Kurdistan Region PM warns about ‘great possibility’ of ISIS return

Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani warned in a media interview that the Islamic State is regrouping and urged the international community to take action.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani warned in a media interview that the Islamic State is regrouping and urged the international community to take action to prevent the group from making a substantial comeback.

In an interview that France 24 published on Tuesday, Barzani stated that Iraq's current political scene is the result of “bad governance” for the past sixteen years and that “we are fully supporting” the citizenry's demands for better services, living standards, and an end to rampant institutional corruption.

“The previous prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi did not enjoy the full support he deserved from the other political factions to continue to implement his agenda, and we don’t think he was responsible for all the problems that the country has,” Barzani said, adding that he hopes the new nominee for prime minister, Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi, will have the support of both the people and various Iraqi factions needed to be successful. 

Prime Minister-designate Allawi is tasked with reorganizing the structure of the Iraqi government and paving the way for an early election. In this regard, Barzani explained, it is not only the election that requires attention, but “there has to be an inclusive government, a representative government which the election must be aiming at.”

To answer a question on the subject of a US troop withdrawal from Iraq, Barzani pointed out that the United States and international coalition troops are in Iraq based on an official invitation from the federal government. Barzani praised the role of the coalition to support Iraqi and Peshmerga forces, saying, “We do believe that their presence is still very much needed because ISIS is a major threat, it is not completely defeated, it is not eradicated and it can regroup and attack as they have in many different places.”  

Barzani also stressed the necessity of cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil in areas disputed by the two to tackle the issue of Islamic State insurgents taking advantage of the security vacuum between Iraqi and Peshmerga forces to intensify its activities.          

He further claimed that the extremist group now has more militants than in 2013, just before its fighters took over whole towns and cities and declared them part of its “caliphate.”

“All the root causes that led to the rise of ISIS, and the collaboration of the people with ISIS, still exist.”

On Saturday evening, Islamic State militants abducted two brothers by setting up a fake checkpoint in the Kurdistan Region's Garmiyan district. Relatives said at least 15 armed men with pickup trucks were at the checkpoint. 

Read More: ISIS abducts two brothers at fake checkpoint in Garmiyan

The incident marks the second kidnapping case in 48 hours in the same area.

Read More: ISIS executed persons recently abducted in Iraq's rural Diyala: MP

Barzani also commented on the Kurdistan Region’s efforts to stay out of the confrontation between the United States and Iran. “Iran is our neighbor, and the US is our friend,” he said, arguing that “all sides” must play their role in defusing the tension.

The Kurdish leader also criticized Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah for recent comments made about Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Following the US drone strike at Baghdad International Airport that killed top Iranian commander Qasim Soleimani, Nasrallah had remarked that Barzani's reaction was insufficient because “the Iranians saved Erbil and Kurdistan Region” from the Islamic State.

“Obviously that was not true,” said Prime Minister Barzani, “and I was a bit surprised about the responses of many Arabs-not only the Kurds-because all those who know president Masoud Barzani, they know he was leading this war against ISIS.”

He continued, “Iranian did help with sending some ammunition, but the help they claimed was much exaggerated. Of course, there were many other coalition forces that helped us in that time, but we have to bear in mind that there were Peshmergas that were fighting on the front lines and it was our Peshmerga who were losing their lives to defeat ISIS and defend not only Kurdistan but the rest of the world from this threat.”

When asked about the situation in Syria, Barzani said, “We don’t believe any escalation in military confrontation would help or hold the stability of the region as a whole,” pointing out that the recent cross-border invasion of Syria by Turkey has also complicated the issue much further.

Primary among his concerns about the military incursion is the Turkish program of anti-Kurdish demographic change many have suggested is being undertaken in northern Syria, the most recent effects being an additional 20,000 Syrian refugees fleeing into the Kurdistan Region, adding to the already existing 250,000 Kurdish Syrian refugees that were already seeking shelter there.

When asked about the Kurdistan Region's 2017 independence referendum, Barzani emphasized, “It was not a mistake, but an expression of the desire of the Kurdish people. However, it was Baghdad’s reaction that was illegal, using forces against the Kurdistan Region.” 

“We have a constitution that Baghdad needs to implement,” Barzani added, saying that the full implementation of the constitution is one of the main reasons that we can stay together and build a country.   

The interview concluded with Barzani emphasizing reform and tackling corruption in Iraq and Kurdistan Region, saying, “It is the slogan of my cabinet.”

Editing by John J. Catherine