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Iraqi Deputy PM: Fight against ISIS entering a new phase

December 17th, 2014
01:08 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

The fight against ISIS is entering a new phase, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Rowsch Nuri Shaways told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.

“The fight against ISIS and the other terrorists in Iraq is now going through a stage which is different from previous stages. In the past, the terrorists were able to accomplish some successes, particularly in Ramadi and other areas.”

“But now after the allies started the aerial bombardment, particularly the United States, the situation has changed.”

“And now the battle is turning into a new phase,” Shaways said, adding that “the fighters have started now – the fighters who are fighting against terrorism – are now advancing and accomplishing victories against terrorists.”

Last month, Iraq’s armed forces had their first major victory against the militants with the recapturing of the Baiji Oil Refinery, the country’s largest refinery which fell to ISIS in June following the Iraqi army’s near collapse.

The Iraqi military has also recently liberated Jurf al-Sakhar, southwest of Baghdad, and Jalawla and Sadiya, in Diyala Province, with the help of coalition airstrikes.

Does this mean Iraq’s national forces have recovered their backbone?

“It is hard to tell yet. The truth is, the Iraqi military received painful blows. The least one can say is that there was a big defeat in Mosul, Tikrit and Ramadi as well.”

“However, after the new - the formation of the new government, there is a new policy to reconsider the policies in the military and to coordinate with other forces in the country, which gives some hope to the Iraqi people that there could be a successful battle against terrorism and against those who commit mischief in Iraq.”

Narrowing the sharp sectarian divide between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shia is the biggest challenge for the recently-appointed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has appointed a Sunni Defense Minister. He also appears to be tackling corruption within the army and government agencies.

Shaways called these measures “a good start” but remained carefully optimistic.

“But we should not forget that the mistakes of the past were huge and they still require some time and some courage, a lot of hard work to correct the mistakes of the past and not to repeat them.”

“What's taking place now is just the beginning; I can only call it a start. But it's a new start which gives us hope and I personally hope that the - that the policies will become more profoundly different in order to attract our brothers from the Sunni Arab sect for mutual interest.”

While U.S. and Iraqi officials had previously stated they were preparing a major offensive to dislodge ISIS from Iraq in the spring, some Iraqi officials have been pushing for the retaking of the country’s second-largest city Mosul this winter.

Amanpour asked the Deputy Prime Minister if officials have resolved the issues surrounding the offensive.

“The truth is we still have not resolved those issues. But since Mosul is a big center of population and, in particular, a Sunni population center, that requires deep study and profound planning.”

“We do not like to doubt the consent of the Mosul population itself and we cannot liberate Mosul without cooperation between the Iraqi national army and the Peshmerga as well as the aerial bombardment from the United States.”

“This requires a lot of coordination among different parties, and also requires to wait for the right moment; there is no harm in giving the matter the time it requires.”

When asked if that means he does not support a winter offensive, he replied “I do not - I do not support any acting in haste.”

Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region has long wanted independence, but last week’s signing of a new oil and budget agreement between Baghdad and the Kurds has bolstered national unity, at least for now.

“Now Kurds have reached an agreement with the federal government and that agreement is a temporary one within the budget of one year only.”

“And we hope that this agreement, despite its long - its short term, for one year only, that it will be renewed and it will live longer and eventually can get us to a - the correct or the right environment to accomplish one united, democratic Iraq with diversity among the population.”

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