As US and Iraq engage in strategic dialogue, the fight against ISIS continues

Extremist group has taken advantage of rift between Iraqi security forces and Kurdish military forces

A member of the Kurdish Peshmerga militia faces ISIS positions in Diyala, Iraq. AFP
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Over a two-week period in March, the US-led coalition, in co-ordination with Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Iraqi Security Forces, launched more than 300 air strikes against ISIS targets near Makhmour Mountain in northern Iraq.

Operation Ready Lion was the latest effort in the fight against ISIS.

Since ISIS's territorial defeat in March 2019, the terror group has found refuge in the mountains of northern Iraq. The group has taken advantage of the geography and the rift between the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish military.

“The problem with ISIS right now in Iraq, is the disputed territories,” said Niyaz Barzani, head of foreign affairs and diplomacy at the Kurdistan Region Presidency.

“Because of a lack of a joint security mechanism between the Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi Security Forces, those areas are giving breathing room for ISIS to regroup.”

ISIS members have managed to operate with relative ease in these mountainous areas.

“They’ve been able to launch attacks from the disputed territories,” said Mr Barzani.

The administration of President Joe Biden has continued to work with both the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdish regional authorities to keep ISIS from rebuilding.

“There is no change at all in the policy of the coalition in co-ordination with the Peshmerga forces to fight ISIS in the Kurdistan region," said a representative for the Peshmerga Ministry of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

“Right now, the coalition is committed to continue fighting ISIS alongside the Peshmerga forces and the Peshmerga forces are committed as well to collaborate with the coalition forces to fight the Islamic State sleeper cells in the region.”

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to sit down with Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein for the first strategic dialogue between Baghdad and Washington since Mr Biden became president. The Kurds were due to have a representative at the virtual meetings as well and say they welcome the dialogue.

“With our Iraqi partners, we are raising the issues that are in common interest with the US government and Iraq as a whole,” said Mr Barzani.

Chief among those interests is the continuation of the coalition and the fight against ISIS.

"The US has invested a lot, in blood and in treasure in Iraq. Thousands of lives, tens of billions of dollars, so they need to finish the job through supporting US partners in Iraq in a more effective way," Mr Barzani told The National.

As the threat of ISIS continues, Mr Barzani says that without a strong, co-ordinated effort, the group may grow “bigger and bigger".