Remarks at Iraq Ministerial Intervention

Antony J. Blinken
Deputy Secretary of State
Paris, France
October 20, 2016

Foreign Minister Ayrault, Foreign Minister Jaafari, Ministers, Distinguished Guests, thank you.

I join my colleagues in expressing our sincere appreciation to the government of France for its hospitality and the government of Iraq for its strong leadership in the fight to defeat Daesh.

With the launch of the operation to liberate Mosul, we have seen the extraordinary courage, unity, and commitment of the Iraqi people that gives us renewed hope and confidence for Iraq’s future.

Two years ago, Daesh was expanding its territory, building its status online as an irresistible magnet for budding violent extremists, and threatening to overrun even Baghdad and Erbil.

Now, momentum in the fight to defeat Daesh has shifted dramatically.

Our comprehensive campaign, led by our Iraqi friends, is systematically liberating territory from Daesh and denying it its sanctuaries, cutting off its financing, stemming the flow of foreign fighters, combatting its narrative on social media, allowing citizens to return home, and gutting the twisted foundation on which Daesh’s global ambitions rest.

With Coalition support, the Iraqi Security Forces have seen twelve months of continuous success in liberating their country from Fallujah to Tikrit, up the Euphrates River Valley, from Ramadi, through Hit, Haditha, Rutbah, and all the way to the Iraqi-Jordanian border.

Together, we’ve eliminated tens of thousands of fighters and scores of mid-to-senior level leaders. We’ve destroyed thousands of pieces of equipment and weapons. We’ve deprived Daesh of more than 50 percent of the territory it once held in Iraq and over 25 percent of the territory in Syria, including Dabiq, a city with once powerful symbolic importance to Daesh as the site of a final victory for the so-called caliphate. Dabiq’s liberation has forced Daesh to deny its own narrative and purpose—revealing them for the murderous lunacy they are.

Now, we face a moment of strategic opportunity and urgency.

The opportunity is to effectively extinguish Daesh’s alleged geographic caliphate by taking back the last major urban centers it holds: Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria. It will not be easy. The enemy is dug in and desperate, but the consequences for Daesh will be devastating—practically and psychologically.

This opportunity is matched by urgency. As the noose around Daesh closes, we’ve seen them try to adapt by plotting or encouraging indiscriminate attacks in as many places as possible. Potential recruits are being told to stay home and attack there. Surviving foreign fighters are being pushed out of Iraq and Syria and back to where they came from.

We must ensure that we do everything we can to catch them by strengthening information sharing on foreign fighter identities and then getting that information into the hands of the border agents and law enforcement personnel.

We need to make full use of existing watchlisting systems and implement programs to collect, analyze and share advance passenger information and passenger name record data related to air travel so that terrorists cannot easily move between our countries. We commend, in particular, the important steps the EU has taken this year to advance these issues and encourage continued progress. And whether we expand our cooperation through bilateral channels or by making use of expanding multilateral platforms, like Interpol’s foreign fighter database, this needs to be a collective commitment.

Attaining and maintaining the peace in Iraq and combatting Daesh’s ideology of hate will be just as difficult, and perhaps more difficult, than defeating them on the battlefield. It requires extraordinary coordination not only militarily, but also to ensure that we, as an international community, meet the humanitarian, stabilization and governance needs of newly liberated territory.

The United Nations estimates that the upcoming offensive could result in the displacement of more than one million people from Mosul and its surrounding areas, exacerbating what is already a dire humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

To fully meet the acute needs, the UN relies on flexible funding with few earmarks to ensure that they can provide help quickly where it is needed most. We urge everyone who has made pledges of humanitarian assistance to make those monies available to Iraq as swiftly as possible, so that supplies can continue to be pre-positioned.

And we encourage our international partners to be prepared to respond to the additional appeals for funding that we expect the UN to issue in the coming months.

We also must work simultaneously to help our Iraqi partners clear mines, restore services, reestablish legitimate local governance, and hold those who committed atrocities accountable. These efforts must be Iraqi-driven and Iraqi-led to ensure they take root and give all Iraqis a stake in their country.

The Iraqi government has worked to develop a program of stabilization, reconciliation, and rebuilding, and we urge all Coalition members to support those plans through the UN’s Funding Facilities. To date, only the U.S. and the UAE have contributed a combined $100 million to the Funding Facility for Expanded Stabilization, and projected Mosul requirements are expected to cost as much as $245 million alone.

Establishing trusted, professional security forces will be one of the highest priorities the day after liberating Mosul. We have called for an additional 120 Coalition trainers to augment the excellent efforts of the Italian-led police training effort, and to date, we remain fifty percent short of that goal.

We are all in Iraq, a sovereign nation, at the invitation of the Iraqis whose brave soldiers are leading this effort to rid the world of Daesh and take back their country. It is no exaggeration to say that time is of the essence, lives are at risk, and the future of Mosul—indeed all of Iraq—is at stake. Our actions today in support of our Iraqi friends and partners will help pave the way for long-term reconciliation and reform and ensure that Daesh once defeated stays defeated.

Thank you very much.