- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Despite losing all the land from its once-extensive “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State remains a potent terrorist force capable of wreaking havoc in the region, the top diplomat for the Kurdish regional government in Iraq said Wednesday.

Speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Safeen Dizayee warned that ISIS has already regrouped after losing their last stronghold in Syria in March following an offensive by Kurdish-led, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that included airstrikes, artillery bombardments and special forces missions.

“We’re not talking about a possibility — it’s a fact,” Mr. Dizayee said. “The ‘sleeper cells’ have woken up and they’re quite active — almost on a daily basis.”

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Mr. Dizayee became the senior diplomat for the Kurdish Regional Government — known as the KRG — following last year’s parliamentary elections in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

Areas of the border between Syria and Iraq remain essentially no man’s land where anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 armed ISIS militants are located. The Iraqi Kurdish leader referred to the areas as “ungoverned spaces,” where Islamic State — also known as ISIS — and other jihadist groups operate.

More than 16,000 refugees have flooded into Iraq’s Kurdish region in the last six weeks, Mr. Dizayee said, adding to the 250,000 already there.

Islamic State militants have been pressuring local communities in the area to support them. Some are complying out of fear of reprisal, Mr. Dizayee said, while others seem to be offering their willing support to the ISIS fighters.

He said Iraq’s regular military forces failed to take control of areas that the peshmerga, the Kurdish militia force, had wrested from ISIS control.

The result: “a vacuum of security and authority which has been filled by ISIS,” Mr. Dizayee said.

Mr. Dizayee said Kurds appreciate the strong support in Congress and among the American public, but expressed concern over what he called a “lack of clarity” from Washington officials over the future of their fellow Kurds in Syria. Syrian Kurds were blindsided by President Trump’s announcement last month that some 2,000 U.S. Special Forces inside Syria were being withdrawn, potentially leaving the Kurds at the mercy of Syrian, Russian and Turkish forces. The withdrawal order has since been modified and up to 600 U.S. troops are reportedly staying in the sector of Syria still under the Kurds control.

Mr. Dizayee said there was fears that the YPG — the primary Kurdish fighting force inside Syria — was being recruited to help defeat Islamic State and would be written off once the battle was won.

“But you have people [still] living there and their fate and their future are in disarray,” Mr. Dizayee said. “They are being treated as a ‘security company.’ I’m not making a statement. It’s a fact.”

A political solution addressing the Syrian Kurds’s security needs is the only answer, the Iraqi Kurdish diplomat argued said. But the Trump administration was not supportive when the Kurdish political party in northern Syria tried to reach out to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“Not to allow them to reach a deal with Damascus and not to remain there forever to provide some guarantees, what can they do?” Mr. Dizayee asked.

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