Iraq’s prime minister has said that ending sectarian violence in the region is crucial to defeating the Islamic State militants in his country, warning that a military campaign will not be enough to secure long-term victory.
“We must not only win the war — we must also win the peace,” said Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, wrapping up his first visit to Washington Thursday since taking power last fall. “Together, we must take action against the political, economic and social problems that give rise to violent extremism, so that terrorism on the scale of [Islamic State] will never re-emerge to threaten our nation and our neighbors again.
Iraqi government forces, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias are battling the Sunni Muslim extremist Islamic State, which seized large swaths of the country in 2014.
Mr. Abadi said sectarianism and ethnic conflicts are preventing political reconciliation and that although the military campaign against ISIS is now entering a crucial phase, political and social action is necessary to preventing the reemergence of terrorism.
Iraq’s goal is not just the liberation of cities such as Mosul and Anbar but to mend tensions in the country and develop political stability, Mr. Abadi told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The conflict between Sunni and Shiite regional forces has made the fight against extremists all the more difficult.
“The recent developments in Iraq underscores the fact that winning a military victory — important as that is — will not be enough,” he added.
With many around the region watching how Iraqi forces treat the residents in Sunni-dominated towns such as Tikrit as they are retaken from Islamic State, Mr. Abadi said that he would be making a move toward a decentralized system of government to encourage social and economic freedom in Iraq as well as promote security on a local level.
The Iraqi walked a difficult line on Iran, which has provided major support for Baghdad’s campaign against the Islamic State, but whose heavy influence in its neighbor has alarmed the Obama administration.
Saying he was grateful for Tehran’s aid, “we must have a say in what the Iranians do and don’t do in Iraq,” Mr. Abadi said.
He also said his forces need more military support from the U.S. in the form of heavy weapons, intelligence, continued bombing and training of security forces even in light of all the military conflicts facing the Obama administration in the Middle East.
“That’s the price you pay for being a superpower,” he said.