Region and head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
Speaking with both leaders, Pompeo emphasized Washington’s “commitment” to work with Iraq to “ensure an enduring defeat of ISIS,” according to a statement from the secretary’s office.
Pompeo’s calls come as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near the end of their campaign in the last holdout of the Islamic State in Syria. However, this is not expected to end the threat from that group. Rather, the Islamic State will likely wage an insurgency with sporadic attacks concentrated in areas it once controlled, as has been the case in Iraq since late 2017.
Abdul-Mahdi and Pompeo discussed “the latest developments in the fight against Da’esh [ISIS] along the border with neighboring Syria and the impact on Iraq,” a statement from the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office read.
The State Department added that Pompeo had emphasized Washington’s “continued commitment to working with the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi Security Forces to ensure ISIS’s enduring defeat.”
Coalition pressure on the Islamic State in Syria raised a problem forIraq, as fighters from the terrorist group retreated to areas close to the Syrian-Iraqi border, where they are now limited to a small enclave in the village of al-Baghouz on the west bank of the Euphrates River.
Their concentration in the eastern-most areas of Syria meant that the terrorists might cross into Iraq.To address that danger, Baghdad deployed extra reinforcements along the border to intercept and confront Islamic State militants fleeing Syria.
In September, Iraqi security forces stationed along the border reportedly foiled an attempted breach into Iraq by a group of Islamic State fighters, while the Iraqi army has blocked other such efforts with few casualties.
Deep within Iraqi territory and most notably in areas the group once controlled and those disputed between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), however, the Islamic State’s terrorist activity remains unchecked, despite its territorial collapse over a year ago.
In one such attack late Wednesday, militants a convoy of Hashd al-Shaabi militias of the Turkmen Brigades, who were off duty and unarmed, in the disputed district of Makhmour. Casualty reports indicate that the militia suffered seven deaths and 30 injuries. The incident prompted Abdul-Mahdi to an investigation into the incident.
Despite the many security failures in these areas, there is a growing call by leading Shia factions in the Iraqi parliament for the passage of a bill demanding the ouster of the US-led coalition troops—which, since 2014, have been working with and training Iraq’s security forces to the Islamic State.
The State Department explained that in speaking with Abdul-Mehdi,Pompeo “reiterated the United States’ support for a strong, sovereign, and prosperous Iraq,” adding that he also “underlined his support for an Iraq open to the region and the rest of the world.”
Editing by Laurie Mylroie