Iraqi premier vows recapture of Islamic State stronghold of Mosul

Iraq's government forces, engaged in a US-backed military campaign against Islamic State, need more international support to be able to retake the second-biggest city of Mosul from the terrorist militia, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi tells dpa.

"That's what we intend to do. We started the plans last week. We sent the first of our forces to Mosul. They are there now. And we're planning, probably in the coming month, to start full military operation to retake the city," al-Abadi told dpa an interview in Berlin, adding that his government intends to put an end to Islamic State this year.

Mosul has been under Islamic State's control since the radical Sunni group swept across the northern areas in mid-2014 amid a collapse in the security forces.

In December, Iraq regained the western, mostly Sunni city of Ramadi, marking the first major setback for the al-Qaeda breakaway group since April. 

Islamic State still controls territory in Iraq's northern and western heartland.

Asked why he was optimistic about liberating Mosul, a city of more than 2 million inhabitants, the premier acknowledged that Islamic State is still present there and controlling the border between Iraq and Syria.

"The fighters are coming from Turkey to Syria and from Syria to Iraq. They are still oil smuggling," he said, but added that his forces' experience in Ramadi and other battles showed that Islamic State "couldn't stand to our combatants. Their resistance almost collapsed although they tried very hard."

Al-Abadi attributed this to "a new self trust in our military forces. We have moved quiet a long way. We're achieving our goal."

A US-led air campaign played a key role in the recapture of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province. Al-Abadi said the recapture of Mosul would require wider international support.

"Training is crucial for us. In Mosul, 32,000 local police just fled when a few [Islamic State militants] came to the city. We don't want a repetition of that," he said, referring to the militant group's overrunning of the city in a 2014 blitz.

Al-Abadi, who met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said that he had asked Berlin for training and equipment to remove explosive devices that are hindering the government's efforts in bringing back people back to their homes in the "liberated" cities.

"Germany has the expertise. And they have that equipment. ... If Germany can train the police I very much will welcome it."

The Iraqi leader emphasized that local police must be trained once cities are freed because Islamic State can return to carry out terrorist attacks.

The past practise of positioning soldiers in urban areas made local residents uncomfortable and led to clashes, he said, because "military units are trained to fight, not to hold security in the cities."

Many observers say that the dominance of Islamic State in Iraq resulted from the fact that the country's Sunni minority community felt discriminated against by the previous Shiite-led government.

Yet, al-Abadi, a Shiite politician, denies this is happening.

"We've becoming inclusive of others. We're reaching out to others. The popularity of the government among the Sunni population is higher than the popularity of many Sunni leaders," said al-Abadi, who took office in September 2014.

He noted, however, that there is sectarianism in the region, and not just in Iraq.

"And everybody is using it to his own end. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are on one side. They are competing with Iran for regional control. They are using sectarianism for their goal," he said.

"This costs our lives, it makes our job much, much more difficult. If sectarianism is rising, recruitment for [Islamic State] will increase."

Last update: Fri, 12/02/2016 - 15:20

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