Iraq parliament speaker says US military support vital in combating ISIS

Mohammed Al Halbousi meets US defence chief and vice president during visit to Washington

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is received by Iraq's Parliament Speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi in Baghdad, Iraq, during a Middle East tour, January 9, 2019.  Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS
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Military and logistical support from the United State is crucial in combating ISIS in Iraq, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament said during a trip to the Pentagon.

Mohammed Al Halbousi, who is on a five-day visit to Washington, reaffirmed the importance of the US to countering the extremist militants during a meeting with Acting Defence Secretary Pat Shanahan on Wednesday.

Iraq declared victory against ISIS in December 2017 but the terror group is still able to carry out sporadic attacks across the country.

"The continuation of US support to eliminate the remaining sleeper cells and extremist ideologies are vital to ensuring that an ISIS resurgence is contained," Mr Al Halbousi said during his visit.

Washington has around 5,000 troops stationed in Iraq at the request of Baghdad's central government to combat the threat of the terror group.

Mr Shanahan reaffirmed “the strategic security partnership” between the two countries and Washington’s “commitment to a sovereign, secure, and prosperous Iraq”, the US Department of Defence said.

US security assistance is specifically designed to empower Iraqi forces to defeat ISIS and prevent its resurgence, the Pentagon statement said.

Mr Al Halbousi also met US Vice President Mike Pence and stressed the importance of the continuous security partnership between the two states.

“I’m grateful for the continued security alliance between our nations, our shared sacrifices to defeat ISIS, and Iraq’s commitment to protecting religious minorities and rebuilding these communities,” Mr Pence said on Twitter.

Mr Al Halbousi is scheduled to speak at the US Institute of Peace on Friday about the newly formed parliament’s priorities, the ongoing battle against violent extremism, and his vision for peace and stability.

The Iraqi official's visit comes days after US-backed forces recaptured the last territory held by ISIS in neighbouring Syria.

The Syrian Defence Forces drove the last ISIS fighters from Baghouz on Saturday, ending a campaign to reclaim ISIS-held territory in Syria in which it said 110,000 square kilometres of land were freed from the extremist group.

More than 60,000 insurgents and their relatives surrendered or fled from Baghouz, a small village near the Syria-Iraq border, over the past month, according to the Combined Joint Task Force set up by the US Central Command to co-ordinate military efforts against ISIS.

The Kurdish-led SDF has said that the extremist group remains a threat, as seen in Iraq where security forces continue to counter attacks by its supporters.

Cells operating in four northern Iraqi provinces have carried out abductions, assassinations and roadside ambushes aimed at intimidating locals and resuming the extortion rackets that financed ISIS's rise to power six years ago.

At its height in 2014 and 2015, ISIS ruled over a self-proclaimed "caliphate" that spanned one third of Iraqi and Syrian territory and attracted followers from all over the world.

Iraq has put hundreds of suspected foreign ISIS fighters on trial, many of whom were captured as the group lost a string of strongholds to US-backed military operations across the country.