Nazhat Hali heads the Protection Department of the Kurdish Protection and Intelligence Agency, also known locally as Parastin. The Agency is part of security forces run by authorities in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan. He talked to NIQASH about how long he thinks it will take to rid the country of the extremist group known as the Islamic State. He also spoke about how the security crisis has re-drawn the political map of Iraq, how the region is dealing with the influx of internally displaced persons and addresses rumours that Kurdish military will play a role in the tricky campaign to re-take the nearby city of Mosul.
NIQASH: After the Islamic State, or IS, group took over the nearby city of Mosul last June, it was a little unclear what their attitude towards Iraqi Kurdistan was; and in fact, what the Kurdish attitude was towards them. In fact, some even accused the Kurdish of being on the IS group's side. How has that changed?
Nazhat Hali: Extremism in Iraq is due to a mixture of political and administrative issues. In Iraqi Kurdistan we started off by taking a defensive position because we didn't want to get involved in the long, problematic history between the country's Shiites and Sunnis. That problem has worsened since then and we still don't want to be involved.
NIQASH: You've said previously that the Iraqi Kurdish authorities and intelligence services warned the federal government about the dangers posed by the IS group, before they even took control of Mosul last year.
Hali: If the Iraqi government had paid attention to the information given it and listened to the opinions of the Iraqi Kurdish authorities, then the IS group would not have been able to make the progress that it has, or to become so powerful. The extremists were not victorious because they are powerful but because of the support they received from local Sunnis originally. Unfortunately they thought that the IS group would be a saviour for them but instead, on the ground, it's done a lot of damage to this part of Iraqi society.
NIQASH: There are all kinds of rumours about who is supporting the extremists as well as information about foreign fighters being part of the group. Do you have any information about the truth of any of these?
Hali: Our intelligence as well as evidence after clashes between the Iraqi Kurdish military and the terrorists has proven there are fighters from many different countries in Iraq. In terms of support for the group, I will not speculate because there needs to be strong evidence before such accusations can be verified. There are a lot of doubts about this. I would also just like to say that I think the IS group – which says that it fights for Islam – has done a lot of damage to Islam as well as to Muslims worldwide, as well as to all humanity actually. They've also done a lot of harm to Iraq's Kurds and to Iraq's Sunnis. They are responsible for the destruction of infrastructure in Sunni-majority areas in both Syria and Iraq.
NIQASH: Do you have any idea about how many Kurds have joined the IS group?
Hali: I can't give you numbers but I can tell you that the Kurds who are currently fighting with the extremists are not all from Iraq – they've come from other Kurdish areas in other countries too.
NIQASH: A lot of people in Iraqi Kurdistan say that the number of internally displaced people now inside the region actually increases the risk of terrorism here. Do you agree - and if so, what is your department doing about it?
Hali: There is no doubt that the increase in the number of displaced here has risks. Terrorists and bad guys could indeed infiltrate the region, pretending to be displaced. This has led to increased pressure on security and intelligence here. But that's only to be expected, not only in Iraqi Kurdistan but in any other part of the world where this happens. Happily I believe we have managed to ensure our security while taking into consideration the rights of the displaced.
NIQASH: People here often say that it's going to be impossible to eliminate the IS group completely over the next few years.
Hali: The IS group will exist until we can dry up it's financial resources and use air strikes to kill its leaders and influential members. I also believe we should be supporting Sunnis in Iraq and Syria to fight the IS group themselves. It would make it easier to take back and control areas currently hosting the IS fighters in the long term. All of that would make the IS group disappear – although it may change its name and start fighting under a new name. The Middle East won't be free of extremism and terrorism for a long time - the war against these forces will last a long time.
NIQASH: How has the current security crisis impacted on the political mapping of the region – in, for instance, areas like Kirkuk?
Hali: I think that after the IS fighters attacked areas that fell outside the official jurisdiction of Iraqi Kurdistan and the areas were then defended or liberated by Iraqi Kurdish military, the people of these areas began to feel more than ever that they were actually part of the Iraqi Kurdish region.
NIQASH: There are now rumours that the Iraqi Kurdish military will be taking part in the upcoming campaign to free Mosul?
Hali: Before any other party, the task of freeing Ninawa must be shouldered by the people of Ninawa. It is not a role for Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdish could play a role in supporting Ninawa after it has been liberated from the IS group if the provincial leadership requests our help.