WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Maj. Gen. Walter Piatt, the newly appointed Commander of Coalition ground forces (known by the acronym, CJFLCC-OIR), led a high-level military delegation to Erbil on Wednesday and met with Masrour Barzani, Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC).
Barzani expressed his concerns to Piatt about “instability in Iraq” and the “Kurdistani territories outside of the Kurdistan Region,” according to a KRSC summary of the meeting.
Barzani also emphasized “the need for cooperation” between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad, as well as with international partners “to restore stability” and address the “political, economic, and administrative” failures that breed “violence and extremist organizations.”
Piatt assumed command of Coalition ground forces just 10 days ago—on March 19, as the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division took over duties from the Army’s 1st Armored Division.
The last visit of a senior US military officer to Erbil was in February when CENTCOM Commander Gen. Joseph Votel traveled to the Kurdish capital. And, as Coalition Spokesperson Col. Ryan Dillon told Kurdistan 24, the Coalition maintains a “senior military officer in Erbil full time.”
Since Oct. 16, when Iraqi forces—backed by Iranian-supported militias in a military operation organized by Qassim Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force—attacked Kirkuk, the security situation has deteriorated there and elsewhere.
“Islamic State (IS) is regrouping and increasing deadly attacks in disputed territories across northern Iraq,” the Voice of America reported on Monday.
On Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi revealed that, in response to the growing violence, security cooperation between Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga had been renewed.
Later that day, responding to a question from Kurdistan 24, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert affirmed that the US welcomed such cooperation between Erbil and Baghdad.
The worsening security situation threatens to delay US plans to draw down its forces in Iraq.
A similar problem exists in Syria, where the Turkish assault on Afrin has pulled Kurdish fighters away from combatting IS remnants in the Middle Euphrates River Valley—in the area along the river between Deir al-Zor and al-Qaim, on the Iraqi border.
US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis explained on Tuesday that the diversion of Kurdish fighters to Afrin had caused a halt in the Coalition’s “offensive effort on the ground.”
The fundamental problem is that in both Iraq and Syria, the war against IS has been fought without regard to the famous dictum of the German military strategist, Carl von Clausewitz: “war is politics by other means.”
In other words, a war’s proper objective is a desired political state—not merely the defeat of an enemy. However, when the war against IS began, under Barack Obama, the US did not define a goal beyond the defeat of IS. That did not change under the Trump administration.
In a seminar Monday at the Hudson Institute on the future of Iraq and Syria after the defeat of IS, the panelists repeatedly highlighted this problem, even predicting it would lead to further conflict.
The US has failed to develop any evident mechanism that will provide for adequate political representation for Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. That could well lead to the reemergence of another iteration of IS, they suggested.
They also noted that Iran has skillfully exploited the fight against IS to establish a dominant position in Iraq and Syria while creating a land bridge to the Mediterranean. That, too, is likely to lead to further conflict, they said.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany