Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul is spokesperson for Iraqi Joint Operations Command. He speaks with Rudaw during this interview released on February 6, 2019. Photo: Rudaw TV
Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul is the spokesperson for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command. Earlier this month, he sat down with Rudaw to discuss improving relations between Iraqi and Peshmerga Forces. During the interview he touches on a recent deployment by Iraqi forces to Kirkuk and continued coordination with the US-led international anti-ISIS coalition.
‘We have said it time and again that we have prevailed over ISIS militarily, but we still have many challenges facing us and that is the remnants of the terrorist ISIS bandits who hide here and there and carry out attacks against our forces,’ Rasoul says.
The interview follows a high-level meeting at the Ministry of Peshmerga on Monday in Erbil where both sides agreed on establishing committees to discuss joint patrols in the disputed or Kurdistani areas. They are claimed by both Baghdad and Erbil, but a security gap between the two forces’ frontlines has led to continued extremist activity. Officials are concerned these areas could become launch pads for an ISIS resurgence.
Rudaw: What is the level of coordination between Iraqi and Peshmerga forces now?
Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul:
We continue coordinating with our Peshmerga brothers through visits to the Ministry of Peshmerga. The latest Ministry of Defense visit was led by Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Rasheed Yarallah, deputy chief of staff. He was accompanied by a number of operation commanders. This visit was to seek further cooperation with the Peshmerga on important issues especially joint operations. And we must not forget that we still have a common enemy since remnants of the ISIS bandits still exist in the mountainous areas. They must be watched and God willing we will continue working with the Peshmerga on this. The Peshmerga are part of Iraq’s defense forces.
In your meetings with the Peshmerga ministry you have discussed the foundation of some joint committees. How will something like this work on the ground?
These will be committees working to lift obstacles on the way of cooperation between the Peshmerga and defense ministries. Today, Iraq’s defense system includes all the different forces among them the army, federal police, anti-terrorism forces, the Hashd al-Shaabi and the Peshmerga. That’s why we will all have to work together to face the ISIS threat. Sleeper cells of that terrorist organization are still active in the Hamrin Mountains and Qarachogh areas. In all those areas we need with our Peshmerga brothers to eradicate that threat. Our common enemy does not differentiate the Peshmerga from the army.
Do you have a deadline for the implementation of this agreement?
I mentioned our joint committees that we aim to set up. Once the committees have finished their work they will certainly submit their recommendations to both ministries and we will then start our joint work. They are at the moment in the first stages of their work.
What is the task of the new force that has been deployed to Kirkuk city proper and its vicinity?
First, this was done as a replacement of forces and that is a normal move for an army to move around its units. The anti-terrorism forces have been in Kirkuk for more than a year and we value what they have done.
The new units are from the 61st Special Forces and their duty is protecting the security and peace of Kirkuk, no doubt with the help of Kirkuk’s security and police forces. We do also have anti-terrorism forces in all provinces except the Kurdistan Region. We aim to work with all security and armed forces in Kirkuk.
Do you have any numbers for attacks carried out by ISIS in Iraq in the last six months?
We have said it time and again that we have prevailed over ISIS militarily, but we still have many challenges facing us and that is the remnants of the terrorist ISIS bandits who hide here and there and carry out attacks against our forces. In the meantime great efforts have been made to catch or kill those terrorists. They do attack here and there with firearms or bombs and to be able to retake some areas. But parallel to that, our forces, depending on intelligence work, carry out operations against them. These operations have dealt them a blow.
In which areas do you see most ISIS activity or movements?
The terrorists try to keep their ground in the desert areas near the Iraq-Syria border and in Diyala, Hamrin and Qarachogh. But we have consistent operations against them such as search and pursuit teams as well as strikes from the air. In some cases we work with coalition bombers to target the terrorist hideouts especially their caves. And based on intelligence information our reconnaissance planes monitor their every move. We need time for this, but we will continue until we have removed them from those areas and made sure there is no comeback.