ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Joseph Votel, visited Erbil on Sunday, with a message for the region: Kurdish Peshmerga Forces and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), along with the Coalition, must all work together to ensure the lasting defeat of the Islamic State (IS).
Votel also stressed that the US will continue its military support for the Peshmerga.
Votel and his delegation, including Ken Gross, US Consul General in the Kurdistan Region, and Maj. Gen. Walter Piatt, the Coalition’s Deputy Commanding General for Transition, met with Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and other KRG officials: Dr. Fuad Hussein, Chief of Staff to the Kurdistan Region Presidency, Karim Sinjari, acting Minister of Peshmerga Affairs, and military commanders Sheikh Jafaar and Najat Ali.
Before Sunday’s meeting, Votel took time out from his official duties to tour the Erbil citadel, a World Heritage site and the city’s most famous cultural landmark.
Kurdistan 24 accompanied Votel, as he visited the citadel, including its museum, and he had high praise for the Peshmerga.
They “have been key partners—a key partner of our overall coalition and partner effort—along with the [ISF], in addressing the threat of [IS], and they will continue to be very, very important in this,” he told Kurdistan 24.
“While the Peshmerga, along with the [ISF] and the Coalition, have done an outstanding job of liberating the area from [IS],” Votel explained, IS “still remains.”
“It will be very important that we work together”—Votel said, stressing the word, “together,” as he continued, “the Coalition, the Peshmerga, the government of Iraq forces—to ensure that we keep the pressure on [IS] to prevent them from coming back.”
Security in the disputed areas has deteriorated significantly since last October, when Iraqi forces attacked Kirkuk, then under Kurdish administration.
The military operation was engineered by Qassim Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The US did little to oppose the attack, and a well-informed Washington source advised Kurdistan 24 that the State Department misled the White House about Iran’s central role, even as he suggested that the State Department, itself, reflecting the Obama-era policy of accommodating Iran, failed to comprehend that key point.
In their meeting, Gen. Votel and Prime Minister Barzani “stressed the importance of military coordination among Coalition, Iraqi, and Peshmerga forces, especially in hunting remnants of [IS] and eliminating their recent movements in the region,” according to a read-out from the Prime Minister’s office.
“Coordination between Coalition and Peshmerga forces was highly valued,” the statement continued, noting that the US “emphasized they will continue military support” for the Peshmerga.
“The Coalition is going to do our best,” Votel stressed to Kurdistan 24, “to help” the Peshmerga and ISF work together “to identify and eliminate” the threat from IS—which “is a threat to Kurdistan, is a threat to Iraq, is a threat to members of the coalition.”
The US General stressed the need to continue “to work together” through entities like the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center (KTCC) in Erbil.
“That will be very important,” Votel concluded.
Two weeks ago, the KTCC held a ceremony to mark a transfer of authority from the Coalition’s deactivated ground forces command to CJTF-OIR, as well as a change of command at the KTCC, from one member of the Coalition, Germany, to another, Italy.
Piatt attended that ceremony and spoke very highly of the Kurdish forces then, telling Kurdistan 24 that the Peshmerga had “the spirit of a fighter.”
“You ask any Coalition member, they have great respect for the Peshmerga,” Piatt affirmed. “We learn also from them. This is not just student and teacher.”
On Sunday, Piatt told Kurdistan 24, that IS is “exploiting seams” between the Peshmerga and ISF. “So it’s very important now that we have great security cooperation” between them.
At the citadel, Votel and the US forces accompanying him, including Piatt, were presented with insights into Kurdish history, as well as some live Kurdish entertainment at the end of their tour.
Although Votel had previously visited Erbil, this was his first visit to the citadel, he told Kurdistan 24.
The Erbil citadel was named a World Heritage Site in June 2014. As UNESCO pronounced then, “The citadel is today one of the most dramatic and visually exciting cultural sites not only in the Middle East but also in the world.” The Kurdish Project explains.
The KRG began renovating the ancient site in 2010. Ironically, when the citadel gained international recognition four years later, it was just as IS—notorious as a destroyer of such sites—had overrun Mosul and stood poised to threaten the Kurdistan Region, the Middle East, and areas far beyond.
(Blessa Shawesy and Nadia Riva contributed to this report)