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Iraqi FM: Iraqis themselves must deal with ISIS crisis - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari arrives at an EU–Arab League foreign ministers' summit in Athens on June 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari arrives at an EU–Arab League foreign ministers’ summit in Athens on June 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—As the Al-Qaeda inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continues to make sweeping advances in the north and west of Iraq, the main question is how the Iraqi government will respond to the threat.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat by telephone, Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari stressed that Iraqi security forces, in cooperation with security forces controlled by the Kurdistan Region, have the situation under control.

But, admitting the failure of forces stationed in Mosul, which fell to ISIS on Tuesday, he said the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki had asked the US, Arab and European countries for assistance.

Asharq Al-Awsat: Is there a need for foreign military intervention to deal with what is currently happening in Iraq?

Hoshyar Zebari: It is the Iraqi Armed Forces and the Iraqis themselves who must deal [with this situation]. What happened was the result of the huge failure of military troops in Mosul, who quickly fell apart without forming a resistance and left their equipment and weapons behind. This is a serious indication of Iraq’s credibility with other countries of the world and the countries that are arming the Iraqi military.

Q: Is Iraq able to take control of the situation?

The situation is not out of control. The government has taken measures and has moved quickly to stop the infiltrators and to force them out of the areas where they took control, especially considering that the ISIS organization is coordinating with the [Army of the] Naqshbandi Order and some radical Islamist factions and Ba’athist leaders from the former army [of Saddam Hussein]. What is dangerous about this is that the mood of the citizens of Mosul and the Sunni provinces created a state of terror within the forces, and as a result they fell apart. The Iraqi leadership has spared no effort and is coordinating with the Peshmerga [the Kurdistan Region’s security service] to prevent the situation from deteriorating.

Q: Has Iraq asked Washington to carry out military operations or to help stabilize the situation? Has Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki asked the US to carry out air strikes in the areas controlled by ISIS?

There is already security cooperation between Iraq and the US, especially regarding the provision of arms and ammunition, in training and in fighting terrorism. In any case, Iraq has asked help from all friendly states: the Arab states and other countries that are concerned with the security situation and stability of Iraq.

Over the past few years, the Iraqi government has warned against the dangers and repercussions of the Syrian crisis on Iraq and its impact on the city of Mosul in particular, as well as on Salah Al-Din and Tikrit. Unfortunately, however, this warning fell on deaf ears and this is a major setback on all accounts. Nevertheless, every cloud has a silver lining; it may lead to cooperation and understanding among security leaders to prevent the imminent threat and address political differences within the [framework of the] Constitution and political frameworks and to avoid disputes. The question remains: will we succeed in this regard or not? The answer is that there are numerous details that led to the collapse we have witnessed.

Q: How do you view this collapse?

This collapse is similar to the collapse that occurred within the ranks of the Iraqi armed forces when US forces entered Iraq. [Back then], the [military] leaders removed their military uniforms, put on civilian clothes and went to their homes, leaving behind weapons and equipment and abandoning strategically important sites.

Q: How do you view the situation on the ground following this collapse?

The situation we are facing today has improved as the [Iraqi Armed] Forces and new units advanced southward to Samarra, and even to the Baiji [oil] refinery [on the main road between Mosul and Baghdad] and forced ISIS and its supporters out of the oil refinery. They launched counter-attacks against these terrorist organizations on the outskirts of Mosul and Kirkuk. There is excellent cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government in order to regain control of Mosul. Control must be regained, and there must be security.

Q: Is the Iraqi Army able to take control?

We admit that some military units that were operating in Mosul have failed, but within the Iraqi Army we have the highest levels of efficiency and rigidity. There are special units, units to combat terrorism, and armored forces that are all trained to the highest level.

Q: How is the US supporting the fight against terrorism?

There is military and security coordination and cooperation with the United States in terms of intelligence, logistical support, training and armament. This is already being implemented on the ground.

Q: What about the humanitarian situation on the ground? Will the prime minister take measures to support the citizens and [provide] compensation?

Everyone is standing together and working to save the country from the threat that is suddenly attacking everyone. The human dimension is very important: approximately 400,000 people have left Mosul for Kurdistan. We are in touch with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and it has a program to provide emergency aid to citizens.

Q: Have you asked for support from the Arab states to confront the danger that is presently threatening Iraq?

The European–Arab Ministerial meeting that was held in Greece [on Wednesday] issued a unanimous statement of support and solidarity with Iraq. It condemned in the strongest terms the recent terrorist attacks that led to the deaths of numerous victims and the displacement of thousands from their homes. The statement highlighted the call by all democratic forces in Iraq to work together and in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution in order to overcome this security challenge and to respect the will of the Iraqi citizens in forming a government in accordance with the democratic process, as expressed by the Iraqis in the last legislative elections [on April 30].

The statement also called for security to be restored in Mosul and Nineveh province, and called on all democratic forces in society to support the steps [towards this]. Moreover, the position of the Arab League is distinct, and the Arab position is supportive of Iraq and its positions. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have all demonstrated a desire to provide support to the Iraqi people in difficult and distressing circumstances such as these.

This interview has been translated from the Arabic.