Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the Iraqi military, said Sunday that joint efforts are under way to ensure the security of Iraq’s border with Syria, as IS militants continue to exploit the instability in both countries to launch attacks on Iraqi territory.
“The Peshmerga forces are part of the Iraqi national defense system, and now there is joint coordination between the federal forces and the Peshmerga to protect those areas that lie between their lines of presence,” Rasool said in a statement to the Iraqi News Agency.
“It is very important during the next phase to coordinate with the Peshmerga forces in order to carry out joint operations within these areas, as well as sharing intelligence,” he added.
The Iraqi official noted that there is a new understanding between the two sides to establish coordination centers for their anti-IS campaign.
Rasool’s statement comes days after Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visited Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan, where he and Kurdish leaders discussed among other issues the continued fight against IS, also known as ISIS.
Iraqi and Kurdish officials emphasized “continuing security cooperation and coordination between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi military in countering ISIS terrorists to bring stability and help the return of displaced people,” the Kurdistan Region’s presidency said in a statement Friday.
IS remains active
Despite its territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria, IS continues to carry out attacks in both countries, particularly in border areas.
In August, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) said more than 10,000 IS fighters are estimated to remain active in Iraq and Syria, noting that their attacks have significantly increased this year.
Vladimir Voronkov, head of the UNOCT, told the U.N. Security Council that IS militants move freely “in small cells between the two countries,” adding that the terror group has regrouped, and its activity has increased.
Experts say securing Iraq’s border with Syria has become a major objective for the current Iraqi government in its counterterrorism efforts.
“There are internal procedures about how to merge the role of the Peshmerga forces with the international coalition to go after ISIS remnants, prevent the smuggling of people and resources and stop the infiltration of terrorists from the Syrian border into the Iraqi territory,” said Hussein Ali Allawi, professor of national security at Nahrain University in Baghdad.
Allawi told VOA that Iraqi authorities are also seeking to coordinate with anti-IS forces that are in control of the Syrian side of the border, while the U.S.-led global coalition against IS could provide logistical support.
U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces control a significant part of Syria’s border with Iraq. Syrian regime forces and Iranian-backed militias also control parts of the border between the two countries.
US troop drawdown
On Wednesday, Marine Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, announced during a visit to Iraq that U.S. troops in the country would be cut from 5,200 to 3,000.
McKenzie said in a statement that the remaining U.S. forces would continue advising and assisting Iraqi forces in “rooting out the final remnants” of IS and “ensuring its enduring defeat.”
“This decision is due to our confidence in the Iraqi security forces’ increased ability to operate independently,” the U.S. official said.