Iraqi president warns of ISIS revival

Barham Salih emphasised the US and Nato role in the fight against remaining ‘pockets’ of ISIS terrorists

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Iraqi President Barham Salih on Wednesday said "pockets" of ISIS threaten to re-emerge across the divided country, and emphasised the role of US and Nato military support in combatting extremism.

The ongoing civil war in neighbouring Syria has contributed to extremist pockets that threaten Iraqi stability and security, he said.

“There remain pockets of these terrorists across the Middle East, particularly Syria,” said Mr Salih, speaking during a virtual interview at the Brookings Institution’s week-long panel on the Middle East under the Biden administration.

“You look at Idlib. You look at some of the other areas. And we are already witnessing signs of revival of some of the activities by ISIS in the Iraqi deserts near Mosul, near Anbar, sometimes in Kirkuk and so on.

“I do not want to underestimate the significance of the victory accomplished, but we also have to acknowledge that the mission is yet to be accomplished fully and definitively. Without addressing some of the fundamental issues like the Syrian conflict – like dealing with these pockets and areas of the presence of the extremist groups – this war against terror … will have to continue.”

But Mr Salih referenced a symbolic vote by the Iraqi parliament last year to expel US troops after former president Donald Trump’s strike in Baghdad last year that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani and Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces commander Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis.

“Iraq definitely is committed to retaining its full sovereignty,” said Mr Salih. “Neither the United States nor Iraq want to have foreign troops, or American troops for that matter, across its territory. The US administrations have all called for the withdrawal of removing troops. But all of us are committed to maintaining the fight to the end against ISIS.”

Mr Trump reduced the number of troops in Iraq to 2,500 in November during his final months in office. The draw down came amid a months-long, ongoing strategic dialogue between Iraq and the US.

Mr Salih reiterated that the ongoing dialogue will determine the future US force posture in Iraq, but said “there is now also a focus on Nato enhancing its mission in Iraq to provide training to Iraqi forces”.

President Joe Biden discussed the strategic dialogue in a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi – his first with an Arab leader since taking office – on Tuesday. The call came after three rocket attacks targeted US forces throughout Iraq within the space of a week. An Iran-backed militia claimed responsibility for the first attack in Erbil last week, which killed a military contractor and wounded several US troops.