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Iraq deputy FM: Daesh 'picked the wrong country' to invade

Iraqi security forces with weapons and armoured cars attend an operation held to retake Mosul from Daesh on 20 February 2017 [Yunus Keleş/Anadolu]

Iraqi Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Nazar Khairullah said in comments at a prestigious London-based security think tank today that the Daesh extremist organisation had "picked the wrong country" to attempt to set up their caliphate in.

Speaking earlier this afternoon at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in the British capital, the deputy foreign minister said that Daesh and other extremist organisations would find it difficult to permanently hold territory in Iraq.

Since the last 40 years, Iraqis have been fighting wars and are trained for war, Khairullah said. "For example the war with Iran for eight years, the Gulf War…when volunteers sign up to fight Daesh, they're sent immediately to the front because they are already trained.

Khairullah praised the Iraqi armed forces saying that Baghdad was "proud of our forces in the last six months" since just before the operation to recapture Mosul began.

Mosul, Daesh's largest urban holding, has been under the extremist organisation's control since June 2014 when they and several other Iraqi armed rebel groups routed the Iraqi army and captured about a third of the country.

Though he was optimistic that Iraq would eventually prevail against Daesh in Iraq, the Iraqi minister warned that "the next few weeks [in Mosul] will be harder", as the "fighting has been tough, difficult…[and was being fought] under extremely difficult circumstances."

Iraq needs 'societal education'

In more controversial remarks, Khairullah said that Iraqi society required "education" for the country to be able to defeat terrorism and extremist ideologies espoused by groups like Daesh. The deputy foreign minister appeared to suggest that there was a problem with Iraqi society and its acceptance for radicalisation.

Khairullah laid the blame for this alleged Iraqi propensity for extremism firmly at the door of foreign fighters who joined extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda and subsequently Daesh following the illegal US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003.

Read: Iraq unleashes mass destruction, death & displacement on Mosul

Claiming that it was unfair for critics to slam the Iraqi government and post-invasion political process for the rise of Daesh, the Iraqi diplomat said: "Why are there terrorist attacks in Belgium, France if Daesh are so interested in internal Iraqi politics?"

According to the minister, the Daesh threat was a global problem and one that needed to be fought internationally, with an ever-increasing participation of the world's nations within the current US-led coalition.

Post-Daesh Iraq?

Due to the minister blaming foreign fighters and not the political process, MEMO asked Khairullah about the infiltration of Iran-backed Shia jihadists within the Iraqi state and security apparatus, particularly the Badr Organisation, who largely control the interior ministry and have tens of thousands of its former death squad members now in the uniform of the Iraqi federal police.

Khairullah did not respond fully to MEMO's question, but instead said that the present Iraqi government is conscious of "previous mistakes" and that he believes that "inclusion is a main part of democracy", indicating that Baghdad is conscious of the overall negative impact on Iraq of sectarian Shia militias. However, it was unclear if the authorities planned to do anything to counter this.

Iraqi officials are often hesitant to discuss issues relating to specific militias and death squads, as many of them receive support from Iraq's powerful Shia neighbour Iran, who exerts control over much of Iraq's policy. Also, many Shia jihadist groups control entire ministries, such as the Badr Organisation's control over Iraq's militarised police force.

However, Khairullah acknowledged that there were concerns regarding the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an Iran-backed paramilitary organisation that was recently made as an official part of the Iraqi armed forces, though separate to the other service branches.

The Iraqi diplomat said: When the Hashd Al-Sha'abi [PMF] law was passed last year, it went through discussions in parliament. The [law legalising the PMF] now stipulates that 35 per cent of the Hashd must be from minority groups.

By "minority groups", Khairullah was referring to Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens and others. Collectively, however, these minorities are about 65 per cent of the total Iraqi population, so the PMF's 35 per cent minority quota is about half of what is required for a truly representative force.

The deputy foreign minister concluded by stating that he hoped Iraq would be successful in building national institutions, including the army, and that his country may attempt to achieve this through initiatives such as reintroducing compulsory military service. In this way, the minister argued, Iraqis would be able to have a sense of joint belonging to the state in order to "preserve Iraq's unity".

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