Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi dismissed fears of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) advancing into the capital Baghdad during a speech to a graduating class of military officer cadets in the city of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq on Wednesday.
“Baghdad is safer than it was before as we have expanded the security checkpoints and barriers, while ISIS is very far away from the capital,” the prime minister said.
“Iraq’s security forces have struck heavy blows against ISIS, forcing it to the point where it [ISIS] is issuing these false rumors. The current circumstances demonstrate that Iraq’s security apparatus is a force that is to be reckoned with,” Abadi added.
Abadi’s comments came on the day the US Defense Department announced that its anti-ISIS operation in Iraq and Syria was named “Inherent Resolve,” according to international media. US warplanes have been striking ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria for weeks, although it is unclear how effective the campaign has been as ISIS continues to advance in both countries.
“The majority of Diyala province and large parts of Salah Al-Din province are now under control of the security forces,” the Iraqi prime minister said on Wednesday. In previous comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, a prominent Salah Al-Din tribal chief, Sheikh Khamis Al-Jabara, confirmed that ISIS’s advance into the central province had stalled.
Abadi pledged that “Iraqi security forces will defend every city of Iraq that is subject to terrorism and will continue to pursue efforts to liberate cities [under ISIS control],” calling for greater “regional and international cooperation to combat terrorism.”
Despite holding back ISIS in Salah Al-Din and Diyala, Iraqi forces have struggled to regain control of Iraq’s vast western province of Anbar.
On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama voiced concern about ISIS’s enduring presence in Anbar, as well as the group’s ongoing siege of Kobani in northern Syria. Obama acknowledged that the battle against ISIS, both in Syria and Iraq, will require a “long-term campaign,” following a meeting with senior military officers from 21 countries that have pledged support for the US-led international coalition seeking to combat ISIS.
ISIS remains in control of the city of Fallujah in Anbar. A security expert at the Alnahrain Center for Strategic Studies, Hisham Al-Hashimi, said ISIS’s presence in the western province represented a significant strategic advantage for the group in its struggle with the Iraqi armed forces.
“ISIS’s control of Fallujah is very important for the group due to the location of this city and the nature of its population. This has been one of the most important centers for Al-Qaeda in western Iraq since 2004, while the city is also close to Baghdad and has strong historic ties to Salafist jihadism,” Hashimi told Asharq Al-Awsat.