Iraqi politicians call for urgent response to reappearance of ISIS leader

The ministries of defence and interior must be filled to prevent the resurgence of ISIS after Baghdadi call, Iraqi leaders say

Iraqi politicians made an urgent call on Tuesday to ensure that Baghdad is to ready to counter an ISIS resurgence, after the terror group's leader made a video appearance for the first time in five years.

Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi appeared in a propaganda video released on Monday. It was his first appearance since 2014 and was designed to rally his remaining followers worldwide.

It was broadcast to prove that ISIS had not been defeated, a month after losing its last stronghold in Baghouz, Syria.

"The appearance of Al Baghdadi in the video is a very dangerous development facing the Iraqi government," Sarkwat Shams, a member of parliament, told The National.

“The most important thing the parliament can do is to vote for the interior and defence ministers."

Since assuming office last October, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has failed to form a complete government, with the defence, interior and justice portfolios still vacant.

Internal disagreement between rival blocs led by populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr and Iranian-backed Hadi Al Ameri have prevented the appointment of a full Cabinet of 22 ministers.

The deadlock has raised fears that militants could exploit the power vacuum as the country struggles to rebuild after a brutal battle against ISIS.

“I believe we should take it seriously and we should analyse the size of the threat," Mr Shams said.

"However, ISIS will benefit from the crisis and corruption. We believe that the threat is serious and we should be ready for it."

Terrorism remains a threat with or without Al Baghdadi, said former Iraqi vice president Ayyad Allawi.

ISIS has sleeper cells in Iraq, Syria and across the Middle East, Mr Allawi said.

"The parliament needs to finalise the country's security portfolios," he said. "The economy must be revived so that jobs are created. Many Iraqis, especially the youth, are unemployed.

"Having a profession will give Iraqis a sense of stability in that they will have a purpose and means of income.

"It will divert them from joining ISIS."

Iraq needs political stability and security to battle the threat and ideology of ISIS, said Falah Mustafa, the head of foreign relations for the Kurdistan Regional Government.

"For the current situation in Iraq to be consolidated, we need to have a complete Cabinet, we need have political stability and to support the current government," Mr Mustafa said.

The current situation is very fragile, he said, and Iraq needed to "be vigilant and on alert that ISIS may make a comeback".

"We need to co-ordinate in terms of intelligence-sharing, and address the issue politically, economically, socially and culturally so that we address the root causes that led to the emergence of ISIS in Iraq and other places," Mr Mustafa said.

The reappearance of Al Baghdadi showed that ISIS was still a threat to Iraq's security, MP Jaber Al Jaberi said.

"Those who think that ISIS is defeated in Iraq are wrong," Mr Al Jaberi said.

Mr Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday that Al Baghdadi's “appearance is a way of showing support towards his followers”.

He warned that although “ISIS’s capabilities have shrunk they still remain a threat” to the region.

The terror group has lost its strongholds in Iraq and Syria, which stripped Al Baghdadi of his assumed title of "caliph" and turned him into a fugitive.

Experts predict that he is moving along the desert border between Iraq and Syria.

Last year Iraqi authorities formed a special task force with US special forces to search for Al Baghdadi, said Hashim Al Hashimi, a counter-terrorism expert in Iraq.

“The group has eliminated 13 out of 17 possibilities of his hideout and are very close to locating him, either in the Anbar desert in the Hawran valley region, or the Syrian Homs desert,” Mr Al Hashimi said.

But he said that Al Baghdadi’s reappearance, which was a shock for the Iraqi government, would give his supporters hope.

It will also put to rest rumours of his death and severe injuries, Mr Al Hashimi said.

Baghdad declared victory over the insurgents in 2017 but has struggled to dislodge their insurgency since.