WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina) met with the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Nechirvan Barzani on Tuesday.
Accompanying Graham were Douglas Silliman, US ambassador to Iraq, Ken Gross, US Consul General in Erbil, and Maj. Gen. Walter Piatt, Deputy Commanding General for Transition for the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS), known formally as Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR.)
The visiting delegation praised the Kurdistan Region for welcoming the large number of refugees and displaced persons who have sought refuge from IS—as did Mark Green, head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and Amb. Sam Brownback, US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, when they met the Prime Minister the day before.
Graham’s delegation also discussed the heroism of the Peshmerga in fighting IS, as well as US military and humanitarian support to the Kurdistan Region.
In recent weeks, senior US officers, including Piatt, have stressed the need for renewed security cooperation among the Peshmerga, Iraqi Security Forces, and CJTF-OIR.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Barzani noted the deterioration of security in the disputed areas, which Iraqi forces seized last October, and affirmed, "The Kurdistan Region is fully ready to help Baghdad secure” those areas.
Graham, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a close associate of Sen. John McCain (R., Arizona), a long-time friend of the Kurds, now battling brain cancer, has been touring the broader region.
On Friday, Graham and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D, New Hampshire), met in Ankara with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Their discussions focused on two issues.
One issue was the detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson, whom Turkey arrested in October 2016, on what US officials have repeatedly described as patently false charges: Turkey claims that he is a member of the Gulenist movement and a terrorist—although Brunson is an evangelical Christian!
Turkey’s purchase of the latest US fighter jet, the F-35 was the second major issue in the senators’ meeting with Erdogan.
Shaheen has sponsored legislation that is on track to block the F-35 sale—unless the Trump administration certifies that Turkey is not wrongfully detaining US citizens or undermining NATO security, through such actions as its planned purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system.
Graham and Shaheen then met with Brunson in prison, before making a surprise visit on Monday to the northern Syrian city of Manbij. There, they were accompanied by Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrad, Commander of SOJTF-OIR (Special Operations Joint Task Force—Operation Inherent Resolve.)
SOJTF-OIR has primary responsibility for coalition forces in Syria, including in Manbij, where the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces helped to establish the Manbij Military Council, which now administers the city.
After touring Manbij and its bustling market, Graham told local leaders, “I will tell President Trump that it is important that we stay here to help you.”
“You’re friends of the United States, and if we leave it will be terrible,” he said. Manbij is “a place of hope in a region that needs more hope,” Graham concluded.
After meeting Barzani, Graham toured Mosul on Wednesday, before proceeding onto Baghdad, where he marked the Fourth of July with US troops.
In a press conference at the US embassy in Baghdad, Graham identified the Shiite militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, the most powerful of which are backed by Iran, as “the major challenge” to Iraq’s next government.
Graham also cautioned against any further Turkish incursions into Syria, lest they create a “quagmire.”