- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Emphasizing a bright spot in Iraq’s bloody three-year war against the Islamic State, a neighborhood in Mosul liberated from the Islamic extremists hosted a soccer tournament earlier this week, Iraq’s Ambassador to the U.S. said Wednesday.

“If you know Iraq well, you know [football] is really big deal.” Fareed Yasseen told a panel on Iraqi peace and stability hosted by the Stimson Center, a Washington-based think thank.

In June 2014, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, first seized Mosul, the northern Iraqi city which has seen its population of almost 2 million drop to roughly 600,000 as a result of conflict.

The current effort to retake the city, which has raged since October, includes the largest deployment of Iraqi troops since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Allies supporting Iraqi troops in the battle include the U.S. and multiple Gulf Cooperation Council counties.

On Wednesday, Mr. Yasseen cited significant progress against the Islamic State by U.S. and Iraqi forces.

But he also highlighted that Iraq’s overall security situation still remains tenuous and requires a greater commitment than just military support, with investment in its economy, education and infrastructure critical to achieving a durable peace and stability.

“We need to diversify the economy,” he said. “Wining the peace is a long term goal. The first phase is to stabilize regions that are no longer ISIS. If you don’t do that you won’t have returnees.”

Mr. Yasseen also noted that although Iraq has an overall population of roughly 3 million internally displaced persons, those returning to formerly Islamic State-held areas were returning slower than anticipated, which made their re-integration easier.

“Inward investment will be difficult for Iraq unless better action is taken to fight corruption” said panel participant, Richard Burchill a director at TRENDS Research & Advisory.

Another lingering challenge is Iraq’s diverse population. Mr Yasseen pointed out that the Islamic State gained as much territory as it had because the Iraqi government faced major challenges inclusively governing diverse constituencies.

In the past, the Islamic State had effectively pitted groups against each other and been able to control vast swaths of territory. The adversary now doing that was Iran, which has intensified efforts to continue gaining influence over Iraqi’s Shia population.

Ambassador Lincoln P. Bloomfield, a panelist and Stimson Center fellow, noted that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps currently had an estimated 80,000 troops in Iraqi territory.

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