In a speech in advance of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s first official visit to Washington, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that significant progress is being made in the fight against ISIL in Iraq.
The momentum of last year’s rapid advance, in which ISIL swept into Neneveh province and seized Mosul, has been halted and in some locations reversed – thereby undermining ISIL’s false narrative of invincibility.
Critical to that slowdown was the effort undertaken by Prime Minister al-Abadi to establish a unified, inclusive government that seeks to represent the aspirations of all Iraqis -- Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites. In short order, Prime Minister Abadi and other Iraqi leaders took major steps: arriving at a national budget with equitable revenue sharing; forging an oil deal between Baghdad and Irbil; mobilizing Sunnis to fight ISIL; and seeking cooperation with Peshmerga troops.
At the request of Prime Minister Abadi, the United States has helped Iraqi leaders rebuild their forces with hires based on competence not ethnicity, said Vice President Biden. The U.S. is also training Iraqi forces at four different sites across Iraq. And American weapons are aiding and protecting Iraqi forces as they take the fight to ISIL.
Vice President Biden noted that the help given to the Iraqis comes not only from the United States. The U.S. has led an international coalition with over 60 partners, whose effort to weaken ISIL is not only military, but “across the board, from undercutting its messaging to tracking its foreign fighters.”
Since August, the U.S.-led coalition has conducted over 3,200 air strikes against ISIL terrorists, over 1,850 in Iraq and over 1,350 in Syria. Earlier this month, Iraqi forces, Shiite militias, and Sunni tribesman, backed by U.S. airstrikes at the request of the Iraqi government, took back the city of Tikrit from ISIL.
Vice President Biden noted that the Iraqi government has accepted help from neighboring Iran in its fight against ISIL. But he said, the Iraqis “don’t want to be puppets dangling on a string of anyone’s puppeteering in the region. Don’t underestimate the power of Iraqi national pride, independence and sovereignty.”
The United States, said Mr. Biden, wants ”what Iraqis want, a united, federal and democratic Iraq as defined by its own constitution, where power is shared among all Iraqi communities...The ultimate success or failure is in the hands of the Iraqis. But as they stand up and stand together, this administration, this country is committed to stand with them.”