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Barzani: Arab Sunnis in Iraq Suffer from Absence of Religious, Political Authority | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Photo caption: FILE – Kurdish Regional Government President Masoud Barzani speaks during an interview with Reuters in Irbil, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, May 12, 2014. (Reuters)

Davos – President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Masoud Barzani, said that the Iraqi Army’s military achievements in Mosul represented a hard blow against ISIS group. He added that while the Peshmerga has lost 1,668 soldiers since the beginning of the battle, 15,000 ISIS militants were killed during the fierce confrontation.

In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat newspaper on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Barzani said that the latest developments in the Mosul battle have seen the army sealing control over the neighborhoods located on the left bank of the city – a victory considered as a hammer blow against the terrorist organization.

Asked about losses incurred by the Peshmerga during the liberation battle, the Kurdish leader said: “Unfortunately, we have incurred severe losses on the quantity and value levels.”

He noted that since 2014, the battle claimed the lives of 1,668 soldiers, while the number of the injured reached 9,725.

On the other hand, Barzani said that available reports and intelligence information have showed that more than 15,000 ISIS militants were killed in the battle.

Asked whether his troops have received the desired support from coalition forces, the Kurdish leader said that air support was very strong; however, armament provided to the Peshmerga did not meet expectations.

“Undoubtedly, the U.S. Army and coalition forces played a major role in the Mosul liberation battle,” Barzani said, noting that airstrikes were highly precise and efficient.

“I am very proud to say that cooperation between the Peshmerga and the U.S. and coalition forces was excellent,” he said, adding: “We did not target any civilian goal, and not a single civilian was killed during the operations; this is unprecedented in the history of wars.”

Barzani stressed that the Peshmerga had a very strong intelligence body, adding that the exact location of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was yet to be confirmed. He noted in this regard that Baghdadi was in Mosul and used to travel frequently between Syria and Iraq.

“However, in the last few months, his moves became very restrained and we currently know nothing of his whereabouts,” he added.

Commenting on ISIS’ military and security abilities, Barzani said: “I cannot say that they have an exceptional military prowess, but brainwashing strengthens their determination and makes them unafraid to die.”

While the Kurdish leader declined to reveal the number of ISIS militants who are currently held by the Peshmerga, he said that those were from various nationalities.

He noted that the largest number of foreign ISIS fighters came from Chechnya, followed by Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Azerbaijan. As for Arab fighters, Barzani said that the majority came from Tunisia.

Asked about the battle to liberate the city of Baashika, which is located 15 kilometers north of Mosul, Barzani said the city was formed of different ethnic and religious groups, including Arabs, Kurds, Christians and Yazidis. He said that ISIS had sealed a strong grip over the city.

Barzani said that ahead of the liberation battle, Peshmerga troops imposed a two-week blockade on the city and achieved glorious victory after killing 110 militants and arresting three others, who had sustained severe injuries.

The Kurdish leader described Baashika as a model of religious and national coexistence. He stressed the warm welcome he received by the residents following the liberation of their city.

Asked about the future of Mosul following its liberation, Barzani said that the city would require an exceptional plan due to its hybrid nature. He noted in this regard that Mosul was formed of various groups, including Kurds, Christians, Turkmen, Shi’ite Kurds and other communities. The Kurdish leader said that the government would hold a referendum to decide on the future of the city.

Barzani said that he has so far spent “three quarters” of his life fighting tyrants, namely Saddam Hussein and al-Baghdadi.

“I was only 16 years-old when I first held a rifle,” he said, adding: “Despots and Tyrants are many; but each one of them represents a different era.”

Asked about his relationship with the government in Baghdad, Barzani valued the cooperation between the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces in the liberation of Mosul.

However, he said that little progress was achieved in other fields of cooperation.

“During my last visit to Baghdad in September, I told officials there that, unfortunately, we have failed to establish a true partnership between us, and that we should work on finding another formula for a successful cooperation,” Barzani stated.

The Kurdish leader described the relations with Turkey as excellent. He added that Iran had a major influence in Baghdad.

Asked about the situation of the Sunni community in Iraq, Barzani said: “Arab Sunnis are not currently at their best.”

“Unfortunately, the major problem is that they suffer from the absence of a religious and political authority,” he added.

When asked about measures he would take in the event that Nouri Al-Maliki is reappointed as prime minister in Baghdad, Barzani said: “I hope that this won’t happen for the sake of the Iraqi people.”

He added: “I would announce the independence of Kurdistan should Nouri Al-Maliki returns to the premiership.”

“During his term, thousands of Iraqi citizens were assassinated. I am not saying that he did this, but it happened under his rule,” he continued.

On the situation in Syria, Barzani said that the Russian intervention has saved the Syrian regime. He added that Syria would never become like it used to be before the war.

“I believe that the regions of east and west of the Euphrates River would be divided,” he said, adding that there was a deal between the U.S. and Russia over the war-torn country.

Barzani added that recent developments in Syria have shown that Bashar al-Assad would not be left out.