US-led coalition deputy commander encourages further Erbil-Baghdad security coordination

The coalition is “working very closely with the authorities across the whole of Iraq, including in the Kurdistan Region, to ensure that there is cooperation between the military forces...

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The international coalition supports efforts by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Federal Government of Iraq to reach a joint agreement to resolve outstanding issues, especially those related to joint security, a Coalition Deputy Commander said on Monday.

Officials in Erbil and Baghdad have been working to address outstanding issues between the two governments with signs of improvement. Foreign officials have recognized these efforts and are encouraging both sides to continue their dialogue to reach mutual agreements, notably regarding joint security in disputed areas to prevent the re-emergence of the so-called Islamic State.

Kurdistan 24 spoke to Maj. Gen. Gerald Strickland, Deputy Commander-Stability of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), on the sidelines of a security event in Baghdad on Monday.

“Part of the issue of defeating Da’esh [ISIS] is to deal with them in the areas of the country which they feel free to operate, and some of those are in the region of the Kurdish coordination line,” Strickland stated, referring to the security vacuum along the borders that separate the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) from the Kurdish Peshmerga.

When the Islamic State emerged in Iraq in mid-2014, the Kurdistan Region’s Peshmerga advanced to protect those disputed areas and prevent the terror group from moving toward the Kurdish region.

However, after the Islamic State’s military defeat, the Kurdistan Region held an independence referendum in September 2017. Baghdad rejected the vote and imposed a set of punitive measures on the KRG, including a flight ban and the use of military force to regain control of disputed areas.

Since then, the security in these areas has deteriorated, enabling Islamic State sleeper cells to launch sporadic attacks.

Maj. Gen. Strickland said the US-led coalition is “working very closely with the authorities across the whole of Iraq, including in the Kurdistan Region, to ensure that there is cooperation between the military forces on both sides.”

According to the Deputy Commander, the coalition’s goal is “to apply the pressure” on the Islamic State, “so that they cannot operate in those [disputed] areas that we know they feel otherwise…free to do so.”

He said the coalition continues to support the Peshmerga through training and the provision of equipment “to enable them to defeat Da’esh or to continue to defeat Da’esh.”

“They have made enormous success so far, but there is still more to do, and we will work together with them to achieve that.”

Indeed, Strickland recently visited the autonomous Kurdish region where he met with Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani to discuss the continuation of military support for the Kurdish troops.

Read More: PM Barzani discusses military support for Peshmerga with US-led coalition deputy commander

Meanwhile, at the same event in Baghdad, Jon Wilks, the British Ambassador to Iraq, told Kurdistan 24 that the United Kingdom, along with its allies, wants Erbil and Baghdad to reach “an agreement that is fair to both sides.”

Aside from the matters of joint security, oil revenues, the status of disputed territories, and the share of the federal budget are some of the outstanding issues between the regional and federal government.

“We support the idea of getting this agreement, and we will do what we can to create the right atmosphere to achieve it,” Wilks added.

Ties between Erbil and Baghdad have notably improved since the beginning of 2019, with the formation of a new federal government headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi, and regular delegation visits from both sides.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany

(Additional reporting by Blesa Shaways)