ISIS ‘coming back with a vengeance’ in Iraq: Kurdish general

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ISIS is “coming back with a vengeance” in Iraq with daily attacks on civilians and security forces, Peshmerga General Sirwan Barzani told Al Arabiya in the latest episode of “Face to face” series.

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The terrorist group is sowing unrest in the country’s north, feeding off sectarian rivalries while being fueled by an ideology that has not disappeared despite the group’s military defeats in recent years, according to Barzani.

Speaking to journalist Rola al-Khatib, Barzani outlined the complexities of combat against a decentralized enemy that uses guerilla tactics and blends in with the civilian population.

“There’s still sectarian rivalry and the extremist ISIS ideology is still there. Even when ISIS was defeated by military force, they weren’t all killed,” he said.

“Many of them trimmed their beards and became civilians waiting for the opportunity to join ISIS.”

The group’s shift from controlling cities and large areas of land to fighting an insurgency from remote hideouts has not eradicated the threat entirely, and Barzani believes ISIS is looking to return to its former strength.

“ISIS is coming back with a vengeance... they are determined to make a powerful comeback,” Barzani said. “But it might be difficult for them to reclaim their former status when they had their Islamic State with Mosul as their capital.”

“This will surely be difficult to achieve, but they are coming back -- stirring unrest and instability and causing trouble for the security apparatus, army forces, and the entire Peshmerga forces.”

The Peshmerga had taken over the multi-ethnic region of Kirkuk in 2014, after the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of ISIS, preventing the militants from controlling its oilfields.

The Kurdish general pointed the finger at Iraqi security forces when asked about intel leaks that may have alerted ISIS to anticipate military maneuvers against them ahead of time.

“Whether they are Iraqi soldiers or ISIS fighters, they are both Iraqis who belong to these lands and these clans. So, you can understand how information is leaked.”

Fighters are still fueled by their radical ideology despite having suffered significant losses in terms of control over territory and military strongholds, Barzani said.

“They still get internal and external funding for that ideology,” he said. “This ideology wasn’t done away with. It still exists in Iraq.”

When asked why security forces have not focused on establishing a political dialogue with ISIS, Barzani said: “There are no proclaimed ISIS leaders with whom to coordinate... I don’t think they believe in political solutions, in my opinion.”

“The mentality they were brought up with and how they were brainwashed made them believe they are fighters and fighting in the name of God and the Prophet (PBUH).”

The key to defeating ISIS, according to Barzani, is targeting would-be recruits by focusing on developing Iraq and eradicating the conditions that might lead people to become extremists.

“What must be done is rebuilding the country, creating job opportunities, achieving stability and providing full services. As a result, very few people will be joining ISIS,” he said.

Rola al-Khatib’s full interview with Barzani is featured in episode five of Al Arabiya’s eleven-part “Face to Face with ISIS” series.

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