President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with US National Security Adviser General McMaster. AP photo
WASHINGTON DC—The United States National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster says it is important for America to have a stable Iraq, but one that is not an ally of Iran, adding that the current tensions between Kurds and Iraq must be mediated in a way that would allow the Kurds to enjoy security and prosperity.
“So what we would like to see in Iraq is a stable Iraq that is not aligned with Iran,” McMaster said at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Thursday. “And what we would like to do is continue to assist the Iraqis to do what the president has told us to work with allies and partners to do.”
“Which is to destroy ISIS and to not permit another group like ISIS, another Takfireen or Salafi jihadist group to come back by doing three fundamental things,” he said. “Deny them safe havens and support bases, cut off their funding, and defeat the ideology, right?”
McMaster said that Iran’s aim is to weaken Iraq and have a government there that is reliant on Tehran.
“The United States has a strong interest in a strong Iraq. I would say that others who are operating within Iraq who were subverting Iraq, Iran in particular, are attempting to keep Iraq perpetually weak and are applying to Iraq what you might call a Hezbollah model where you have a weak government, a government that is deliberately weakened and a government that is reliant on Iran for support while Iran grows malicious and in the illegal arm groups that lie outside of that government’s control.”
The US National Security Adviser said that Iran is trying to apply the model of creating strong militia groups in Syria, Yemen and Iraq as it has done in Lebanon.
“So, it’s easy to say, as I mentioned, hard to do.” McMaster said at the panel. “It takes a sophisticated sustained effort but it’s a stable Iraq that emerges strong and is not aligned with—of course it’s going to have a relationship with its neighbor—but not aligned with Iran.”
McMaster believed that a strong Kurdistan Region was vital for a strong Iraq.
“And so what we want to see in Iraq as I mentioned is a strong Iraq emerge and of course part of a strong Iraq is a strong Kurdish region where we have very long-time partners whose partnership we value tremendously, who you know, who bore the brunt of Saddam Hussein’s brutality over many years and who we intervene on their behalf as everyone knows after 1991 and they used the safety and security we helped provide that region to build a—phenomenal communities in Sulaymaniyah, and Erbil and in Dohuk.”
He likened the Kurdish cities to cities in Europe. “I mean these are southern European thriving cities when you go to the Kurdish region.”
McMaster emphasized that the US must mediate between Kurds and Iraq in a way that would help them keep their stability and security with economic prosperity.
“But what we need to do though is we have to work to mediate this conflict in a way that allows our Kurdish friends to enjoy the safety, security, and prosperity they built over so many years and not regress from that.”
McMaster said that the Americans had suggested to the Kurdish President Masoud Barzani that the timing of the referendum wasn’t right, but that Washington has to deal with the reality now.
“So, but of course we are where we are now,” he said. “As you know, Jalal Talabani passed away recently and may God rest his soul and condolences to his family and so part of what’s complicating this is a power struggle within—in the PUK and the ability of the Iranians to take advantage of all of this, right.
He said that “Iran is very good at pitting communities against each other. This is something they share with groups like ISIS, with Al Qaeda you know, they pit communities against each other because they use tribal and ethnic and sectarian conflicts to gain influence by portraying themselves as a patron or protector of one of the parties in the conflict and then they use that invitation to come in and to help to advance their agenda and in Iran’s case I think it’s a hegemonic design.”
McMaster said that President Trump’s “sentiments are with both—with the Kurdish people and with the Iraqi people.”
He said that the United States’s “message has to be that Iran has to stop using illegal armed groups in Iraq to advance its own interest at the expense of the Iraqi people and at the expense of security, stability, in the region.”