During a panel discussion in Washington, Brett McGurk, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, spoke of the tremendous progress that has been made in Iraq since ISIS seized control of key cities and significant territory four years ago.
“3.5 million Iraqis have returned to their homes in areas that used to be controlled by ISIS. This is totally off the charts, historically. It takes about 10 years or so to return that amount of people in a post-conflict environment, if ever. And we’ve managed to do it in Iraq in a very short amount of time,” he said.
Special Envoy McGurk called the situation in Iraq in the summer of 2014 “desperate,” with Mosul having fallen to ISIS, and Baghdad in the terror group’s sights. A new path to counter ISIS -- with a sustainable outcome -- was required. The United States, after conversations and in conjunction with Iraqi leaders, decided on the “by, with and through” approach, in which Iraqis, with the help of the Coalition that was first formed in September of 2014, would take back their country.
“The Iraqis fought and died to take back their country,” he declared. “The mood in Iraq is totally different than what we used to have. It is Iraqi ownership, and they’ve done an incredible job.”
Special Envoy McGurk highlighted the role of the Peshmerga in the progress made, noting that “[t]he Peshmerga have fought and died in huge numbers against ISIS.” He also praised the cooperation between Erbil and Baghdad: “The battle of Mosul would not have worked without that,” he said.
When asked about pernicious Iranian influence in Iraq, Special Envoy McGurk said it is important not to ignore the extent of Iraqi nationalism and Iraqi pride. Iraq and Iran have natural cultural and economic ties which will continue, he said. “But there’s a real check on this [Iranian influence],” he noted, and that is the role played by a sovereign nation, whose duty, as President Donald Trump declared during his speech to the UN General Assembly, is to serve the needs of its people “to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values.”
“This is a long-term effort,” said Special Envoy McGurk, “but it really boils down to Iraqi sovereignty, increasing the capacity of their institutions…increasing the capacity of the Iraqis to control their sovereign space.”