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Kurds: U.S. Fight Against ISIS Requires Ground Forces

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Kurds of Northern Iraq rushed units of their militia, the Peshmerga, those who face death, to oppose the advance of the Jihadist group that now calls itself the Islamic State.

The Iraqi Kurds, who have been strongly pro-American, enjoy autonomy from Iraq's national government, headquartered in Baghdad. Many Kurds would prefer outright independence.

To hear what they make of the U.S. strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS or ISIL, we've invited Fuad Hussein, who's chief of staff to the President of the Kurdish Regional Government.

Welcome back. We last spoke in early July. Good to see you again.

FUAD HUSSEIN: Thank you for hosting me.

SIEGEL: Much has happened since we last spoke. At that time, you were extremely critical of Iraq's then Prime Minister Maliki. There's a new prime minister - Mr. Abadi. Is he any more likely to forge a united Iraq?

HUSSEIN: Anyhow we are going to help him. We are going to give him a chance. But to have Iraq united, it needs a lot of work.

SIEGEL: You told me in July it wasn't just about individuals. You didn't see the mentality, the ideology, the culture of democracy in Baghdad. Do you see any more of that in Baghdad today?

HUSSEIN: No, it doesn't exist. But we have got a constitution. If we would be committed to the constitution - the way to democracy and the way to keep Iraq united is to have regions. And that means federal structure. So that means the Sunni can have their own region, the Shia their own region and Kurdistan also as a region. And Baghdad can be the capital of all.

SIEGEL: Kurdish fighters have been on the frontlines against the Islamic State - so-called. And first, what kind of aid is the U.S. supplying to your militia? And is it satisfactory?

HUSSEIN: The U.S. is supplying some weapons.

SIEGEL: Heavy weapons?

HUSSEIN: No, not heavy - not yet, not yet. But the strategy is to defeat ISIS. So the question is can you defeat ISIS by airstrike? The answer is no. Can you defeat ISIS on the ground? The answer is no.

You need combination of both. But fighting on the ground, you need more weapons. You need heavier weapons. So we hope that we will get it. Because if the target is to clean the cities from ISIS, especially Mosul city, which is a big one and other Iraqi cities from ISIS, then we need tanks. We need helicopters. We need artilleries. And without that, it will be difficult to defeat ISIS in these cities.

SIEGEL: Will the Peshmerga fight too if they have U.S. air support?

HUSSEIN: Yes.

SIEGEL: Will they fight to liberate Mosul?

HUSSEIN: We are ready to fight terrorists everywhere because those, if they will stay in Mosul, they will stay a threat for us and a threat for the rest of the world. Because then they can reorganize themselves again and attack us again. But also it will be threat for the neighboring countries.

SIEGEL: In coordinating say U.S. airstrikes with Kurdish ground forces, would U.S. forces on the ground be helpful or necessary?

HUSSEIN: See, this is of course up to the American government to have U.S. forces on the ground. But it's also up to Iraqi government because at the end, there must be an agreement between both side. We have got advisors on the ground.

SIEGEL: Advisors as in here's how you hold this weapon? Or advisors as in send the bomb over there - that's where the target is?

HUSSEIN: These advisors is for coordination between our Peshmerga forces and the American planes. But we - I think if we will get heavier weapons and the airstrike will continue, we don't need boots on the ground, as they say.

SIEGEL: President Obama came into office. One major reason he was elected was he wanted to get the U.S. out of Iraq. And he was quite interested in putting the Iraq war behind us. Do you see a changed President Obama on that square these days?

HUSSEIN: A big change.

SIEGEL: Yes.

HUSSEIN: A big change because the American withdrawal from Iraq - the American Army - and President Obama's policy was not focused on Iraq. And now we see United States is coming back, but in different way.

It's coming back to defend Kurdistan. It's coming back to fight terrorists state and terrorist organization, which is dangerous also for United States. I think this is the right policy. That's why we were happy with this stand of United States.

SIEGEL: Do you think there's any other group in the region other than the Kurds who welcome the return of the United States to the region?

HUSSEIN: The only friend of United States in that region are the Kurds. And the only power on the grounds which is fighting the terrorists - they are the Kurds. But we are fighting for ourselves. We are fighting also for free world. Because at the end those terrorist organization, they are planning to attack not only Kurdistan, but also other societies.

SIEGEL: Fuad Hussein, thank you very much for talking with us once again.

HUSSEIN: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: Fuad Hussein is the chief of staff to the president of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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