By Claudette Roulo
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2014 – A meeting with Iraq’s leaders in Baghdad today left Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel feeling encouraged by their progress and vision for the future, the secretary said today.
Hagel met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, President Fuad Masum and Defense Minister Khalid al-Ubaidi before leaving Iraq for the next stop on his overseas trip.
“At this critical time for his country, Prime Minister Abadi is taking important steps to make Iraq’s government inclusive and effective,” Hagel said in prepared remarks during a news conference at Baghdad International Airport.
Today’s meetings were focused on the effort to degrade and defeat the terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, he said, noting the progress already made toward this goal.
“With coalition support, Iraqi security forces have retaken and held territory in a number of places, such as the Mosul Dam, Amerli, and the Baiji refinery,” the defense secretary said. “They have strengthened their positions around Baghdad and blocked ISILs movement southward. They are preparing for broader offensives.”
A Coalition of More Than 60 Nations
The United States and a coalition of more than 60 nations, including Kuwait, are actively supporting the Iraqi efforts, he said. Hagel was briefed in Kuwait yesterday on coalition operations.
“Our coalition partners -- especially here in the Middle East -- know that this is a fight against not only a radical and barbaric militia, but also against the underlying scourge of violent extremism, which threatens all of us,” the defense secretary said.
Coalition efforts include supporting military operations, capacity building, training, stopping the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, severing ISIL’s access to financing and funding, providing humanitarian relief, and delegitimizing ISIL’s ideology, Hagel said.
“I especially want to recognize the Arab states that have taken on important leadership roles in the coalition,” he told reporters. “Kuwait, Bahrain, and Morocco have each hosted important conferences on countering ISIL’s messaging, its financing, and the flow of foreign fighters. Jordan continues to provide critical humanitarian assistance.
“On the military front,” he continued, “Bahrain was the first country to provide access and basing for coalition operations, and many other countries in the region have followed suit. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain have conducted about a quarter of our coalition partners’ airstrikes against ISIL.”
ISIL Being Thwarted in Iraq
The coalition’s efforts are working, the secretary said.
ISIL’s ability to conduct vital support and combat operations in Iraq are being thwarted, Hagel said. Iraqi forces soon will be able to intensify their offensive operations as coalition training efforts stand up in northern, western and central Iraq.
“And coalition partners have already committed about 1,500 personnel to help train and advise Iraqi forces,” the defense secretary said.
The battle against ISIL in Syria will take on a new shape as well, he said, as regional partners begin training and equipping the moderate opposition in Syria to defeat ISIL there.
“The coalition’s shared resolve has also helped Iraq strengthen relations with its neighbors,” Hagel said. “Recent visits to Iraq by the Emirati foreign minister and Turkish prime minister -- as well as trips by high-level Iraqi leaders to Saudi Arabia and Jordan -- are important steps toward strengthening the coalition against ISIL, as well as Iraq’s long-term stability.”
Efforts to Include Ethnic, Sectararian Groups
For these gains to be sustainable, he said, the Iraqi government must continue to build an inclusive government that represents the full spectrum of Iraqi people -- a government in which all Iraqis can have trust and confidence.
Iraq’s prime minister knows this, the defense secretary said.
“And I want to acknowledge his efforts to give all of Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups a voice in the government,” he added. “He has appointed new ministers of defense and interior, made changes in military leadership, and taken steps to root out corruption in government institutions. He has finalized a long-stalled agreement with Kurdish regional authorities to share Iraq’s oil wealth and military resources -- a move that demonstrates new commitment to national reconciliation, which must remain a top priority.”
The United States supports these efforts, Hagel said.
“As Iraqi leaders and the people of Iraq know, only they can bring lasting peace to their country. … America will continue to be a partner in supporting them as they build a future for their country that is one of peace, hope, and opportunity for all their people,” he said.