Iraq's prime minister says security forces can resist ISIS

Mustafa Al Kadhimi tells terrorist group 'you have tried and failed' after visit to Iraq-Syria border

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi visits the Iraq-Syria border on January 26. Photo: Iraqi Prime Minister's Media Office

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi assured the public that security is tight along the border with Syria as clashes between ISIS and Kurdish fighters intensified.

The country shares a 599-kilometer border with Syria in an area controlled by various forces, including the Iraqi military, Syrian Army, US-backed Kurdish forces, Iran-backed militias and anti-government rebels.

It is a flashpoint of tension between Iran-backed groups and the US, exacerbated by ISIS incursions and Turkish pressure on Kurdish rebel groups.

In a show of support to Iraqi troops, Mr Al Kadhimi made a rare visit to the country’s border with Syria on Wednesday evening and said security forces were capable of resisting ISIS.

“You must intensify your efforts and work around the clock,” he said, addressing border officials and security forces, according to a statement from his office.

Mr Al Kadhimi was visiting Nineveh province to inspect security measures.

He said he was confident Iraqi security forces would be able to thwart ISIS. The group overran vast swaths of northern Iraq in the summer of 2014 largely because Iraqi forces retreated.

“I say to the terrorists of Daesh: Do not test us, you have tried a lot and failed. You will try a lot and you will fail,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

For years, the Iraqi Army has been trying to clear ISIS from the desert area bordering Syria, in an attempt to combat the group’s remaining sleeper cells.

Despite the government announcing victory over ISIS in 2017, remnants and cells of the group still regularly stage hit-and-run attacks or bombings across the country. The government is also trying to curb drug smuggling and other illegal activities at the border.

The visit came as Kurdish forces on Wednesday said they have regained control of the last section of a prison taken over by ISIS militants, ending a week-long assault by the extremists on one of the largest detention centres in Syria.

The attack in Hassakeh, northern Syria, was the biggest by ISIS fighters since the fall of the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate in 2019.

Dozens from both sides have been killed, according to the US-led coalition backing the Kurdish forces, which has carried out nearly a dozen air strikes, and thousands of civilians living near by have been displaced.

“The whole prison is now under control,” said Farhad Shami, a spokesman for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Updated: January 27, 2022, 12:06 PM