Assistant Defense Secretary Celeste Wallander met with Iraqi leaders last week to reaffirm the U.S. partnership with the nation, and to underscore the U.S. commitment to supporting Iraq in the defeat-ISIS mission.
Wallander, the assistant secretary for international security affairs, also signed an updated memorandum of understanding with Shoresh Ismail Abdulla, the Kurdistan Regional Government minister of peshmerga affairs, on Sept. 21. The agreement sets out mutually agreed parameters for the next four years as the U.S. continues to support to the peshmerga for Defeat-ISIS operations.
In Baghdad, Wallander met with Iraq Defense Minister Jumah Inad Sadun and other defense leaders. She underscored the long-term partnership between the United States and Iraq and discussed on-going efforts to build the operational capacity of the Iraqi security forces. She and Iraq's defense leaders looked at expanding the cooperation between the two nations beyond counterterrorism operations to address emerging threats and increase collaboration and interoperability.
Wallander then traveled to the Iraqi city of Irbil where she met with Kurdish officials, including Nechirvan Idris Barzani, president of Iraq's Kurdistan region and commander in chief of the peshmerga.
The memorandum of understanding she signed on behalf of the Department of Defense continues the critical partnership with the peshmerga stretching back to the first Gulf War. "For decades, we have worked together based on shared objectives and a common commitment to the mandate that all people deserve dignity, security and the right to seek a better future," she said during the signing ceremony in Irbil.
The enemy today is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The terror group burst from the ungoverned areas of Syria in 2014 and overwhelmed forces arrayed against it. The Department of Defense first signed an MOU with the Kurdistan Regional Government in 2016, when ISIS held large swaths of territory across Iraq, to clearly demonstrate DOD's commitment to the peshmerga as they and other Iraqi security forces worked with the global coalition to liberate millions of Iraqis from ISIS terror.
"Since 2014, the U.S.-led coalition has supported Iraq's fight against ISIS," Wallander said. "Together, we liberated more than 50,000 square kilometers from ISIS control, including critical infrastructure and population centers in Iraq's Kurdistan region, freed more than 4.5 million Iraqis from ISIS terrorism, and provided our Iraqi-Kurdish partners with recovery and stabilization support."
ISIS no longer holds territory, but it continues as a shadowy terror group to target the citizens of Iraq and populations across the broader region. "The United States remains committed to supporting the Iraqi Security Forces, including the Kurdish peshmerga, to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS," she said.
The updated memorandum serves as an organizing framework for the provision of defeat ISIS assistance to the peshmerga — outlining DOD's commitment to provide support and the Kurdistan Regional Government's commitment to continued reforms that will modernize the peshmerga forces.
U.S. forces remain in Iraq at the invitation of the government to advise, assist and enable Iraqi security forces. "We must continue to work together to protect the gains made against ISIS and set the conditions for the next phase of the fight by denying ISIS even the smallest opportunity to resurge," Wallander said. "This MOU will guide the Department of Defense's future assistance to the peshmerga, which is a pillar of the department’s broader ‘D[efeat]-ISIS' partnership with the government of Iraq."
"On this occasion, I want to offer my deep appreciation and respect for the tremendous sacrifices made by members of the peshmerga who gave their lives in the fight to defeat ISIS," Wallander said. "The United States is cognizant of the cost of victory to the peshmerga, and we are honored to be your partners — on and off the battlefield."