Iraq, Sweden look to boost cooperation in battling ISIS

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Sweden’s foreign minister visited Baghdad on Monday, meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to discuss increasing cooperation, especially in battling extremism, just over a month ahead of a deadline for the United States to end its combat mission in Iraq.

Kadhimi and Ann Linde "discussed bilateral relations between the two countries, developing joint cooperation between Baghdad and Stockholm, as well as discussing the regional and international role of Iraq,” his office said in a statement.

The Iraqi PM "emphasized the need to develop cooperation between Iraq, Sweden and the European Union, especially in the field of security and war against ISIS [Islamic State] terrorist gangs, as well as in the field of investment and providing the necessary facilities for Swedish companies to operate inside Iraq,” added the statement.

Sweden is a member of the US-led global coalition against ISIS and Stockholm’s ambassador to Iraq, in an interview last month, said Sweden will aid in the fight against the extremist group for as long as Iraq requests it. The United States has agreed to end its combat mission by the end of the year.

Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have demanded the withdrawal of American troops and last week said their weapons "will be ready to dismember the occupation forces as soon as the moment the deadline ends” at midnight on New Year’s Eve. 

ISIS was declared territorially defeated in Iraq in 2017, but remains a security threat. 

Linde also discussed "international and regional cooperation to uproot terrorism, extremism, corruption and confront climate change and preserve the environment,” when she met with Iraqi President Barham Salih. 

In Baghdad, she also met with Iraqi civil society members about democratic development and human rights.

Iraq held parliamentary elections last month, but results are yet to be finalized as the electoral commission is reviewing complaints and pro-Iran parties have protested the results that showed they did poorly.

After her meetings in Baghdad, Linde travelled to Erbil and was welcomed at the airport Monday evening by Safeen Dizayee, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) department of foreign relations.

"The relationship between Sweden and Kurdistan is strong… They sent military support during the ISIS war, they sent about 200 Swedish officers who helped the Peshmerga in training,” KRG representative to Sweden Shorsh Kadir told reporters. 

In her meetings with Kurdish officials, Linde is expected to discuss "the situation of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, problems between Erbil and Baghdad, problems within Kurdistan, besides the institutions that are in Kurdistan,” said Kadir.

Linde will also meet with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the ruling party in Sulaimani, in addition to "minorities and civil organizations. There will be discussions about democracy and human rights,” he added.

Human rights are under scrutiny in the Kurdistan Region after recent trials of activists and journalists, the use of force against student protesters, and waves of migration out of the Kurdistan Region.

Earlier in the day, Kadir met with Kurdistan Region parliament speaker Rewaz Faiaq to discuss improving relations between Erbil and Stockholm.

There is a large Kurdish diaspora population of more than 150,000 in Sweden, according to Kadir.


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