WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The King of Jordan, Abdullah II, arrived in Brussels on Tuesday to attend a NATO conference. Just before leaving for Belgium, he warned of the re-emergence in Iraq and Syria of the so-called Islamic State.
The Jordanian ruler’s warning echoed those that have been made repeatedly by Kurdish officials. As Jabar Yawar, Secretary General of the Ministry of Peshmerga, affirmed on Saturday, “ISIS is still standing and posing a threat to the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and the whole world.”
On Monday, in an interview with France 24, Abdullah warned, “We have seen over the past year, the re-establishment and rise of ISIS, not only in southern, eastern Syria but also in western Iraq.”
He described the Islamic State’s re-emergence as “a threat to all of us—not only in the region but also in Europe and the rest of the world.”
Abdullah stressed that the major issue that he would focus on during his trip to Europe, which also includes Paris and Strasbourg, seat of the European Parliament, is Iraq—and not Iran, despite the tensions between Washington and Tehran. Indeed, regarding Iran, Abdullah, like the Kurdish leadership, called for “dialogue” and “de-escalation.”
However, the tensions between the US and Iran have contributed to difficulties in combatting the Islamic State, as the Iraqi parliament, or at least its Shia members, who constitute a majority, voted for the removal of US troops from the country. The US rejected that move and has suggested, instead, an enhanced NATO presence there.
NATO already has a training mission in Iraq, which is led by Canada. NATO suspended that mission in the Arab areas of Iraq, although not in the Kurdistan Region, following the US assassination of Qasim Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force. Once circumstances allow, that work will resume.
US forces are in Iraq in an advisory, rather than a combat, role. Whether NATO is prepared to assume any of their tasks remains unclear, although DoD News, the official news outlet of the US Department of Defense, reported that Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is representing the US at the NATO conference, “saw support from his counterparts for the alliance doing more in the Middle East.”
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, met with Abdullah and emphasized that “it was important to preserve the gains made against ISIS to ensure the terrorist group does not return,” according to a NATO statement.
Notably, Iraq’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abdul Karim Hashim Aboualgus, was also present at the NATO meeting and also met with Stoltenberg.
Stoltenberg assured Aboualgus that “NATO remains fully committed to working with Iraq” and “is ready to resume training and capacity building efforts in Iraq, as soon as conditions on the ground allow,” according to another NATO statement.
Masoud Barzani, the long-time head of the Kurdistan Regional Government until stepping down from that post in 2017, but who remains head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, recently warned a visiting US diplomat of the danger of a terrorist resurgence in terms very similar to Abdullah’s.
On Thursday, while meeting with David Schenker, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Barzani stressed “the importance of the International Coalition’s role in the fight against the terrorist group ISIS.” He warned that “without the ongoing support” of the US-led Coalition, the terrorist group “might reorganize under different names and slogans.”
In speaking to France 24, the Jordanian King also noted that there has been an increase in foreign fighters leaving Syria and headed for Libya. He suggested that Turkey, which is backing the beleaguered government in Tripoli, was turning a blind eye to the outflow, if not encouraging it.
“Several thousand hard-core foreign fighters have left Idlib, through [Syria’s] northern border and have ended up in Libya,” Abdullah said. Given Libya’s proximity to Europe, “that is also going to be an important discussion in the next couple of days,” he explained, as he warned about the growth of “extremist terrorist organizations” there.
Abdullah addresses the European Parliament later on Wednesday.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany