U.S. Says ISIS Remains a Threat; Affirms Continued Fight Against Terrorist Group

The U.S. position on ISIS resembles that of the KRG--it is still a threat and we remain committed to its defeat.
Pentagon building (Photo: Staff/AFP/Getty Images)
Pentagon building (Photo: Staff/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – A Defense Department Spokesperson, responding to a question from Kurdistan 24, affirmed the ongoing U.S. commitment to fighting ISIS, which Washington continues to view as a significant threat. 

“The United States continues to work with the Iraqi government to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS,” the Spokesperson stated. “Together with the Global Coalition, we have achieved significant progress, but ISIS still remains a threat,” he said, as he stressed that U.S. forces, nonetheless, did not have a combat role in Iraq.

Rather, he explained, “U.S. forces remain in Iraq” in “an advise, assist, and enable capacity to support the Iraqi-led fight against ISIS,” while their presence in Iraq is “at the invitation of the Iraqi government.”

U.S. Position Consistent with that of KRG, Europe

The U.S. position on ISIS is similar to that of senior officials in the Kurdistan Region. On Thursday Masoud Barzani, long-time President of the Kurdistan Region until stepping down from that position in 2017, but who remains head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), advised Sen. Titus Corlatean, a former Foreign Minister of Romania and now Chairman of the Romanian Senate’s Foreign Policy Committee, that ISIS remained a serious threat.

It is important for the international community to continue its fight against the terrorist group, the Kurdish leader said. 

“ISIS has been territorially defeated,” but “the root causes that led initially to its emergence and strength still exist,” Barzani advised the visiting Romanian official. 

Read More: KDP President Barzani calls for continued international anti-ISIS efforts

In addition, the anti-ISIS Coalition in Iraq supports the fight against ISIS in Syria. The U.S. has some 900 troops there, where, in contrast to Iraq, they are involved in combat. Notably, the U.S. forces in Syria are supplied from across the border, from Iraq.

On Friday, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main U.S. partner in Syria, announced it had captured a senior ISIS figure, known as Mahmdouh Ibrahim al-Haji, whom it described as one of the “key facilitators” for the terrorist group.

The capture of al-Haji followed just days after U.S. forces captured another major ISIS figure in Syria. 

According to UN estimates, ISIS still has some 5,000 to 7,000 members in Syria and Iraq. Of course, that is very similar to what Barzani told Sen. Corlatean: the root causes of ISIS’s emergence and strength remain.

Read More: Syrian Kurdish fighters backed by US troops say they've captured a senior Islamic State militant

On Friday, the Netherlands announced that it would deploy 120 more troops to Iraq to support NATO’s role in the anti-ISIS Coalition there, while it would provide the commander for the NATO mission in Iraq as well. 

Read More: Dutch to deploy additional troops in Iraq

Both Romania and the Netherlands are members of the European Union (EU), as well as NATO, and their involvement in supporting local partners is testimony to the broader view in both the EU and NATO that it is necessary to maintain the pressure on ISIS.

Background to Issue: Shows Erbil is Friendlier to U.S. than Baghdad

In early August, Iraq’s Defense Minister, Thabet al-Abbasi, visited Washington, and along with U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, hosted the inaugural session of the U.S.-Iraq Joint Security Cooperation Dialogue (JSCD), according to a summary provided by Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.

“Secretary Austin lauded the JSCD for its importance in advancing an enduring U.S.-Iraq security partnership,” Ryder stated. “The JCSD builds upon the July 2021 U.S.-Iraq Strategic Dialogue,” he continued, explaining that the 2021 accord reaffirmed the 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement [SFA], concluded at the end of the George W. Bush administration.

In 2021, all U.S. combat forces left Iraq, Ryder explained, and what followed was “a full transition of the military mission to training, advising, assisting, and sharing intelligence with the Iraqi Security Forces.”

That was the U.S.-Iraqi Strategic Dialogue, which was concluded under Iraq’s previous prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Read More: US affirms broad support for Iraq in Strategic Dialogue, including continued fight against ISIS

It is unclear how the JSCD differs from the Strategic Dialogue. Nonetheless, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani seemed to suggest that it did and that he would be more nationalistic than his predecessor and more independent of the U.S. 

Such a stance raises a major question. Why does Washington insist on subordinating Erbil, which is much friendlier to the U.S., to the authority of Baghdad?

On Monday, The National, a paper based in Abu Dhabi, published a lengthy interview with Sudani. It was conducted while he was in New York to attend the opening of the UN General Assembly.

In New York, Sudani met with both U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, Brett McGurk. Nonetheless, in speaking to The National, Sudani appeared keen to strike a nationalist tone.

Sudani affirmed that Iraq would “not be part of any sphere of influence,” as he said that he wanted more control over foreign forces in Iraq. 

“We are not in need of combat troops,” Sudani told the Abu Dhabi paper. “What we have are military advisers, but even their presence needs regulation, in terms of their size, location, and how long they remain.”

Since U.S. officials consistently say that U.S troops are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government, it is unclear what Sudani meant. Indeed, Iraq’s Defense Minister was just in the U.S., where he reached a new agreement with Washington! 

Didn’t that agreement include the points most important to Sudani? Nonetheless, as he spoke to The National, he added, “This is part of what is needed for our sovereignty and stability, to take away any excuse from those who demand keeping arms out of the control of the state, because of the presence of foreign troops.”

It is unclear who is making such demands and why the Iraqi Prime Minister lacks the ability to deal with them.

Nonetheless, the day after Sudani’s interview appeared, reporters repeatedly asked State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller about his statements.

“In August,” Miller responded, referring to the inaugural JSCD meeting, at the Pentagon, “we issued a joint statement with our Iraqi partners underlining that we are there at their invitation and that we intend to consult on a future process inclusive of the Coalition to determine how the Coalition’s military mission will evolve.” 

“For more specifics,” Miller continued, “I’d refer you to the Pentagon.” Hence, Kurdistan 24’s query—and the Pentagon response: we remain committed to the defeat of ISIS.