Frankly Speaking: ‘More Western military support needed to head off terror groups’ in Iraq, says Peshmerga Gen. Sirwan Barzani

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Updated 25 July 2021

Frankly Speaking: ‘More Western military support needed to head off terror groups’ in Iraq, says Peshmerga Gen. Sirwan Barzani

General Sirwan Barzani being interviewed by Frank Kane on Frankly Speaking. (Screengrab)
  • Barzani commanded Kurdish troops in the bitter battles of 2015 and 2016 to regain territory lost to Daesh
  • Barzani spoke of Saudi humanitarian aid and the challenges of diversifying Kurdistan’s oil-dependent economy 

DUBAI: The US and other Western coalition members should increase their ground forces in Iraqi Kurdistan in order to head off the threat of a resurgent terror campaign in the region, one of the main fighters against Daesh and Iran-backed militias told Arab News.

General Sirwan Barzani, who commands a key unit of the Kurdish Peshmerga armed forces in northern Iraq, said: “The troops on the ground have been fighting against Daesh, but it was not easy and not so possible to defeat this terrorist group without the support of the coalition, especially the leader of the coalition, the US, and also the rest of the countries, the European countries.

“I think the administration of President Biden has to send more forces to Iraq.”

 

Barzani, who commanded Kurdish troops in the bitter battles of 2015 and 2016 to regain territory lost to Daesh, made his plea for more Western military assistance on “Frankly Speaking,” the series of video interviews with leading policymakers in the region. 

In the course of a wide-ranging conversation, Barzani — a member of one of the leading families of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and a prominent businessman through his ownership of Korek Telecom — also spoke of Kurdish independence aspirations, the incursions of Turkey’s Kurdish militant group PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan, the humanitarian assistance his people receive from Saudi Arabia and the challenges of diversifying Kurdistan’s oil-dependent economy.

But Barzani’s appeal for more US and other Western troops — in the face of President Biden’s apparent determination to end America’s “forever wars” in the region — was a key feature, underlining Kurdish concerns that the threat from Daesh was still the “biggest threat” to the whole of Iraq.

“Daesh is starting to reorganize themselves again; the militants are very active and almost every day they launch terror attacks against civilian targets, military or security services. There is an attack from Daesh there almost every day.




General Sirwan Barzani

“I’m responsible for Sector Six south and southwest of (Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital) Irbil. We have a permanent Daesh presence in those mountains. We are facing this problem every day and we have a permanent Daesh presence there.

“Even with all these operations, cooperating with the coalition, also with the Iraqi army, the fighters are still there. Daesh is not defeated like Al-Qaeda. Daesh is there still and without the support of the coalition, the group will become stronger and stronger,” he said.

Barzani called for renewed Western military support for the Peshmerga, which he said was not receiving any budgetary assistance from Baghdad to counter Daesh or Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.

 

 

Recent drone attacks on Irbil International Airport were claimed by Iran-backed militias against forces deemed to be pro-US in the region, he said, underlining the need for more defense assistance.

“The most important thing they have to do is to just give us as Peshmerga some new technology. For example, we don’t have any drones. Even technologies like night-vision or thermal cameras and defensive weapons — we still don’t have them. All the end users (for such equipment) are meant to be from Baghdad and, unfortunately, not from here (Irbil),” Barzani said.

He believes the Biden administration’s decision to end military operations in Afghanistan would have only limited repercussions for Iraq.

 

 

“I think it is different. You cannot compare Afghanistan and Iraq. The stability of Iraq is the stability of the Middle East and, of course, everybody knows that all of the world is looking for stability in the Middle East for many reasons, especially economic reasons,” he said.

Instability is also being fostered by the presence of large numbers of members of the PKK, the militant political organization that has been fighting for equal rights and autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish population since 1984.

“The problem here is they are inside our region in Kurdistan. They’re making it an unstable area. They didn’t go back to the border because of this fight between the PKK and the Turkish military. Unfortunately, they provide an excuse for the Turkish army to come in. Almost every month they have a new position inside our region. It’s not acceptable and what the PKK is doing now is not good for the region,” Bargain said.

The KRG organized a referendum in 2017 that showed an overwhelming majority of Iraqi Kurdistan’s population was in favor of independence from Baghdad, but the result was not recognized by the Iraqi government and moves towards full independence had to be shelved.

“Unfortunately, what happened in Iraq was that nobody heeded the constitution and everybody started with sanctions. Even when we were fighting against Daesh, we were under sanctions from the federal government.

“Those reasons pushed us to go in for the referendum and to have our own state and independence. It was our right, of course, and it was legal, but because of the situation we postponed it,” he said, but added: “It (independence) is the dream of any Kurd.”

The Kurdish economy is heavily dependent on oil from the northern regions of Iraq, but this too has faced challenges because of squabbles over revenue with Baghdad. Barzani said that it was important for any economy to reduce reliance on oil products, and the KRG has put in place a strategy to do so. 

 

“It’s a risky thing to depend on oil only because nobody, no country can depend only on one resource or one revenue stream. So, especially in Kurdistan, even the KRG is launching reforms so as to not depend on oil, to diversify the economy. It is most important,” he said.

Barzani cited some alternative revenue streams for the region, notably agriculture, solar power and other technologies, but he singled out the potential of tourism.

“For Kurdistan we have many things, but the tourism side is very important. We have a very nice region geographically and weather-wise. What’s more, there is security for the economy and businesses. Thanks to the Peshmerga and our people, we have very good security in this region,” he said.

 

Barzani founded Korek Telecom in 2000, which has grown to become one of the leading corporate groups in Iraq despite the destruction inflicted by the Daesh occupation on large parts of the region.

Kurdistan also faces other challenges in terms of investment required in power supplies and telecoms infrastructure, he said.

Barzani added that he had been watching developments in Saudi Arabia and its Vision 2030 strategy to reduce reliance on oil revenues, which he said was a “great move.”

He also highlighted the strength of relations between the Kurdish region and Saudi Arabia. “There is a good relation with Saudi Arabia for sure. They are supporting many of our internally displaced persons and refugees here,” he said.

“There is a historical relationship with Saudi Arabia, and we continue to have very good relations with them.”

 

Barzani maintained that for Kurdistan, economic development and the opportunity to create a “peaceful oasis” would continue to depend on maintaining regional security in the face of multiple threats.

“Security is more important than anything else,” he said.

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Twitter: @frankkanedubai


UN updates named death toll for Syria war

A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a wounded child in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria January 6, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a wounded child in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria January 6, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 7 sec ago

UN updates named death toll for Syria war

A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a wounded child in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria January 6, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • OHCHR included only fatalities identifiable by a full name, with a place of death and an established date, from March 2011 to March 2021

GENEVA: The war in Syria has killed 350,209 fully identified individuals, according to a new count published Friday by the United Nations, which warned the real total of deaths would be far higher.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) included only fatalities identifiable by a full name, with a place of death and an established date, from March 2011 to March 2021.

“We assess this figure of 350,209 as statistically sound, based as it is on rigorous work,” High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council.

“It is not — and should not be seen as — a complete number of conflict-related killings in Syria during this period.

“It indicates a minimum verifiable number, and is certainly an under-count of the actual number of killings.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the benchmark for counting victims of the conflict, published a report on June 1 raising the death toll to 494,438 since the start of the violent crackdown on anti-regime protests in 2011.

The Observatory revised up by 105,000 its previous death toll from March 2021, following months of investigation based on documents and sources on the ground.

UN rights chief Bachelet said more than one in 13 victims on the OHCHR count was a woman — 27,727 — while almost one in every 13 was a child — 27,126.

She said the greatest number of documented fatalities was in the Aleppo governorate, with 51,731 named individuals killed.

Other locations with heavy death tolls were Rural Damascus (47,483), Homs (40,986), Idlib (33,271), Hama (31,993) and Tartus (31,369).

Bachelet said OHCHR had received records with partial information which could not go into the analysis but nonetheless indicated a wider number of killings that were not yet fully documented.

“Tragically, there are also many other victims who left behind no witnesses or documentation,” she said.

OHCHR has begun processing information on those alleged to have caused a number of deaths, together with the civilian and non-civilian status of victims, and the cause of death by types of weaponry.

“Documenting the identity of and circumstances in which people have died is key to the effective realisation of a range of fundamental human rights — to know the truth, to seek accountability, and to pursue effective remedies,” said Bachelet.

The former Chilean president said the Syrian people's daily lives "remain scarred by unimaginable suffering... and there is still no end to the violence they endure.”

Bachelet said the count would ensure those killed were not forgotten.

“Behind each recorded death was a human being, born free and equal, in dignity and rights,” she said.


Lebanon president tells UN big challenges await government, help needed

Lebanon president tells UN big challenges await government, help needed
Updated 1 min 42 sec ago

Lebanon president tells UN big challenges await government, help needed

Lebanon president tells UN big challenges await government, help needed

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun told the United Nations General Assembly on Friday that big challenges awaited his country’s new government and asked the international community for funding to revive its crisis-stricken economy.
“We are relying on the international community to fund vital projects, whether in the public or private sector, in order to revive the economic cycle and create new job opportunities,” Aoun told the gathering via a recorded video message.
Lebanon is in the throes of a financial crisis that the World Bank has called one of the deepest depressions of modern history.
After a year of political deadlock which has compounded the economic meltdown, a new government was formed this month headed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
“With the formation of the new government...Lebanon has entered a new phase that we seek to turn into a promising step on the road to resurgence,” Aoun said.
Mikati has promised to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and to pursue the reforms seen as a necessary pre-requisite for foreign aid to flow in.
Lebanon’s talks with the IMF broke down last summer after a financial recovery plan proposed by the previous government was resisted by many of the country’s top politicians and bankers.
“Lebanon, that is stubbornly trying to pave its way toward recovery, is relying on international support to achieve its goals,” Aoun said.


Macron urges new Lebanese PM to undertake ‘urgent’ reforms

Macron urges new Lebanese PM to undertake ‘urgent’ reforms
Updated 50 min 4 sec ago

Macron urges new Lebanese PM to undertake ‘urgent’ reforms

Macron urges new Lebanese PM to undertake ‘urgent’ reforms
  • Reforms should include improving public finances, reducing corruption, improving public finances: Macron
  • Mikati vowed to respect the country’s political timetable and hold general elections next year

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday urged the new Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati to undertake “urgent” reforms to help his crisis-wracked country, as the two men met for the first time in Paris.
After repeating previous criticism of Lebanon’s political class, Macron told Mikati it was “urgent to implement measures and essential reforms” and that Lebanon “could count on” former colonial power France for support.
The reforms should include tackling power and other infrastructure problems, improving public finances, reducing corruption, and stabilising the banking system, he said.
Mikati said he had come to the French capital to reassure Macron that he and his new government, approved by the Lebanese parliament on Monday, were committed to reforming.
“I expressed my determination to implement ... the necessary reforms as soon as possible in order to restore confidence, to give hope and reduce the suffering of the Lebanese population,” he said.
He also vowed to respect the country’s political timetable and hold general elections next year.
The billionaire’s nomination has brought an end to 13 months of political deadlock since an August 2020 blast that killed at least 214 people and devastated swathes of the capital Beirut.
An economic meltdown since then has depleted central bank reserves, devalued the currency by more than 90 percent and plunged three out of four citizens below the poverty line, while those who can are emigrating by the thousands.
France has led the international response to the tragedy, organizing three international conferences devoted to Lebanon and delivering aid in exchange for promises of political reform and accountability.
Macron traveled to Lebanon two days after the blast, and returned for a second trip.
The 43-year-old French leader has repeatedly expressed exasperation over the failure of Lebanon’s leaders to end the political crisis and tackle the economic emergency.
“It’s a secret for nobody that the negotations took too long while the living conditions of Lebanese people were getting worse,” Macron said on Friday.
Speaking next to Mikati on the steps of the Elysee Palace, he said that the Lebanese population had “a right to know the truth” about the August 2020 blast in Beirut.
One of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history, the explosion was caused by a vast stock of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that had sat for years in a port warehouse, a stone’s throw from residential districts.


Iran says nuclear talks to resume ‘very soon,’ gives no date

Iran says nuclear talks to resume ‘very soon,’ gives no date
Updated 35 min 18 sec ago

Iran says nuclear talks to resume ‘very soon,’ gives no date

Iran says nuclear talks to resume ‘very soon,’ gives no date
  • Senior US official this week made clear Washington's frustration with Tehran over the absence of any "positive indication" it is prepared to return to the talks
  • European diplomats have served as chief intermediaries between Washington and Tehran

NEW YORK: Iran will return to negotiations on resuming compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal "very soon," Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told reporters on Friday.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran will return to the table of negotiations. We are reviewing the Vienna negotiations files currently and, very soon, Iran’s negotiations with the 'four plus one' countries will recommence," Amirabdollahian said.
He was referring to talks that began in April between Iran and the five other nations still in the 2015 deal - Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. European diplomats have served as chief intermediaries between Washington and Tehran, which has refused to negotiate directly with US officials.
Under the deal Iran curbed its uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear arms, in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. Then-US President Donald Trump quit the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, crippling Iran's economy and prompting Iran to take steps to violate its nuclear limits.


Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability

Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability
Updated 24 September 2021

Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability

Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability
  • Mohammed Al-Menfi revealed that security, military, and economic issues would top the agenda of the meeting that would also shore up support for the upcoming national elections

WASHINGTON: The chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya on Thursday said he would be staging an international conference next month to gain backing for efforts to bring stability and security to the country.

Mohammed Al-Menfi revealed that security, military, and economic issues would top the agenda of the meeting that would also shore up support for the upcoming national elections.

Al-Menfi, who is attending the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, added that the conference would host Libyan groups eager for reconciliation along with regional and international parties to push for the stability and security that has eluded Libya since the 2011 fall of Muammar Qaddafi who ruled the country for 40 years.

The Libyan leader said despite working on reconciliation efforts among Libyan groups, challenges still lay ahead on the road to achieving democracy.

He noted that Libya had made “significant strides” in implementing solutions that were mandated through agreements between the different Libyan groups and UN resolutions.

However, despite the progress, Al-Menfi pointed out that the country was still “faced with serious challenges and fast-paced developments” that could stall the ongoing political process.

On the ground, Libya remains confronted by many daunting challenges toward achieving political unity among its entrenched warring parties. Conflict still persists between the Tripoli-based Presidential Council and Gen. Khalifa Haftar who controls the eastern half of the country as well as the Libyan armed forces.

A transitional government was formed earlier this year to move the country forward toward elections on Dec. 24.

“Libya has the choice to either succeed toward becoming a democracy through free and transparent elections or go back to square one of infighting and military conflict,” Al-Menfi said.

He called on the international community to assist Libya in removing foreign militaries and mercenaries from the country as a way to build a “conducive environment for safe and transparent elections.”

Al-Menfi also demanded that European countries share their responsibilities in addressing the issue of illegal African migrants who pass through Libya on the way north to Europe, adding that his country had carried the burden alone and deserved support from the international community.

On the issues of human rights abuses that plagued Libya during its decade-long civil war, and the presence of terrorist groups on Libyan soil, he said his government was committed to safeguarding the human rights of the Libyan people and had worked toward bringing meaningful reconciliation through detainees and prisoners exchange, reparation, and addressing the fate of missing people.

Al-Menfi reiterated Libyan support for the Palestinian people and said his country was committed to the establishment of the Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.