Interview With Al-Hurra TV

Brett McGurk
Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL, Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL
Baghdad, Iraq
December 1, 2016

QUESTION: (Speaks in Arabic.)

MR MCGURK: Well, I think I just came from a briefing on this, and after this interview I'll be seeing the prime minister. And I'm very pleased to be here. This is my, I think, 12th or 13th visit here to Iraq this year. And every time I'm here there is more and more progress against Daesh. So, obviously, the Mosul campaign is the culmination of much of our efforts over the last two years. It's a very complicated military operation. It's been ongoing now for a little over a month, about six weeks.

The city is now surrounded. Iraqi Security Forces are fighting and fighting heroically. We are seeing an incredible amount of cooperation between the Iraqi Army, Iraqi Security Forces, and the Peshmerga, which is needed to defeat Daesh. So we feel very comfortable with the progress, and I think the Iraqis should be very proud of the really heroic efforts that have been undertaken by their sons for fighting in the streets of Mosul on behalf of all of us, on behalf of the entire world.

And I represent a global coalition of 68 members, and I travel all around the world. And Daesh is a threat to all of us. And so, what Iraqis are doing by defeating this enemy in Mosul, the site where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi claimed his false caliphate is one of the most important things going on in the world right now, and we will continue to provide all the support we possibly can to the Iraqi forces as they finish out this mission.

QUESTION: (Speaks in Arabic.)

MR MCGURK: Well, I think we've done -- since the beginning of this campaign almost two years ago, we've conducted almost 16,000 airstrikes. In the Mosul campaign alone, I think about over 5,000 munitions have been dropped on Daesh targets to support this operation. So, obviously, this is something that will continue.

I think the battle against Daesh will change, once we get them out of these population centers, but Daesh will remain a threat. It will remain a threat to all of us. It's a threat to us in the United States, it's a threat to the Iraqi people. And we have a Strategic Framework Agreement with Iraq in which we will continue our support for your security forces, so long as your government welcomes that support. And, of course, I'm very hopeful that that will continue, because I think it's very important to make sure that the defeat of Daesh -- and they will be defeated -- is a lasting and permanent defeat. We never want these terrorists to come back.

QUESTION: (Speaks in Arabic.)

MR MCGURK: Well, this is an enormous challenge. And one of the reasons that we have a global coalition supporting everything that's happening here in Iraq is to make sure that we can generate global resources to help you manage this challenge. And so, obviously, working with your government, working with the Iraqi Government, working with the United Nations and the humanitarian organizations, we prepared for many months for the displaced population out of Mosul, so that they could be cared for. And so far, what we've seen is about 70,000 IDPs have come out of Mosul. They are being cared for, by and large. It's a very complex endeavor. And we have resources in place, of course, to manage a great deal more.

Obviously, it is the directive of Prime Minister Abadi that the utmost care be taken for every human life, every civilian life in Mosul, which is critical, and thus, critical to our mission here. And the biggest threat to the civilians in Mosul remains Daesh. It is Daesh, these terrorists that are using civilians as human shields, that is using civilians in all sorts of barbaric ways to pretend that they are a powerful force. And that is why we want to defeat them as soon as we possibly can.

QUESTION: (Speaks in Arabic.)

MR MCGURK: Well, the future of Iraq will be decided by the Iraqis, and within your constitutional framework. The policy of the United States is very clear: We support the territorial integrity of Iraq. We support a unified and pluralistic, democratic, and federal state. That is enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution. And so, the future will be defined by the Iraqis.

But I think that we can take some heart in what is happening in areas that have been liberated from Daesh. Here in Iraq, Iraqi forces have now reclaimed 56 percent of the territory that Daesh had been controlling as of two years ago, and Daesh has not retaken any of that territory. It's been over a year that Daesh has even won a single military engagement against your security forces.

In places like Tikrit, the entire population has returned to their homes. In Ramadi, we have about 300,000 Iraqis have returned to their homes. What is a limiting factor in some of these places is that Daesh leaves so many what we call IEDs and land mines and booby-traps in people's homes -- again, because they have no regard for human life. And that is why we have worked, as a coalition, to clear these IEDs and these land mines, so that people can come back to their homes. And in U.S.-supported programs alone, we have cleared almost 22,000 kilograms, kilos, of IED material from places like Ramadi to allow people to go back to their homes.

So, this will remain a long-term challenge. That's why I say we want to make sure the defeat of Daesh comes as swiftly as possible, but also that it's permanent and lasting. And that means ensuring people can return to their homes, ensuring there is good governance and stabilization activities. And the United States, as a close partner of Iraq and also our international coalition that we lead, we're fully ready to support those efforts.

QUESTION: (Speaks in Arabic.)

MR MCGURK: Well, again, I think you have a constitutional framework. I think the government, under Prime Minister Abadi, has committed to a principle of decentralization, of empowering people in their areas to control their communities, to protect their people. So we've seen that in places like Anbar Province, where well over 15,000 local tribal fighters have been organized and paid and supported by the government to fight Daesh. That's very important, because we want local people who know the streets to control their affairs, to have local police in the streets to make sure that a terrorist cannot re-infiltrate these streets.

Obviously, this will be a long-term endeavor, to make sure that Daesh can never come back. But you have a very good framework, in terms of more decentralized powers empowering the provinces, and making sure that activity can return. And then I think it is a good sign -- it's an early sign, but a good sign that every area has been retaken from Daesh over the last two years. Daesh has not been able to come back. So we want to make sure that that trend continues and, most importantly, that it continues in Mosul.

QUESTION: (Via translator.) Thank you so much, sir. Thank you.

MR MCGURK: Thank you for having me.