Kurds look­ing to Trump in post-Mo­sul scramble

Hope for sup­port af­ter Is­lamic State de­feated

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY CARLO MUNOZ

Iraq’s Kurds, hav­ing played a ma­jor role in the fight against Is­lamic State, are bank­ing that the in­com­ing Trump White House will ex­pand U.S. mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal sup­port for Iraq, tak­ing on a larger role in sta­bi­liz­ing the coun­try af­ter the de­feat of the ter­ror group in Mo­sul.

As Amer­i­can-backed Iraqi and Kur­dish pesh­merga forces face a long and bloody cam­paign to re­take Mo­sul, the eth­nic Kurds will need Wash­ing­ton’s sup­port in the po­lit­i­cal af­ter­math, Mas­rour Barzani, chan­cel­lor of the Kur­dis­tan Re­gion Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, said on a Wash­ing­ton visit Thurs­day.

“We ex­pect more sup­port from the next ad­min­is­tra­tion,” he said told an au­di­ence at the Wil­son Cen­ter. “We do not claim [Is­lamic State] is the end of ter­ror­ism” in Iraq, Mr. Barzani said. “The is­sue is not solved” even when the group is driven out of the coun­try.

His com­ments come amid re­cent re­ports of heavy Is­lamic State re­sis­tance east of Mo­sul, af­ter sev­eral days of ad­vances by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces. Iraqi and coali­tion troops were forced to pull back from the Wahda neigh­bor­hood, south­east of the city, un­der “heavy enemy fire,” coali­tion of­fi­cials told the Reuters news agency.

The ma­jor­ity of Iraqi forces are press­ing into Mo­sul’s east­ern bor­ders, while Kur­dish troops have fo­cused their at­tack on the city’s north­ern edges. Iraqi Shi­ite para­mil­i­tary groups, known as Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Forces, are mov­ing into the city from the west while block­ing es­cape routes into neigh­bor­ing Syria.

Roughly 1,000 Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers and mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers are on the ground, sup­port­ing the Iraqi-led as­sault.

De­spite re­cent progress, “it is very hard to say ex­actly when this fight will come to an end,” Mr. Barzani said.

When asked if Kur­dish lead­ers would al­low U.S. forces to main­tain an ex­tended pres­ence in north­ern Iraq af­ter Mo­sul falls, Mr. Barzani replied: “We would love to see Amer­i­cans en­gaged [in Kur­dis­tan] to help sta­bi­lize the re­gion,” but added that would be up to the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion.

U.S. and Iraqi of­fi­cials are con­cerned that the de­feat of Is­lamic State may not solve the coun­try’s deeper po­lit­i­cal prob­lems, in­clud­ing sec­tar­ian hos­til­ity be­tween Shi­ites and Sun­nis and the Kurds’ long-stated hopes for greater au­ton­omy and — in time — a home­land of their own unit­ing Kur­dish com­mu­ni­ties in Syria, Turkey and Iran.

On the cam­paign trail, Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump re­peat­edly stated that his pri­mary na­tional se­cu­rity goal for his ad­min­is­tra­tion would be the com­plete de­feat of Is­lamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, while crit­i­ciz­ing the Obama White House’s over­all coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­egy.

Mr. Obama’s strat­egy in­cluded heavy re­liance on lo­cal ar­mies and para­mil­i­tary groups, trained and armed by small U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions teams and backed by Amer­i­can sur­veil­lance drones and air power.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, Mr. Trump fa­mously claimed one of his first acts as com­man­der in chief would be to or­der the Pen­tagon to draft up a new Is­lamic State strat­egy, due a month af­ter he takes of­fice. But the pres­i­dent-elect’s tran­si­tion team and prospec­tive mem­bers of his emerg­ing na­tional se­cu­rity team have pro­vided few de­tails on Mr. Trump’s long-term po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion for Iraq.

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