Part I is HERE. Part II is HERE. Because U.S. President Trump’s special envoy Brett McGurk was so good at explaining the current state of issues in Iraq and Syria in Part II, we are revisiting his overview to the D-ISIS alliance in this part III.
Mr. McGurk is speaking to the 70 nations who are part of the coalition to defeat ISIS (“D-ISIS”) globally, not just regionally. However, the majority of the current confrontation is happening within Iraq and Syria.
Transcript] MR MCGURK: Thank you, Terry. Good morning. Distinguished ambassadors, coalition partners, friends, and colleagues, it’s my pleasure to welcome you again to Washington as members of our Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Today’s discussion will allow us to really roll up our sleeves as we look ahead in Iraq, Syria, West Africa, East Asia, and anywhere else ISIS seeks to export its terror.[
This discussion today comes on the heels of three days of working group meetings with all 72 members of our Coalition, and we’re looking forward to a very productive day.
When our ministers gathered here in March in this room, Secretary Tillerson emphasized that President Trump had asked all of us to accelerate the campaign against ISIS. And over these last four months, that is exactly what we have done.
So my remarks this morning will provide an update focusing on the ISIS core in Iraq and Syria, our recent discussions with Russia in Syria, and our vital work as a Coalition beyond the Iraq and Syria theaters.
But before I begin, let us all offer our respect and congratulations as a Coalition and as partners to the Government of Iraq on the recent liberation of Mosul. The Government of Iraq is represented here today by Dr. Naufel Hassan from the office of the Prime Minister, and our good friend Ambassador Fareed Yasseen. Welcome. We’re also pleased to have Bayan Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative here in Washington with the Iraqi delegation. Bayan, welcome.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to the leadership of Prime Minister Abadi and the heroism of the Iraqi Security Forces, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and so many volunteers that took up arms against ISIS. These forces have suffered significant casualties in one of the most difficult and intense urban battles since the Second World War, while placing protection of the civilian population at the top of their campaign plan.
As President Trump told Prime Minister Abadi in a phone call just a couple days ago, the liberation of Mosul is a milestone in our shared fight against ISIS, but it is not the end of the war, and we are committed as a country and a coalition to ensure ISIS’s total destruction.
I was in Iraq when Mosul fell to ISIS a few years ago, and I happened to be there just days ago as the battle culminated, working with our Iraqi partners, many of whom seated in this room. This has been a long three years, from the collapse of seven Iraqi Security Force divisions to their rebuilding into one of the most proficient and now battle-tested forces in the region.
So it’s worth reflecting a moment on how far we’ve come.
In June of 2014, ISIS, fueled by tens of thousands of foreign fighters from as many as 120 countries around the world, was able to mass and maneuver large military formations nearly at will across Iraq and Syria. Journalists and analysts predicted the imminent fall of Baghdad. ISIS rounded up and massacred one by one 1,700 Iraqi Air Force cadets near Tikrit and uploaded the footage on YouTube. It committed acts of genocide against minority groups, Yezidis and Christians, and murdered anyone who contested its rule. The ISIS spokesman, a terrorist named Mohammed Adnani, declared, quote, “This battle will soon rage in Baghdad.” He declared to the world that this so-called caliphate would, quote, “remain and expand throughout the Middle East and into Europe,” and he called upon Muslims from around the globe to come and join their fight in Syria and Iraq.
ISIS, of course, never reached Baghdad. The Iraqi people and its security forces, with support from so many in this room, regrouped and fought back. Today, ISIS’s so-called caliphate is rapidly shrinking, and the units we have trained as a Coalition in Iraq have never lost a battle. I think it’s worth reflecting on that point for a moment. We’ve now trained as a coalition over 100,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces, and the units we have trained have defeated ISIS in every engagement. Not only that, these units are now the pride of Iraq.
Just last week, when Iraq’s elite counterterrorism forces began a recruiting drive for 3,000 positions, they received nearly 300,000 applicants. This is a remarkable trend and a total transformation from only three years ago.
The terrorist I mentioned earlier, Mohammed Adnani, who also planned attacks abroad, including in Paris and Brussels, is now dead, killed by a Coalition airstrike last year near the Syrian town of al-Bab. This is the fate of nearly all ISIS leaders.
In total, Iraqi forces, supported by our coalition, have cleared over 65,000 square kilometers of territory in Iraq and Syria. All of this territory has held. ISIS has not reclaimed any of this ground. We have freed over 4 million people who had been living under ISIS in 2014, and most importantly, we’ve helped set the conditions for people to return to their homes.
In Iraq alone, nearly 2 million people who fled ISIS have since returned to their homes to restore life to their communities once controlled by these terrorists. That rate of returns in a post-conflict environment is unprecedented historically, and it’s testament to what we have done as a coalition by working together.
So Mosul is the prime example. Nearly one year ago, we gathered here in Washington to prepare the pending campaign in Mosul. A quote that was used during that day was from our former president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said, quote, “The plan is often useless. It’s the planning, the planning together that is indispensable.” By planning, we anticipate, we adapt in a dynamic environment.
In Mosul, we worked together for six months in a comprehensive military, political, and humanitarian campaign plan. On the political level, thanks to the leadership of Prime Minister Abadi, and President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani, we worked to ensure full cooperation between Iraqi Security Forces and the Peshmerga – a level of cooperation we later saw on the ground. Few, including ISIS, anticipated that.
We supported Prime Minister Abadi’s policy and the Government of Iraq’s policy of decentralization, empowering local people to take charge of their communities after the battle, and ensuring full coordination between regional, provincial, and national authorities.
On the humanitarian level, we planned with the United Nations and the Government of Iraq for nearly 1 million displaced people from Mosul. Our Coalition raised the funds to ensure that the UN and associated NGOs had what they needed to address even a worst-case scenario. To date, over the course of the Mosul campaign, there have been nearly 940,000 displaced people; and our colleague, Lise Grande, who’s here, who led the humanitarian response for UNDP, reports that every single one of them – every one – received assistance and aid. Lise has done a tremendous job, and I think we all owe you our respect and gratitude. I think this is one of, really, an unprecedented combination of military and humanitarian response plan with the international community working together.
At the stabilization level, we planned for the day after with emphasis on immediate needs, including locally drawn police force, clearing land mines left by ISIS, restoring electricity, water, sewage, rubble removal, and work programs. The results are now visible in east Mosul, where, only months after the battle, over 220,000 people have returned to their home. 350,000 boys and girls – 350,000 boys and girls, who about six months ago were living under ISIS – are now back in school. Markets are bustling and life is returning to the streets. Even in west Mosul, where the battle was most intense over the past four months, we are seeing thousands returning to their homes and beginning, beginning to pick up their lives after ISIS.
Now, the Old City of Mosul is a different story. This dense urban core was the final stage of the battle and has been in the news with photos of devastation for months of house-to-house and room-to-room fighting. There is one reason for the intensity of this battle. Hundreds of ISIS terrorists from all around the world, as far away as China, gathered in the Old City, nearly all of them wearing explosive suicide vests, barricaded in fighting positions, using civilians as human shields. Over ISIS radios, terrorists hold up in the old city were speaking French, Chinese, Dutch, Russian, and Arabic with a non-Iraqi dialect. These terrorists rigged buildings with explosives, destroyed them as Iraqi Forces approached, including the Grand Mosque of al-Nuri, which has stood for nearly seven centuries. They paraded civilians in front of their fighting positions, hid behind women and children, and use a hospital just north of the Old City as a killing tower, placing snipers to murder civilians trying to escape.
The world has not seen an enemy like this in decades at least, and there is no neat and tidy way to root out suicidal terrorists from urban buildings. This is a war, yet Iraqi Forces place protection of the civilian population at the top of their mission, often at great risk to themselves. Where Iraqi Forces failed to live up to their own high standards, the Iraqi Government is investigating allegations, which we encourage. Iraqi Forces also sought, at the top of their campaign plan, to ensure that suicide bombers from Tajikistan or Tunisia who found their way to Mosul to terrorize the Iraqi people would die in Mosul, rather than escape to terrorize us elsewhere. And they succeeded in that mission. For ISIS foreign fighters, there is no escape.
The battle in Iraq is far from over. Iraqi Forces, with our support, will soon move to liberate remaining territories controlled by ISIS, including Tel Afar, Hawija, and Al-Qaim. We will support them in the military campaign and in what comes next at the humanitarian, stabilization, and governance levels. That is why we are here.
And on behalf of President Trump and Secretary Tillerson, the United States requests that every member of our coalition identify new areas in which to contribute. To date, as a coalition, the U.S. has provided nearly three-quarters of the military resources required to support our partners on the ground, but only one-quarter – the U.S. has provided only one-quarter of the financial resources for humanitarian and stabilization assistance, the rest being picked up by our coalition. This ratio, 4:1 coalition contributions to U.S. contributions for the post-ISIS phase, must continue and further expand over the vital months ahead. And the needs remain vast.
At our working group meetings yesterday, the UN outlined a total appeal of $1.3 billion for post-ISIS humanitarian and stabilization requirements. Nearly three-quarters of this appeal focuses on stabilization, particularly in Mosul and the most devastated areas. And given the record of our stabilization programs to date, with every dollar, euro, and dinar tracked and accounted for, and nearly 2 million people back in their homes, this is a worthy investment and helps ensure that ISIS can never return.
The United States last week announced an additional $150 million for these stabilization programs. Today, we are announcing more than $119 million in additional humanitarian assistance, and we hope to see similar contributions from our partners in this room over the coming weeks.
Over the longer term, the Government of Iraq has developed its plans for significant economic reform and investment through 2030, its Vision 2030 plan, a program it presented to the World Bank on Monday. The United States fully supports this initiative and we commend Iraq for its work with the World Bank and the IMF to stabilize its macroeconomic situation and implement key reforms for long-term growth.
Our coalition partner Kuwait – and we welcome the Government of Kuwait here today – at the invitation of His Highness Sheikh Sabah will also host a meeting on long-term – long-term reconstruction in Iraq early next year, and we welcome this important initiative.
We also welcome the historic opening between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, marked by Prime Minister Abadi’s breakthrough visit to the kingdom last month and the ongoing work to restore vital commerce routes between Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan.
All of these pieces fit together in a phased approach. Immediate stabilization and essential services follow the military battle. We are right now in that phase in Mosul. Iraqi Government reforms establish conditions for sustainability and growth with support from the IMF and the World Bank. Longer-term reconstruction will be a focus of the Kuwait meeting with the Iraqi Government identifying its prioritized needs. Iraq’s integration into the region allows the private sector to recover. And in parallel, we will continue to train Iraqi Security Forces and support their efforts to ensure that as ISIS is defeated, all armed groups operate under control of the state consistent with the Iraqi constitution and laws. So I look forward to the meetings throughout the course of the day as we discuss these phases and our ongoing global coalition support to Iraq and to the Government of Iraq.
Syria is far more complicated. We do not have a government to work with in Syria. And in the absence of a credible political horizon that allows the Syrian people to determine their fate beyond the Assad regime, here is the reality: The international community will not be prepared to help rebuild Syria. Such a credible political horizon is a necessary condition for significant investments required to restore Syria after a catastrophic civil war.
As a Coalition, however, drawing on the models of what has worked in Iraq and pending a longer-term political settlement, we will focus on immediate stabilization needs of communities freed from ISIS in coalition-enabled operations. Our basic goal is to establish the conditions that will allow the local population from the areas freed of ISIS control to restore life to their communities and voluntarily return IDPs to their homes.
Last month, I visited Syria and walked the streets of Tabqa approximately 40 kilometers just to the west of Raqqa. This city of nearly 90,000 people was a stronghold for ISIS for over three years. It was freed only two months ago in what was a daring military operation across an eight-kilometer stretch of water by helicopter led by our partner Syrian Democratic Forces. Coalition-supported groups cleared IEDs on the main roads only days before we were able to visit. In downtown Tabqa, a civilian council has already formed, led by technocrats – men and women who suffered under ISIS and are now working to restore their community. These are motivated people and they deserve our support.
An initial shipment of aid, nearly 40 tons, reached Tabqa on the day of my visit, and I am very pleased to report that since then – since then, UN agencies and NGOs have arrived in the city to assess and respond to immediate needs. Emergency response teams made up of local people with knowledge – local knowledge and expertise have now formed to identify immediate stabilization sites focused on water, electricity, sewage, and rubble removal. Our development experts are on the ground and working with them. As we identify and assess these sites, members of our coalition will have the opportunity to support their demining and restoration.
On Monday, importantly, in the lead-up to these meetings here in Washington, the Syrian Recovery Trust Fund, the SRTF, approved the expansion of an essential multi-donor mechanism into areas liberated from ISIS, including Raqqa. This is an important and timely decision that will free up potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to address immediate stabilization needs for the local population.
In addition, building on the lessons from Iraq, today we are launching a new initiative within the Coalition Stabilization Working Group, a donor consortium for early recovery in liberated areas. The consortium will aim to unite donors around the restoration of essential services with prioritized project lists drawn from the local population, building on the model that has worked in Iraq.
Inside Raqqa, the battle is ongoing at this hour and is quite intense. Syrian Democratic Forces – the Syrian Democratic Forces have penetrated into the center of the city, overcoming multiple defensive barricades, IED belts, sniper nests, tunnels, and suicide bombers in armored vehicles. They have suffered significant casualties already and there will be more to come as they advance to clear the city, but we are proud to support them.
As the battle unfolds over the coming weeks and months, as we did in Mosul, our stabilization planning will move in parallel. We have identified a hundred critical stabilization sites in and around Mosul* which will be the immediate focus for demining and restoration. Local governance in Raqqa in the initial phases will be led by a Raqqa civilian council now based just north of Raqqa in Ayn Issa. This council includes nearly 120 individuals, most of whom stayed in Syria during the civil war and escaped from Raqqa and other towns within the province as ISIS moved in.
This interim council will receive support from the United States to enable immediate stabilization. It is committed to welcoming back exiles, including members of the former council that temporarily governed Raqqa in 2013, and we encourage these exiles to return to Syria. The council importantly has also committed to hold an election in the city by May of next year for a new council to ensure that the people of Raqqa can choose their own leaders, pending an ultimate solution to the Syrian civil war. And we support this initiative.
As we work to defeat ISIS in Syria, we are also committed to de-escalating the underlying civil war through ceasefires or other arrangements. We are encouraged by recent de-confliction arrangements agreed between our militaries with Russia that have helped enable an accelerated pace of operations against ISIS.
We are also encouraged by the recently agreed ceasefire in southwest Syria, approved by President Trump and President Putin just last week. This initiative was painstakingly negotiated by Jordan, the United States, and Russia. It’s one of many to de-escalate the underlying war, maintain the territorial integrity of Syria, and set the conditions for a Syrian-led political settlement in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. So we call on all sides in this terrible conflict to ensure that adherence to the ceasefire arrangement holds, as it is defined by a very carefully drawn line of contact.
Beyond Iraq and Syria, our coalition is equally focused on ISIS networks and affiliates around the world. Our working groups over the last few days here at the State Department focused intensively on curbing the flow of foreign fighters, countering ISIS finance, countering its false propaganda, and focusing on areas where ISIS seeks to plant roots as it loses its phony caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
We’ve made progress in all of these areas. It’s now extremely difficult for foreign fighters to get into Syria, and we’re grateful for Turkey’s efforts to seal its borders to these fighters. Those who had already entered earlier, it is our mission to ensure that they cannot get out, and they will die in Iraq or Syria. Meanwhile, we are building a global database of known foreign fighters, now with 18,000 verified names with the support of our coalition partner Interpol.
ISIS propaganda is also under strain and lacking credibility, thanks to our work with key partners: UAE, Saudi Arabia, UK, and others, as well as the efforts of the private sector: Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, all of which have recently enhanced their capacity to track and remove ISIS content on a daily basis.
ISIS financing is now nearly all self-generated inside Iraq and Syria, and as it loses territory, it’s losing resources, which our military campaign targets relentlessly. As we know, it’ll take a global network to defeat the ISIS network over the long term, and that is what this coalition represents.
This afternoon, we will discuss extremism and ISIS networks in Africa, and we are pleased to welcome today three of our newest coalition members: Chad, Niger, and Djibouti. We will have an announcement later today on an additional member.
Indeed, as we defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, this extraordinary coalition continues to grow. NATO joined in May, and we are now at 72 members – 68 countries and four international organizations: the EU, Arab League, Interpol, and NATO. It is now one of the largest coalitions of its kind in history.
Of course, we cannot hide from the fact that many countries in this room, many countries within our coalition, do not see eye-to-eye on all issues. And that is the nature of a coalition. It is why we meet regularly in forums like this. There is no question, however, that three years into this global effort we stand united, 72 members from around the globe in common purpose – the destruction of ISIS and the protection of our own citizens and homelands through our joint cooperation.
So on behalf of President Trump, Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, our entire National Security team, I welcome you again to Washington. I look forward to the detailed and candid discussions about the next phase of our campaign.
So I want to thank you – okay. Why don’t I just adlib? Why don’t I give Naufel Hassan five minutes, if that’s okay, to present the views from the Government of Iraq. Because while we are all equal in this coalition, we are all also here to support the Government of Iraq, and we’re grateful that Naufel made the visit all the way from Baghdad. So we’ll give you five minutes, and then we will ask the press to leave, and we’ll start the important meeting. Again, I thank you all for attending. (Applause.)
MR AL-HASSAN: Well, thank you, Brett.
Thank you, Brett. Good morning, everybody.
It’s three years ago, many people in this city and other cities in the world, include region and even inside Iraq thought Iraq is gone. Hundreds of villages and cities fall by Daesh and destroyed by terrorists. Millions of people left their homes.
When everybody thought Iraq was gone, we said, “No.”
We said, “Iraq will stay.
With more than 5,000 years of civilization, it’s not going to be gone by a terrorist group like Daesh.”
We had a clear vision in that time and we turn that setback to be a turning point for a new Iraq. The fatwa of Marja Ayatollah Sayyid Sistani was that turning point. The clear vision of the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the togetherness from all Iraqis – the volunteers from Basra, from Baghdad, from Najaf, from all Iraq working together make that turning point and make defeat to be a victory, like the moment that we are celebrating the Mosul victory.
We should celebrate together. However, we do need to learn the lessons from not only Mosul city and not only from the recent battles. We also need to remember those people we lost them in the battles, and those people who were injured, their families. We need also to thank the Coalition, the volunteers from Iraq. We stand together and fight.
Everybody talk about the military victory, but it’s not only military victory. It’s a political victory. When we put everybody together – Arab, Kurd, Turkman, other minorities, Muslim, Christian work together, fight together, for one goal, one common goal, which is defeating Daesh.
Now, we say Daesh and their fake state over, but our commitment, it’s not over. Our togetherness, it’s not over. Actually it’s just started. We all need to protect this victory. In order to protect this victory, we need to focus on all the factors that brought this victory. We need to work together and help Iraqi Government to sustain our institution, the level of professionalism that we have it right now for our military forces, federal and local police, the volunteers – al-Hashd al-Shaabi. We also need to work together and understand Daesh came because there was a weaknesses. Daesh came because there was a differences – unmanageable differences.
So in Iraqi Government we have a clear vision where we are heading. As our friend Brett and, before that, our friend Lise mentioned, in the short term we are working together with the UN and other partners for stabilization efforts, our goal to bring all Iraqis who left their home to their home. We need to also work in the other challenge that Iraqi Government face, which is economic and financial challenges, where the oil price is fault. We have economic reform agenda just presented to the World Bank a few days ago, and we are working together with all our partners to make this moment celebrated after we finish all the battle. After we clear Tal Afar, Hawija, and west of Anbar, we need also to work together in term of activate the national security resolutions that deal with the root that make Daesh came to Mosul, the ideology. We need to work together to protect the civilian minorities who live there; villages and cities in Sinjar, in Tal Afar, in Tooz, and many other cities.
I don’t want to take a lot from your time. I would like again to thank the coalition, to our partners who work with us, and looking forward to celebrate the full victory in Iraq soon. Thank you very much. (Applause.) LINK
Reuters Recap Video: