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


UK-Egypt Association Council inaugurated in London

UK-Egypt Association Council inaugurated in London
The two sides issued a joint statement following the launch. (Shutterstock)
Updated 06 July 2022

UK-Egypt Association Council inaugurated in London

UK-Egypt Association Council inaugurated in London
  • Foreign ministers discuss areas of cooperation, including investment and addressing climate change

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry, and the UK’s minister of foreign and commonwealth affairs and development, Liz Truss, inaugurated the UK-Egypt Association Council in London.

The two sides issued a joint statement following the launch, stressing it created a new platform to promote the ambitions expressed in the agreement between the UK and Egypt, signed in December 2020.

The statement revealed that the two ministers held talks on developing the strategic partnership between their countries, and welcomed a number of commercial successes between them, including the project to manufacture monorail linear trains in the English city of Derby with the support of the British Export Finance Corp.

This comes in addition to the sale of two marine supply units that belonged to the Royal Navy to Egypt, including contracts for renewal and development.

The statement added that the cooperation included the opening of a new solar energy field with a capacity of 66 megawatts by Globeleq, with an investment of $80 million; the launch of commercial operations by Lekela Wind Energy, with an investment of $325 million; and the approval of an investment of $100 million by British International Investment to acquire Alpha Medical Group.

The two ministers also discussed prospects for enhancing economic cooperation between the UK and Egypt, and agreed to work intensively to develop bilateral trade and investment, including addressing any obstacles to trade, and working to improve market access in the agricultural, healthcare, energy and financial sectors through the establishment of a trade subcommittee. 

The Egyptian and UK governments also affirmed their commitment to enhancing bilateral cooperation and investments in healthcare and education, and welcomed the deepening of their technical cooperation, which will support joint work to overcome barriers to market access in priority sectors.

Future cooperation includes the signing of a declaration of intent between the Egyptian Electric Utility and Consumer Protection Regulatory Agency and the British Gas and Electricity Markets Authority, to help reform Egyptian legislation on renewable energy.

The two ministers welcomed the strengthening of cooperation in Africa and the discovery of tripartite cooperation opportunities with African countries in various fields, especially infrastructure.

The UK welcomed Egypt’s preparations to host COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh in November, stressing its desire to build on the Glasgow Climate Charter and previous UN climate change goals. 

Egypt and the UK both stressed the importance of supporting developing peoples in achieving a fair transition towards sustainable development patterns that are environmentally friendly and compatible with efforts to combat climate change, including the transition towards sustainable energy and green hydrogen, in addition to adapting to the effects of climate change, through the sustainable and integrated management of natural resources, enhancing resilience and building technical and technological capacities.

The two ministers also discussed a large number of bilateral, regional and global issues of common interest, including human rights, mentioning their desire to hold meetings of the Association Council regularly to continue strengthening cooperation between London and Cairo.

The UK commended Egypt for its leadership and efforts in the field of renewable energy generation and for providing opportunities for British investors and companies in the energy sector.


Egyptian, Cypriot presidents hold talks

Egyptian, Cypriot presidents hold talks
Updated 06 July 2022

Egyptian, Cypriot presidents hold talks

Egyptian, Cypriot presidents hold talks

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi received a phone call from his Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades to discuss regional issues of common interest and ways to enhance bilateral relations.

El-Sisi affirmed Egypt’s “pride” in the “distinguished cooperation” with Cyprus, “and the positive development it is witnessing.”

He stressed Egypt’s aspiration to promote various aspects of that cooperation — especially in the security, military, energy and economic levels — in a way that contributes to achieving the interests of the two friendly peoples.

They also discussed ways of coordinating efforts with Egypt as a leading partner of the EU in terms of combating terrorism, extremist ideology and illegal immigration.


El-Sisi seeks enhanced Cairo cooperation with UAE

El-Sisi seeks enhanced Cairo cooperation with UAE
Updated 06 July 2022

El-Sisi seeks enhanced Cairo cooperation with UAE

El-Sisi seeks enhanced Cairo cooperation with UAE

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi expressed Cairo’s aspirations to enhance cooperation with the UAE, citing plans for increased investments in information technology, energy and communications.

El-Sisi’s statement came after he received the UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Sultan Al-Jaber in the presence of a number of officials from the two countries.

A spokesman for the Egyptian presidency said the meeting covered several areas for raising investments between Egypt and the UAE.

The Egyptian presidential spokesman said that El-Sisi conveyed his greetings to the President of the UAE Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, welcoming the increase in Emirati investments in Egypt to consolidate the strong brotherly relations between the two countries.

Al-Jaber conveyed to El-Sisi the greetings of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, praising the attractive investment and commercial climate in Egypt in light of the comprehensive development process the country is witnessing under the leadership of El-Sisi, which he said provides various opportunities for Emirati and foreign investments in the region.

The Emirati minister added that the UAE is keen to strengthen strategic cooperation frameworks between the two countries.


Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties

Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties
Updated 06 July 2022

Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties

Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties
  • Army would not participate in internationally led dialogue efforts to break its stalemate with the civilian opposition

CAIRO: Sudan’s military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan issued a decree relieving the five civilian members of the sovereign council from their duties, a statement on the council’s telegram account said on Wednesday.
Burhan said on Monday the army would not participate in internationally led dialogue efforts to break its stalemate with the civilian opposition, and urged political and revolutionary groups to start talks to form a transitional government.


Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank
Updated 06 July 2022

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank
  • At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian man was killed by the Israeli military during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Rafiq Riyad Ghannem, 20, was “shot by the occupation (Israeli army)” near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, the ministry said in a statement, adding that he was killed in the town of Jaba.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Sunday, a 17-year-old Palestinian died after being shot a day earlier in another Israeli army raid in the same town.
At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank, among them suspected militants and non-combatants.
Israeli security forces have launched near-daily raids in the West Bank following a spate of attacks in Israel in recent months.
Nineteen people — mostly Israeli civilians inside Israel — have been killed mainly in attacks carried out by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Three Arab Israeli attackers have also been killed.