This is the second part of an interview that Kurdistan 24 conducted with Minister Safeen Dizayee, Head of the Foreign Relations Department of the Kurdistan Regional Government. The interview came at the end of his first trip to Washington DC in that capacity. It was conducted on Nov. 22. Read Part I here.
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Continued support to the Peshmerga was prominent among the issues that Minister Safeen Dizayee discussed during his week-long visit to Washington.
“There is a great deal of cooperation right now,” Dizayee told Kurdistan 24. The United States and “a number of other countries” in the Coalition against the Islamic State “are working on a very comprehensive plan of reform in the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs to modernize it and make it a fighting force” with the ability “to protect Kurdistan and also to fight against any prospect” of the re-emergence of the Islamic State or any organization like it.
Indeed, supporting the Peshmerga and ensuring the continuation of their fighting capabilities would seem a prudent US move. When the so-called Islamic State burst out suddenly in 2014, the Iraqi army collapsed before the onslaught. It was the Peshmerga, backed by US airstrikes, who blocked the further advance of the terrorist group.
Dizayee, explaining that he had thanked US officials for the support they have provided the Peshmerga, noted that “in light of developments” and current demands, there is still, however, more to be done in bolstering the Kurdish force.
Resurgence of Islamic State
In his meetings with US officials, Dizayee “underlined the fact that ISIS is no longer sleeper cells,” but “they are active cells” in both Iraq and Syria.
He estimated the number of Islamic State terrorists “roaming” between Iraq and Syria at between 15,000 and 20,000, also implying that the two countries were, in fact, a single theater of war.
One area of particular concern to the KRG, which “should be of concern to Iraqis, Americans, and the entire world” is “the gap, or no-man’s land” between the Kurdistan Region and Iraq proper, which stretches from the border with Syria to the border with Iran.
In that gap, which reaches 20 to 25 kilometers in some areas, “ISIS has been able to regroup,” Dizayee explained. “Almost daily,” it is conducting military operations and terrorist attacks.
That security vacuum is the consequence of the “events of 2017,” as he delicately put it. “Unfortunately, that was not an experience that we expected.”
Dizayee is, of course, referring to Iraq’s October 2017 attack on Kirkuk and the disputed territories in a military operation engineered by Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, shortly after the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum.
Rather than take a decisive stance against the attack, Washington turned a blind eye—with the consequences Dizayee described: the resurgence of the Islamic State in areas that had been quiet when they were under Peshmerga control.
Moreover, the attack helped bring about the defeat of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in the elections the next year.
There had been an understanding between the Kurdish leadership and Abadi, an informed source told Kurdistan 24. Abadi would allow the referendum to proceed, and the Kurdish parties would support him in forming the government after the 2018 elections.
But after Abadi attacked the Kurds, they turned against him—as one would expect, and he failed to win sufficient support to return as prime minister.
Bipartisan Congressional Support
“I was taken aback by the level of support and sympathy” from Congress, Dizayee said. “They were very cordial and very receptive” and “listened to us carefully.”
Dizayee discussed with the elected US representatives “events, firsthand, in Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq as a whole, and across the border in Syria.” And “I think we managed to convey our message,” he stated.
Congressional support is bipartisan and rests on a favorable view of Kurds held by the American public.
Asked whether other senior KRG officials would be visiting Washington, Dizayee suggested that such an event was likely.
“It is on the table that there will be some meetings in the future,” he replied, and “hopefully, there will be a high-level delegation.”
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany