Mas­rour Barzani for NPR: “we’re ready to fight for Mo­sul”

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS -

Amer­i­can mil­i­tary of­fi­cials an­nounced that they are plan­ning an op­er­a­tion in April or May to free Iraq's sec­ond largest city, Mo­sul, from the group that calls it­self the Is­lamic State. The ex­trem­ist group has con­trolled the city since June, and the Pen­tagon says up to 25,000 Iraqi troops will take part in an of­fen­sive to re­claim the city.

Kur­dish fighters will be a key part of this op­er­a­tion. The Kurds are a close U.S. ally in this con­flict and have al­ready driven ISIS out of other ar­eas in north­ern Iraq. NPR's Ari Shapiro spoke with Mas­rour Barzani, who leads Kur­dish Se­cu­rity and In­tel­li­gence Ser­vices, about the ap­proach­ing op­er­a­tion. Here are ex­cerpts of their con­ver­sa­tion.

If word came to­day that it's time to go to lib­er­ate Mo­sul, would the Kur­dish Pesh­merga be ready?

The Pesh­merga are ready and have been fight­ing ISIS for a long time, but the lib­er­a­tion of Mo­sul is not just about hav­ing Pesh­marga ready to do their part. We are ba­si­cally wait­ing for the rest of the Iraqi troops, the Iraqi army to be ready to come to Mo­sul. Pesh­marga will not en­ter Mo­sul alone. We un­der­stand that this will cre­ate some po­lit­i­cal sen­si­tiv­ity. So there has to be a Sunni mil­i­tary force to be able to lib­er­ate Mo­sul. Is the Iraqi army ready? I wish I could tell you that they are ready, but they are not, and this is very un­for­tu­nate. ... Let's not for­get that for 10 years the Iraqi army was trained and sup­ported, and un­for­tu­nately they did not last for a long time fight­ing ISIS. Es­pe­cially in Mo­sul. Five Iraqi mil­i­tary di­vi­sions and one fed­eral po­lice di­vi­sion were com­pletely de­stroyed or aban­doned their posts.

And let's also not for­get that fight­ing ISIS with new re­cruits is not that easy. So you have to have com­bat-hard­ened forces, and those forces that have al­ready been fight­ing ISIS for quite some time.

Mo­sul is a city of 2 mil­lion peo­ple. Do you fear that a fight could flood the re­gion with flee­ing civil­ians?

We have well above 1.6 mil­lion IDPs (in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple) in Kur­dis­tan, mostly from south­ern cities. And any plan to lib­er­ate Mo­sul has to be well cal­cu­lated and well co­or­di­nated. The lib­er­a­tion of Mo­sul should not re­ally lead to an­other mass ex­o­dus of peo­ple else­where. That would hap­pen if the op­er­a­tion fails.

If ISIS is driven out, who should han­dle se­cu­rity and gov­er­nance in Mo­sul?

We know that about 30 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of Mo­sul is Kur­dish. So the Kurds will def­i­nitely have to play a role. But it would be those Kurds that live in Mo­sul. And other com­po­nents of the city or the Prov­ince must par­tic­i­pate.

So for the fu­ture of Mo­sul, the se­cu­rity of Mo­sul, or the post-lib­er­a­tion of Mo­sul, def­i­nitely ev­ery­one who lives in Mo­sul who has not been af­fected or af­fil­i­ated or col­lab­o­rated with ter­ror­ism should be in­cluded, and that will re­quire train­ing, it will re­quire ad­di­tional sup­port and help.

How do you eval­u­ate the as­sis­tance you've re­ceived from the U.S.?

We are grate­ful for the sup­port that the U.S. has pro­vided to us. They were among the first that came to our as­sis­tance when ISIS shifted its fo­cus and at­tacked Kur­dis­tan al­most overnight. The air strikes have been ex­tremely ef­fec­tive and have been a turn­ing point in terms of sup­port­ing Pesh­merga and de­feat­ing ISIS in the bat­tle­field.

How­ever, this is not enough to de­feat ISIS ul­ti­mately. ISIS does not only ex­ist on the front lines with the Kurds or fight­ing Pesh­marga. They ex­ist in other places where there are no Pesh­marga, and un­for­tu­nately the forces there are not as ef­fec­tive to de­feat ISIS or push ISIS back or drive ISIS out of the coun­try as Pesh­marga have done.

So we be­lieve that much more is needed to be done in terms of pro­vid­ing ground sup­port to the Pesh­merga, in terms of suf­fi­cient ar­ma­ment, heavy ar­mored tanks, and ve­hi­cles, he­li­copters that we've been ask­ing for quite a long time from the U.S. and coali­tion forces.

Iraq is pre­par­ing to take back Mo­sul, a se­nior U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cial says. Ear­lier this month, gov­ern­ment-backed Sunni Arab tribes­men who've been train­ing to fight ISIS marched north­east of Mo­sul, in north­ern Iraq.

Are there spe­cific places that need to be lib­er­ated be­fore a Mo­sul op­er­a­tion can begin?

The Pesh­merga have con­ducted a num­ber of op­er­a­tions in the north, east, and west of Mo­sul. And we've lib­er­ated thou­sands of square kilo­me­ters. Now it's time for the Iraqi army to ad­vance from the south to­ward Mo­sul. And that is the key. Mo­sul has to be com­pletely iso­lated for any ef­fec­tive as­sault and let's say guar­an­teed op­er­a­tion. ISIS should not have a cor­ri­dor, a way out. They have to be iso­lated; they have to be at­tacked from all dif­fer­ent sides.

If the Iraqi army doesn't get ready, is there a plan B?

We can­not go be­yond ar­eas that are not Kur­dis­tan, and that lim­i­ta­tion does not al­low us to chase ISIS into the ar­eas where it's ba­si­cally the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Iraqi army to do so. If the Iraqi army is not ready, if there are no other ground forces to de­feat ISIS, that is some­thing that the de­ci­sion mak­ers in the U.S., mem­bers of the coali­tion have to make. Do they have the time and luxury to live with ISIS in an area where they can still flour­ish and pro­duce ter­ror­ists?

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