Iraqi President Fuad Masum on ISIS and Iraq's Challenges

Iraqi President Fuad Masum on ISIS and Iraq's Challenges

More on:

Iraq

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Event Description

Iraqi President Fuad Masum joins Michael R. Gordon, national security correspondent for the New York Times, to discuss ISIS and the current situation in Iraq. Masum outlines the roots of ISIS, and cites reasons why the Iraqi army was unable to defend Mosul from the group. Regarding empty posts for ministers of defense and the interior, Masum says these positions will be decided in October with the selection of one Sunni and one Shia. Masum emphasizes the importance of quelling ISIS in Syria, and comments on Iraq's relationship with Turkey in fighting ISIS.

Event Highlights

Fuad Masum on dealing with ISIS:
"If they can, they will control the whole world. And if they control—if they stay the way they are today, this will mean that gradually they will control or expand into other areas. For this, dealing with this threat has a multi-level approach. While military attacks are very important, their organization cells should be followed. They have sleeper cells everywhere. This is how we should deal with ISIS."


Fuad Masum on Iran, Iraq, and the United States working together against ISIS:
"…we deal with Iran as a neighbor that we have common interests with. At the same time, we deal with the United States as a country that has a role in the region and there is a strategic agreement between us and America. We don't look at America with Iranian eyes, and we don't look at Iran with American eyes. We deal with Iran through our joint interests, and same with the United States."


Fuad Masum on Iraq's oil and gas industry:
"As for the energy or oil and gas portfolio, we have a big problem in the country. We still do not have a hydrocarbon law for the new Iraq. And there are—the old laws prevail. There are differences between the Kurdistan region and the federal government. …And I hope that this complicated portfolio will be solved under this new minister."


GORDON: So I'd like to welcome you today to this meeting with the president of Iraq. I think it's a very important and timely session, President Fuad Masum, and also I'd like to remind you at the start that there's another meeting—I think it's the third one today—and a very interesting day with an important Pakistani figure, Sartaj Aziz, and that's at 2:45.

The Iraqi president—I don't think you could have a more timely event. He's arriving here at New York at a moment when Iraq is under challenge from the Islamic State, and also it has a huge number of internal challenges, as it struggles to form an inclusive government, embracing all the different ethnicities and sects in Iraq.

The president has a very distinguished biography. He has a law degree and a PhD from a university in Egypt. He played a very important role in Kurdish politics over the years, in opposition politics during the period of Saddam Hussein, and now he's a president of Iraq, again, I think at a very decisive moment.

And he's—I'm going to introduce him. Now he's going to come up, and he's going to speak for about 15 minutes or so. And then we're going to do some questions for about another 15 minutes. And then I'm going to turn it over for questions from the audience and from the members here, so I'm hoping everybody has some very pertinent questions, because you'll have an opportunity to ask him questions yourself.

So at this time, Mr. President?

MASUM (through translator): Good morning. I am very glad to be here this morning. You have a very important role to play in influencing public opinion and provide concrete analysis, political analysis to the leadership.

We in Iraq are facing many problems. We are—we are suffering from terrorism for more than 10 years, terrorism in many forms. Many times we can say that some of them are not originally terrorists, but they have terrorist practices, until Al-Qaeda managed to put some of its foundations in Iraq, and the Al-Qaeda organization grew into another organization called ISIS.

How did this terrorist organization come about? When we go back to--in history, we find that there were many similar organizations practicing terrorism, while the group of (inaudible) in the past, they were—they used to drug the youth, brainwash them, and make death as something that they should wish for through giving them baseless dreams. So they used to carry out suicide attacks.

Many times, a lot of these terrorist practices was in the name of religion or in the name of sect. And there was mixed—and terrorist acts were mixed between religious sectarian and political.

If we go back to ISIS, we see that the first cells, the first cell was formed through the inception of a number of—through a marriage between a number of army officers and extreme—Iraqi army officers who were imprisoned and a number of extreme cells, extremist people in prison. In the past, there were some extreme Arab nationalistic ideologies that used to call for the unity of Iraq and Sham, or Levant. And Levant means Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan. These are all called Levant.

One poet used to say there are no—there are no borders between Iraq and Levant. May God destroy these borders. This is a poem. And this idea—this ideology was spread amongst the Arab youth, and they used to say the Levant was the center of a very strong empire, the Amawi (ph) empire, and Baghdad was the center of the Abbasid state. There was a nationalist base and a religious base for these ideas.

For the original—for the religious base, going back to the drug addicts, as they called them in history, or the Hawadage (ph) or the outsiders of the region, all of these extremist ideas used to call or they used to be based on a say of Prophet Mohammed, saying that—the Islamic Prophet Mohammed saying that my nation will split into 72 sects and groups. One of them will survive, and all 71 others are going to die—are going to finish. That means they are not real Muslims.

In reality, there is no say like this of Prophet Mohammed, but this was spread amongst the extremists. And I don't think that Prophet Mohammed ever said this. But it was said on his behalf at other times. It was used during the times—during the times of conflict between the various religious sects.

There is no doubt that Al-Qaeda is the—Al-Qaeda was the base of this extremist ideology during the Afghan days, Afghanistan's days, to fight the Soviet occupation of the country, and this was spread gradually, and it managed to have branches in other countries, in the gulf, in Iraq, in Maghreb, in Africa.

But this—but Al-Qaeda were the people who were in Baghdad presence at times when the Americans were supervising this presence, these extremist religious people and the extremist nationalist met in this presence. So those two ideologies married and from that marriage ISIS came out.

When we try and look at the difference between ISIS and other terrorist organizations, we see that other organizations are interested in one state, one boundary, one border. ISIS is different. ISIS is an international terrorist organization. They are interested in the whole world. They have a specific target against one authority, but ISIS has an aim to form a state that brings together the entire Middle East, and this is where the danger comes from.

And, indeed, they managed at some point to occupy Mosul. They're—in Mosul, there were Iraqi troops, Iraqi forces. About three brigades were in Mosul. ISIS has a different propaganda way, way to do propaganda. They managed. More modern technology in their propaganda. They had—they had—they had many phone numbers, and they would send them direct threats to—to threaten them and threaten their family members. They would call at times and say, "You leave your house now before we come and kill you and all your family."

The previous minister of defense said that one of the big problems that we have was the mobile phones in the battlefronts, because when the soldiers all had mobile phones, the defeat did not happen only through—through the mobiles or from the soldiers. The defeat happened at the level of the army leaders, army commanders who were on the field on Mosul. And every soldier, when they sees that his leader has left the battlefield, his commander has left the battlefield, they will also look for a way of running, of making an escape. And they would defend very little. And this is how Mosul fell under the occupation of ISIS.

If we go back to the make-up of the Iraqi army, it wasn't—it wasn't a successful composition. It started—Iraqi army has been through many setbacks, started with a war with Iraq that ended up with 1 million killed and disabled, and then the army was taken into occupying Kuwait, and at the end, the result was a deadly attack, deadly hit against the Iraqi army, and then Iraqi policy during the days of Saddam, not only he stopped—he didn't stop at his army being humiliated like this. He did not respond to the international project for him to be ready to cooperate with the United Nations. And the result was yet another hit to the Iraqi army, another blow to the Iraqi army.

These blows are all—have their impact on the psychology of the soldier and on the psychology of the commander. So the prevailing politics at the time was a failed policy. And it was moving from failure to failure.

After ISIS managed to occupy Mosul, and their advance into some villages, Iraqi politics also had its role in that. There was—they should have looked again into the formation of the Iraqi army. The current army was formed during the days of Bremer, Paul Bremer. Bremer thought that soldiers—that soldiers who are—who should be part of the army, they should be—they weigh this height, and they weigh this much, without really exploring the possibility of, how can these people really be soldiers of the Iraqi army? Can the Iraqi army rely on these soldiers?

The other factor is—and I have to admit, corruption that existed. I have to admit this. Some brigades of the army, the numbers should be many thousands. But in reality, because of corruption, the real number is 1,000 or 1,500. And the rest are fictitious names just to get salaries. Otherwise, the Iraqi army is a brave army, is known to be brave, but this army has been—has been undermined by Saddam and then later by Bremer coming to Iraq and then internal Iraqi political problems. All of this played its role in turning the army into what we see today.

ISIS started by attacking the Yazidis. Yazidis are the remnants of the people who stayed from the Zoroastrian religion. The Zoroastrians believe in two gods, the god of good and the god of evil. They pray for—or they worship the god of evil to save themselves from evil. And they worship—ISIS issued a fatwa, saying that these people are not followers of the book, believers of the book, i.e., Christians, Jews or others who have a message from God.

So they decided that their wives should be taken, their youth should be killed, and this is how they started. And then they went into the—they started after that against the Christians who were forced to either convert into Islam or pay taxes, pay a levy, or get killed. So this is how they dealt with other religions and also with the Shiite people of Iraq. And then they started to attack the Sunni areas and with the Sunnis themselves.

At the beginning, some simple people thought that these people will be a win for the Sunnis, but then when they saw them, they attacked the Sunnis, they realized that they are not with the Sunnis for this. ISIS does not represent the Sunnis, does not represent the Shia, does not represent anybody. It is an evil plant that was—that grew in this area. And as I said, they believe in one religion, just their religion, and they are not bound to a certain boundary, and it's not only Iraq and Levant. If they can, they will control the whole world.

And if they control—if they stay the way they are today, this will mean that gradually they will control or expand into other areas. For this, dealing with this threat has a multi-level approach. While military attacks are very important, their organization cells should be followed. They have sleeper cells everywhere. This is how we should deal with ISIS.

And also, for the religious awareness and education, the clergymen, people of religion should concentrate on saying that Islam—or highlighting that Islam is not the religion of killing people and terrorism, especially in today's world. For example, today, there are no slaves. Today, in this world, in this day and age, we should not have anything called slaves and be a free people. The international campaign is an excellent start, and we hope that this campaign will yield positive results in getting rid of ISIS.

Hitting ISIS in Iraq alone is not enough, of course. And this is why it was—they did very well by attacking ISIS inside Syria, as well. And we have to be very careful that an attack inside Syria should be targeting against ISIS. So to hit ISIS, Nusra Front, and their other affiliate groups should be done in Syria. And I am—I can see that there is an international understanding of this, and this is an excellent step.

Syria is a complex issue. We need to deal with it with sensitivity and in a way that does not change the situation completely for Iraq and other areas.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

He said the time has finished, so I'll have to finish.

GORDON: Can you hear me? We're good to go? OK.

I'm going to ask a few questions and engage in a bit of discussion here and then turn it over for questions. Sir, one thing that's allowed ISIS to—the Islamic State to make gains in Iraq have been divisions in Iraqi politics and Iraqi society. There's been a lot of talk that Iraq is developing a more inclusive government, but your government doesn't have a minister of defense, it doesn't have a minister of interior. There's a plan to engage the Sunni tribes, but the plan has not yet been implemented.

What—can Iraq form a truly inclusive government now, given all the failures of the past? Why can it work this time when it hasn't worked before?

MASUM (through translator): Before, there were many sensitivities between various Iraqi groups. In Iraq, we are still dealing as groups. This idea of citizenship, unfortunately, has not been established yet, and this is normal. You know, in the—in the Netherlands, up until the '70s, the dealing of Iraq in the Netherlands were as groups. The state—but gradually, the state became the state of the citizen. In Iraq, we hope that we reach—we reach a stage whereby political groups deal with each other based on—based on citizenship.

Forming the new government is a new important step. It's true until today we don't have minister of defense and interior. But this goes back to a type of agreement between the various groups. There seems to be some understanding that the minister of defense should be Sunni, and the search is now for an independent Sunni. The same for the minister of interior should be for Shia, and the search is now for an independent Shia. Even if he wasn't, even if he wasn't part of a political group, they could have connections or affiliations to this group, but they don't have to be truly not independent, given the situation today.

We have the Eid break, Eid al-Adha. Hopefully the government will be completed and the Kurdish ministers will join the cabinet, as well.

GORDON: Following up that point, I'd like to ask you about the Kurds. You're a Kurd, and you're the president also of Iraq. But the Kurdish region seems to have one foot in the Iraqi government and one foot out the door. They say they're committed to the government formation process, but they're also talking about holding a national referendum on independence.

How can the Kurds be brought into the government of Iraq? And is it really wise for the Kurdish region to proceed with a referendum on independence while it's trying to negotiate its way in the government of Iraq and make all the power-sharing arrangements?

MASUM (through translator): I became the president of Iraq through election—through the selection of all political—Kurdish political parties. There is a decision on—from the Kurdish leadership to stay in Iraq. The idea is to hold a referendum for independence. It was at a time when the dispute was very high with the Iraqi central government. This means when Mr. Maliki was the prime minister and there were many, many problems between the central government and between Erbil, a referendum doesn't mean that immediately after the referendum there will be the announcing of the Kurdish state. The Kurdish state—forming a Kurdish state needs—it is a project. And a project like this has to take into account regional and international countries.

This process will take a very long time. And today, there is no space, there is no possibility to announce such state, and for this, the Iraqi—the Kurdish leaders are taking part in governance in Iraq and they are participating in the biggest institution of the country, the presidency.

GORDON: You mentioned Syria and the role of the Islamic State in Syria. We had the bombing attacks this week against the ISIS targets in Syria. Can stability be brought to Iraq without a solution for the fighting in Syria? And can there be a solution to the civil war in Syria as long as Bashar al-Assad is in power?

MASUM (through translator): There is a connection between Iraq and Syria. When disputes between the two regimes during the Baath days, there were differences between Iraq and Syria. Even in the new Iraq, there were many differences with Syria.

But we believe that ISIS should be hit in the area—in the region as a whole. The first area for hitting ISIS is Iraq. But if ISIS managed to go to Syria and build bases there, that means that they can easily come back. That's why hitting ISIS in Syria is very important.

But it should not become part of the problems of the internal Syrian problems that is connected to the existing regime. So we should not confuse that. Hitting ISIS in Syria should not mean that this is—this is to support the regime or that these attacks should be—should be seen as beginning to overthrowing Bashar al-Assad. That's why these attacks are limited and they are limited to areas where ISIS exists.

GORDON: I'm going to ask one last question and then open it up for questions. What do you think the next step is for the Islamic State inside Iraq and internationally? What do you think their next military step is, now that they've been hit in Syria?

MASUM (through translator): Perhaps they have sleeper cells in other Iraqi cities who will try to use them to attack key installations. That's why security officials—security responsible and the people of Iraq should be vigilant and aware. These days, on daily basis, we see operations, suicide attacks, and sabotage attacks, and this needs a lot more work and effort, especially now that the government is reviewing security installations, security institutions, and security and military institutions.

GORDON: OK, at this point, I'm going to open up the discussion for questions from the audience. And, you know, when you present a question, please stand, please identify yourself for the speaker here, and just a reminder—I think we all know this, but this is an on-the-record meeting. And if you can keep your questions concise, we can get—we can have more questions.

So who wants to ask the first question? Barbara?

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I'm Barbara Slavin from the Atlantic Council and the website Al-Monitor. Welcome to New York.

Let me ask about relations between Iraq and Iran and the United States. What role are you playing—are the Kurds and other Iraqis playing in coordinating military action against ISIS by the United States-led coalition and by the Iranians? And what is your view about this relationship going forward? Do you see an improvement? Do you see that this is going to be able to become a real area of cooperation without alienating the Sunni states that are also fighting ISIS? Thank you.

MASUM (through translator): Iraq has borders with Iran, over 1,000 kilometers with Iran. We have old relations and ties, historic ties with Iran, as Iraqis or as Iraq. Relations go back in history.

Based on this, we deal with Iran as a neighbor that we have common interests with. At the same time, we deal with the United States as a country that has a role in the region and there is a strategic agreement between us and America.

We don't look at America with Iranian eyes, and we don't look at Iran with American eyes. We deal with Iran through our joint interests, and same with the United States. There is flexibility today to understand the most complex issue between Iran and the United States. That's the nuclear issue, the nuclear platform.

There seems to be an understanding or readiness to understand each other. And the meeting that took place between the two foreign ministers are encouraging. It is in our interest in Iraq and in the region to see an understanding between these two states.

GORDON: Just following up Barbara's question, quickly, are there Iranian advisers and Iranian forces in Iraq? And what's their role?

MASUM (through translator): The first country that provided help for the refugees and those who were on top of Mount Sinjar was Iran. Iran provided humanitarian aid to them. And I have to admit, they also provided light weapons for the fighters who were in this mountain to defending themselves.

GORDON: And Iranian advisers, are they in Iraq?

MASUM (through translator): I don't believe that there are advisers, but the nature of the place, the nature of the area, there are daily meetings that take place. They say, for example, that there's one of the Iranian generals is in Iraq. And during this period, I tried to—I found out—I haven't met him. And I wanted to find out. And I said, if he's around, let me see him, but he wasn't. I didn't—I couldn't see him. They said that Mr. Suleimani was in Iraq.

There are political problems, but even if they were present to help against these people, it is a normal thing. There are many experts from other countries, and we are asking—we ask, we call for experts, military and security experts, to come and help us rebuild our security and military institutions.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. President, my name is Roland Paul. I'm a lawyer. One of the groups we would be very interested to know is among the Sunnis, how many roughly number of Sunnis do you expect to create a military force against ISIS, either in the national guard or in local militias or in the Iraqi army? How large will the Sunni contingent be?

MASUM (through translator): The Iraqi constitution stresses the need for a balance between the groups of the people of Iraq and the Iraqi army and at the same time in other institutions. We have to take care of the percentage, of the ratio, but we have to also be sure that those who are joining the army are able to conduct their duties, whether they are Sunnis, Shiites, or Kurds.

And as for national guard, every governorate will have its own guard, its own national guard. That means there will be local people from the governorate itself and not brought in from other governorates.

GORDON: All the way back there, yeah. And then we'll come up here.

QUESTION: Mr. President, Jonathan Landay with McClatchy Newspapers. You said that the United States airstrikes in Syria should not be restricted to the Islamic State, but should also hit Jabhat Al-Nusra, the Nusra Front, which is the Al-Qaeda affiliate there. There are demonstrations today in Syria by opposition against American airstrikes on Nusra, because Nusra also happens to be the most effective fighting force in the opposition beyond the Islamic State against the Assad regime.

And so how do you deal with that problem, where you have opposition—non-ISIS opposition—who don't want the United States to be hitting their most effective fighting force?

MASUM (through translator): This is Syria. We do not interfere in the affairs of Syria. Syria is an independent state. As far as ISIS in concerned, it is a big threat to the region. Nusra is also a terrorist organization that has practices. There are various views, various trends, various opinions, and groups inside Syria. One group may be against hitting this group, but we feel strategically look at ISIS strategically and they should be attacked everywhere. But this should be with an international legitimacy as a cover for attacking them.

GORDON: Over there.

QUESTION: Trudy Rubin from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Mr. President, in order to deal with ISIS, Sunnis, both in Syria and in Iraq, need to be convinced that they should and that they are safe to oppose ISIS. So inside Syria, will Sunnis be willing to fight against ISIS if they feel the bombing strikes are helping President Assad?

And in Iraq, can you say specifically what the government can do or will do to convince Sunnis to turn against ISIS, when Sunni tribes feel they have been betrayed in the past when they turned against Al-Qaeda?

MASUM (through translator): ISIS did not defend the Sunnis. ISIS occupied Sunni areas. Mosul is known to be a Sunni city, and it's the second-largest governorate in Iraq. Many of the people of Mosul are refugees now. Anybody who goes to Erbil and finds that a majority of these people went to Erbil because Erbil is close to Mosul. ISIS does not represent the Sunnis. ISIS occupied key areas of the Sunnis.

As for Syria, the issue there is not Sunnis or Alawis or non-Alawis. The situation is different in Syria. Syria is concerned with this issue, and we don't control Syria. We don't decide anything for the Syrian people. The people of Syria should be making their decision and their future.

GORDON: The woman in the fourth row there, right there, and then we'll come to you.

QUESTION: Hi, Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch. I wanted to know what the Iraq government plans are to disarm the Shia militias that have been responsible for atrocities on par with ISIS's abuses and also what we can expect with Vice President Maliki, whom we understand still has a number of Shia militias directly reporting to him, and how we'll avoid the situation like in Yemen where former President Saleh still controls many security reins.

MASUM (through translator): Militias should end. In the past period, a group of militias emerged. Some of these militias are fighting ISIS. But when we get rid of ISIS, no militia should stay. For as long as they exist, that means security apparatuses will not be able to conduct their duties, neither the armies or the people will not be in stability.

GORDON: Sir, just a follow-up. You're saying the militias should go once ISIS is eliminated. Are you saying that as long as ISIS is a threat, the militias should play a role?

MASUM (through translator): Today, in the previous period, when ISIS started to attack various areas, there was a call from the Marjaya, from Grand Ayatollahs, for people to be recruited and to volunteer to defend Iraq, to protect Iraq. This was a tactical move.

When there was—it's normal. When the area—when your area is attacked, then you use anybody who is able to carry weapons. In Iraq, we don't have a reserve army to ask them to join. We don't have that. That's why we asked—they asked people. We need today to gather everybody who's able to carry weapons and to be against ISIS.

When we finish with ISIS, everything has to be back to normal. The army should—the armies make up the security institutions, because security apparatuses will not be able and are not able to conduct their duties, and the previous army is unable to protect Iraq. That's why militias have to end.

GORDON: We'll go—the gentleman over there, and then we'll go over there next.

QUESTION: Mark Angelson. Some years ago, Vice President Biden and our former President Gelb proposed a plan that ultimately was not taken up, to divide Iraq into three states, one Sunni, one Shia, and one Kurd, as you know. There are a number of people in foreign policy circles in the United States who are now looking at that proposal again as the ultimate outcome if the Iraqi government is not able to hold things together. What do you think about that? And would it be such a bad thing, necessarily?

MASUM (through translator): As for the idea of Mr. Biden, and especially in his recent statements, he speaks about within the Iraq state. So that means instead of Iraq becoming a Kurdish region and many other governorates, this means that we could have a region for the Kurds and two other regions in the Arab areas of Iraq.

There are those who are thinking that—there are those who are thinking that we move from federalism to confederalism, but the Iraqi state remains, but instead of having a federal system, we have a confederal system. But partitioning Iraq and turning it into three independent states, I think this is a bit farfetched, especially in today's situation.

GORDON: Over there in the fourth row.

QUESTION: Ayman Mohyeldin with NBC News. Mr. President, yesterday your prime minister set off a frenzy in this country when he said that there was a plot uncovered to attack the subway stations here and in Paris. And I was wondering if you yourself had any information about that claim, which was widely dismissed by U.S. intelligence and security officials here in this country? Thank you.

MASUM (through translator): Personally, I don't have any information about this. I have not heard or seen exactly what he said. It could be that it's an expectation to—of this to happen by sleeper cells and they retaliate for—but they could resort to such thing, but as detailed, accurate information, I have not seen any information like this. And I have only seen through the newspapers what you said.

But the nature of the statement, how it was made, was not very clear, and I tried to ask him, but he's on his way to Baghdad in the plane. That's why I could not get reach—could not get hold of him.

GORDON: OK. Right there in the second row.

QUESTION: Carter Page, Global Energy Capital. I'd like to follow up on Michael's question, in terms of the internal political dynamics. And you had mentioned in your comments about the psychology of soldiers and commanders in the Iraqi army. In a lot of meetings I've had with investors and companies in—that are looking at Iraq, there's quite a bit of optimism. And it actually relates to the changes in political—the political dynamics right now.

On the—particularly in the oil sector, can you say a little bit in terms of your agenda there and where you see the direction of that going and, obviously, the balance with the more near-term priorities vis-a-vis the security situation? Thank you.

MASUM (through translator): As for the energy or oil and gas portfolio, we have a big problem in the country. We still do not have a hydrocarbon law for the new Iraq. And there are—the old laws prevail. There are differences between the Kurdistan region and the federal government.

But the basic fact is that both sides agree that the constitution should be the arbitrator between the two. The problem is, on powers of the center and for the—and for the regions, as for the oil policy of the country and how it should be. This has to be revised. And I believe that producing areas as governorates or as regions should have representatives in a higher council for oil and gas policy that has representatives of all the governorates and the region.

And I believe that the new minister of oil and gas—of oil is a capable person and has good relations with all the political parties of Iraq, with all the political people, sides. And I hope that this complicated portfolio will be solved under this new minister.

GORDON: All the way in the back there, the woman right there.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. President, thank you for being here. Poppy Harlow with CNN. Following up on the question from NBC about your prime minister yesterday telling a group of reporters that there was a plot—he didn't know if it was imminent—but a plot that had not been thwarted to attack the subway systems in the United States and in Paris.

Later in a meeting with U.S. officials, including Vice President Biden, he dialed that back, saying he was speaking in general terms. My question to you, are you concerned about the fact that this was said first to the press, rather than to U.S. officials, given how closely these two governments need to work together now? And, secondly, do you think that that at all harms U.S.-Iraqi relations?

MASUM (through translator): Iraqi-American relations are strong relations. As for the intervention of U.S. airplanes, air strikes was based on the agreement of the Iraqi government, because there is a strategic agreement between the two countries, and Iraq's sovereignty was—was a threat.

And, again, I have to say that I did not attend this meeting in order to be—to be able to compare, but I can tell you—I can tell you, Mr. Haider al-Abadi is bound by these decisions. And we are eager to have strong relations with the United States.

And as I said, there is a strategic agreement. There are weapons that Iraq is buying from the United States. And there are many advisers and experts. When they went to Iraq, they went to Iraq with Iraqi visas. They did not enter the country by force. And we need these experts.

GORDON: Right there. Right there. No, to the right, and then we'll do right and then we'll do left. Turn around the other way. Yeah. Yes, and then we'll do the other guy over there.

QUESTION: Stanley Arkin, very brief question. It's been said that the ISIS fighters are very disciplined, very effective, very well militarily trained, and that's been attributed to some extent to disaffected or former Iraqi military officers. What percentage of ISIS is made up of disaffected or unhappy or no longer loyal Iraqi military officers?

MASUM (through translator): The individuals of ISIS are suicidals. There is a big difference between a suicide attacker and between those who defend. For the suicide bomber, it's the same, to kill or be killed for him.

The Iraqi soldier is known to be brave. When the soldier sees that their leader have ran away, they lose their head. So this is what happened. Iraqi soldiers are known to be brave fighters and strong soldiers.

GORDON: And I think the last question will go to the gentleman over there, who thought he was going to ask the one before. Right there.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Manik Mehta. I'm a journalist. You did not speak about the role of Turkey in this conflict. Could you shed some light about Turkey's stand vis-a-vis the ISIS and also in regard to Kurdistan? Thank you.

MASUM (through translator): Kurdistan today is a front line with ISIS. Between Mosul and Kurdistan region, there are joint borders, and in Sinjar and these areas, the Peshmerga are fighting. The real confrontation is there. Using Iraqi and American fighter jets and the French ones, the situation were tipped in favor of the Kurds.

In Turkey, Turkey had a number of hostages, and they used to say that they are unable to provide help openly because for Kurdistan and for Iraq, because of the number of the hostages that they had. After releasing the hostages, Turkey also is ready to present help.

I met President Erdogan here, and he expressed readiness to help and cooperate. And I asked them to take special care of the border areas and to chase those who are coming from Europe and from America under the pretext of tourism and their airports to be vetted. They should check if these people are really tourists or they are coming to the borders and then from there to slip into the borders to the ISIS areas.

GORDON: I'd like to thank you, President Masum, for giving us your perspective and for taking questions from the members here on all these difficult subjects. So let's give him a hand. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

MASUM (through translator): I also thank everybody, and I am so happy to meet you—to meet this great crowd here. Through your questions, I benefited a lot.

END

Up

Explore More on CFR

Southeast Asia

The U.S.-Indonesia relationship has often disappointed. It’s time to rethink U.S.-Indonesia ties and try to achieve real security goals, rather than make bold plans for cooperation that never come to fruition.

European Union

European leaders are rushing to implement new laws to curb disinformation on social media. However, existing European data protection laws might actually make it harder for bad actors to spread fake news online. 

Russia

The Atlantic's Julia Ioffe joins CFR's James M. Lindsay to discuss Russian president Vladimir Putin's political goals.