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Kerry: 'Prelude Being Set' to Take Back Mosul

Secretary of State John Kerry walks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari on April 8, 2016, at his residence in Baghdad. (State Department photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry dropped into Iraq today, where he declared ISIS is “getting weaker by the day” and panned the terror group for not waging an offensive in months.

After meeting with Iraq officials in Baghdad, Kerry told reporters that “since the coalition was formed in 2014, Daesh has lost tens of thousands of fighters, and coalition airstrikes have taken out more than a hundred senior and mid-level leaders, including their so-called ministers of war and finance.”

Daesh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS and a pejorative term.

“We see increasing evidence that terrorists are disobeying orders, fleeing their positions, and even trying to escape by hiding among civilians,” he said. “Daesh is on the defensive – that is clear. But its capacity to inflict suffering regrettably still remains. That is also true. And we take very seriously the threat that it still poses.”

Kerry today announced an additional aid payout of nearly $155 million “for Iraqis affected by the ongoing violence, bringing our total humanitarian contribution to nearly $780 million since the start of Fiscal Year 2014.”

“Daesh’s days are numbered here in Iraq, in Syria, and wherever it exists. We knew from the start that this fight was not an easy fight, and that victory was not going to be achieved overnight. We said that again and again. This is not going to happen overnight; this is going to take a period of time. Obviously, there remains much to be done,” he said. “But I made very clear in every one of the meetings that I had today that the United States is determined that together with our friends and allies in Iraq and the coalition, we will succeed. And the evidence on the ground indicates that we are in fact doing that now.”

Kerry said the Iraqi government didn’t ask for any more U.S. troops, “nor did we discuss that.”

Asked about why Mosul was still in ISIS hands and whether the Iraqi forces were up for the fight, the secretary said the offensive “is in what people call the shaping of the operation.”

“And that means that the groundwork is being laid, the prelude is being set for this operation, and there are some priorities that need to be achieved in that context, and I leave it to the military and the Government of Iraq to lay this out. Our role in this operation is a support role. This is an Iraqi-led effort, Iraqi-defined. We did talk about it today, certainly, but what Prime Minister Abadi said to me was clear, unequivocal, that this is a major priority – his major priority. He has his own timeframe in mind, and we are quite confident that with the good work of our commander out here, General MacFarland, and the coalition that is working with him, that there will be continued focus on Mosul and ultimately Mosul will be liberated,” Kerry said.

“Now, I’m not going to go into the timeframe. I’m not going to go into the details of what constitutes that shaping. But I will absolutely confirm without any doubt whatsoever, because we support that priority that Mosul is at the top of the list in terms of priority. But there are things happening right now that are helping to shape the particular operation, and I’ll let the government of Iraq describe when they are ready what they intend to do and how they will do it.”

U.S. officials have warned that sabotage or damage to the Mosul dam, which was briefly held by ISIS and is in need of stabilization work, would be catastrophic.

“The approximately 500,000 to 1.47 million Iraqis residing along the Tigris River in areas at highest risk from the projected floodway probably would not survive its impact,” said a statement released earlier this year by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

ISIS yesterday released a series of images inside and outside a dam they control along the Euphrates near Raqqa. The failure of that dam would have dire consequences for both Iraq and Syria.

Analysts view ISIS’ hold on the dam as essentially a weapon of mass destruction they could unleash.