U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, traveled to Erbil and met with Masoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, on Tuesday, to discuss the war against ISIS.
“We are doing a sacred duty in fighting against ISIS, because we fight an organization which does not have humanitarian consciousness,” said Barzani, in a statement quoted by the Rudaw news service.
“According to the statement, Barzani and Dunford exchanged ideas with regards to ISIS and Peshmerga positions on the frontlines; Dunford reportedly thanked the Kurdistan region for stopping ISIS from any further advances and favoring the US in fighting ISIS on the ground,” Rudaw reports.
General Dunford said the role of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq “is of immense importance to the United States in the war against the terrorists of the Islamic State.”
“To me, it’s all about capabilities,” Dunford told reporters, while en route to his meeting with Barzani. “It may be as simple as methods and timing, and then it might be different ways of doing what we’re doing.”
He spoke of integrating Kurdish forces more closely with the Iraqi military and using them to “open an aperture” against the Islamic State. “I want to go back to look at it all from a capabilities perspective. I want to be aggressive in generating momentum in a campaign, generating confidence in the campaign,” Dunford explained.
NRT News reported on Tuesday that the U.S. State Department has reaffirmed its recognition of Barzani as the president of the Kurdistan Region. His term of office technically ended in July 2013 but was extended by the Kurdish parliament because they felt the region was not ready to elect a new president. This two-year extension expired at midnight on August 20, but the State Department said it was still prepared to recognize Barzani’s authority, a decision underscored by General Dunford’s visit.
“While discussions are ongoing, he is still fulfilling that role and so we – he is considered to be the president while this is ongoing,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby, referring to the political infighting that has made election of a new president impractical.
Kirby added that while the United States has been invited to participate in some of the Kurdistan Region’s internal discussions, “these are decisions that local politicians have to make, and we respect that.”
In addition to meeting with Barzani, the Defense Department reports that General Dunford met with leaders in Israel and Jordan, as well as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad. Among the topics of discussion was the Russian air campaign in Syria. Dunford said the United States had no plans to coordinate with the Russians, or changing its own operations to accommodate Russia’s efforts, but wanted to “ensure safe operations in the region.”