By Sadeq Dehqan & Farzam Vanaki
Daesh is no longer considered a serious threat in Iraq, said the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily, Iraj Masjedi added now that the new Iraqi government and cabinet have been formed, the country’s armed forces will put in a stronger and more consistent performance in countering threats.
Commenting on certain movements in US military bases in Iraq, he said Americans are reorganizing their forces, whose continued presence in the Arab state has only caused problems for Washington and will fuel insecurity in the region.
Masjedi stressed that Hashd al-Shaabi volunteer forces, also known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), are regaining their vigor and reorganizing themselves.
He regretted that the US has adopted a strategy of opposing Hashd al-Shaabi, which is among the legal armed forces in Iraq.
Turning to efforts to curb the coronavirus spread in Iraq through implementation of wide-ranging protective measures, the ambassador said Iran and Iraq have cooperated in controlling the disease.
“Joint borders will soon reopen for the resumption of trade transactions on certain days of the week,” he added.
Full Text of the interview follows:
IRAN DAILY: Recently, new movements by Daesh have been detected in Iraq and the terrorist group has launched a number of attacks against Hashd al-Shaabi forces. Are these strikes indicative of Daesh’s revival and organizing its forces under a new leadership?
IRAJ MASJEDI: Daesh has carried out sporadic attacks in three to four parts of Iraq. We have detected the presence of Daesh elements in these regions. The Iraqi security forces and those of Hashd al-Shaabi have, however, successfully repelled the attacks. Some of these forces were, nevertheless, martyred during the conflicts, which also led to the killing of Daesh elements.
Today, Iraq is in a relatively good situation in terms of security. The country’s security forces are in control of different parts of the Iraqi territory. Nonetheless, the threat of Daesh has not been eliminated completely, which calls for greater awareness. I believe that Daesh is no longer deemed a serious threat in Iraq. The Iraqis are capable of countering threats posed by the terrorist group through greater cognizance and organizing their forces better.
The Iraqi security and armed forces as well as those of Hashd al-Shaabi are well-organized. In addition, the formation of the new Iraqi government has improved the consistency of and coordination between the country’s armed and security forces, playing a significant role in improving their situation. The Iraqi forces can resolve problems stemming from Daesh’s presence in the country in a short period of time.
Recently, the Syrian media has published reports revealing that US forces have airlifted Daesh elements from north of the country to Iraq. It is said that the move has been aimed at reinforcing Daesh in Iraq. What is your take on this?
Daesh elements use the territorial connection between Iraq and Syria and the ground prepared by the two neighbors’ geopolitical locations to move between the two countries, as has been witnessed several times in the past.
This comes as despite their anti-terrorism claims and rhetoric, the US has taken no practical steps to counter Daesh terrorists in the region. It is often stated that the US has even adopted measures to support Daesh. Basically, the Americans do not favor stability and security in the region to have a pretext for justifying the presence of their military bases and forces in it.
While the world is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, movements have been reported in certain US bases in Iraq, indicating that American troops have massed in these camps. How do you assess these movements?
Americans have recently withdrawn their troops from five to six military bases and stationed them in Kurdistan Region’s Harir, Ain al-Asad base and Camp Taji. The US forces positioned in Camp Taji are advisory and training forces. These movements are mainly aimed at increasing the troops’ concentration and boosting their security and defense preparedness. It is clear that through these movements, the US is reorganizing its forces. However, the presence of American troops in the region is not justified as they are not needed here. These forces are creating problems for regional countries. The Islamic Republic of Iran maintains that the US bases must be wiped out from the region.
How do you assess the current situation of Hashd al-Shaabi forces? It appears as if the US troops have not stopped their tension-provoking moves against Hashd al-Shaabi in the aftermath of their conflicts with the pro-government Iraqi forces.
Hashd al-Shaabi is restoring vigor to its forces and reorganizing them. Over the past few months, all military operations by the US forces in Iraq have been against Hashd al-Shaabi, despite their anti-terrorism claims and rhetoric. This comes as Hashd al-Shaabi is responsible for fighting Daesh and ensuring security in Iraq. As we witnessed, Americans assassinated a number of Hashd al-Shaabi forces as well as Iran’s top anti-terror commander, Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of PMU, in such operations.
Countering and weakening Hashd al-Shaabi is the main target pursued by the American troops in Iraq at present. This comes as Hashd al-Shaabi is among the Iraqi armed forces and any operations by the US against it is condemned by Iran.
How do you evaluate efforts to contain the coronavirus spread in Iraq? Is Iran cooperating with its western neighbor in this field?
Wide-ranging protective measures were adopted in Iraq to fight coronavirus, including imposing intra- and inter-city travel bans, closing common borders, public places, schools and universities as well as suspending flights. These measures were taken by the anti-coronavirus taskforce in Iraq, the country’s Ministry of Health, public and private organizations as well as Hashd al-Shaabi forces. Thus, the disease was controlled in the country and the number of the infections and deaths remained low.
Iran and Iraq have cooperated in the fight against coronavirus since the very beginning of its outbreak and exchanged experiences in this field in joint meetings. The two countries also controlled common borders very well.
What is your prediction for the reopening of the common borders?
In view of recent negotiations between the two sides, it has been decided to open common trade borders on two days (probably Sunday and Wednesday) a week for the resumption of transactions. This, of course, will be done through full compliance with the health and hygiene protocols and under special supervision to remove concerns over the further spread of coronavirus.