Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL, Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL
MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. I have a special guest here to start the briefing today. In just a couple minutes, the Special Presidential Envoy to the Coalition to Counter ISIL Brett McGurk, someone you know – you all know very, very well, is going to come up here and take the podium. He’s going to give you an update on the counter-ISIL campaign for a few minutes, and then he’ll be able to stick around as well to take a few questions, just a few. I’ll be moderating those questions, so please look to me and I’ll be calling on you. We won’t have time to take too many, but we’ll take a few, and then I’ll get back up here and we’ll do the rest of the daily briefing after Mr. McGurk leaves. With that, Brett.
MR MCGURK: Thanks, John. So thanks for seeing me today. I thought what I would do – I was here a couple months ago or so, or six weeks ago, and gave an overview of kind of what we’re trying to do, about eight or nine different points of pressure, and how what we call lines of effort kind of come together and what we do throughout the government to try to put pressure on ISIL. And what I thought I’d do is just give an update on where we are kind of as we look around the periphery of this phony self-proclaimed caliphate, and then finish a little bit with Ramadi and kind of the significant events that happened over the – over the holiday.
This, of course, as I briefed in detail last time, this is ISIL core – Iraq, Syria. That does not lessen the importance of the networks. We think of ISIL in terms of the core, the networks, and then the affiliates, their eight affiliates. And we’re constantly trying to pressure all of these things at once, but you really have to focus on the core. I think as the President said, focused on the heart, which we’re doing.
So I would just start – I’ll go around the horn kind of clockwise. It’s in no particular order, but I think that’s the easiest way to do it. The number one on the map – and first, what this map indicates, and this is only in November so it’s – it would have been changed since then. But the green on the map represents territory that ISIL has lost over the last year to 18 months or so. In Iraq, it’s about 40 percent of its territory. So you can see the kind of shrinkage, and that’s going to, we think, increase over the coming months. It’s already increased, actually, quite significantly just since this map was put out in November. The dark red represents areas that they have gained over the last 18 months, and so there are some areas of concern that we look at on the map, which we’re focused on with our partners and in the coalition effort.
But let me start at the number one. This is the 98-kilometer strip of border with Turkey that we talk about quite a bit. If you see to the east of the Euphrates all that green, we’ve taken away that entire border from ISIL. They controlled the entire thing about a little over a year ago. If I was here around the time of Kobani, there’s just a little teeny, teeny dot of green about five square blocks in the town of Kobani. Since then, obviously, a dramatically changed situation, and it’s going to continue to change dramatically against ISIL’s interests over the coming months.
On one, that 98-kilometer strip of border, it’s not only what we’re doing across the border in Syria, but most significantly and most significantly in this building, the diplomacy with Turkey and focused on the Turks and really closing up that 98-kilometer border. And since we were at the G20 with President Obama – had a very good meeting with President Erdogan about this very issue – we have seen the Turks take some significant steps in terms of setting up defensive perimeters, more patrols. Much harder for ISIL to get resources into this very critical area. We’re continuing that engagement now. I think the Chairman Dunford, General Dunford is in Turkey this week. The Vice President will be heading out to Turkey later this month, and we have teams of experts, particularly from DHS, who are heading out to Turkey to talk about this very critical stretch of border. Because you take ISIL away from that border, it is a truly self-contained entity and a very different problem.
So that’s a true kind of interagency effort. There’s a military side. What we’re doing – that little splotch of dark red, we call that the Mari line. I talked about that last time. We think we’ve checked the western advance of ISIL and beginning to push a little bit to the east. I also mentioned last time how the Russian air campaign has made that a little more complicated, and that’s something that we’re continuing to deal with. But we are still, as my DOD colleagues can speak to, still flying in that area, still doing strikes almost every single day, and pressuring ISIL in that critical area.
Number two is kind of east of the Euphrates, a very different situation, but it’s also the core ISIL – core of its phony caliphate in Raqqa, its self-proclaimed capital. And what we’re going to be doing over the coming weeks and months is just squeezing them and constricting them in this area and really isolating the core of Raqqa. Again, it’s not only a military effort, though that gets most of the attention and rightfully so, but it’s a dramatic fusion of all the information we bring across the government.
So I think my colleague, Amos Hochstein, was here to brief you a couple weeks ago to talk about a lot of what we’re doing here. The number two on that map is over at Al-Hal, and that has moved a lot more green since this map was put out. And that’s a coalition of Syrian Kurds and Arabs that have made pretty dramatic gains against ISIL in that area, taking about 500 square miles from them. And that was organized simultaneously and a lot of diplomatic kind of really shoe leather diplomacy from this building to work with the Iraqi Kurds and the Peshmerga and the Syrian Kurds to get this whole thing synchronized, and that all kicked off late last fall through the winter. Simultaneous operations on the Syrian side of the border at Al-Hal, moving a little bit more south, and then the Peshmerga retaking Shaddadi to cut that entire road from Raqqa to Mosul.
Similar, before I go to Iraq, operations that happened just over the – over December cutting off – you can’t see it in this map, but if you go, like, right here is all green now – taking the primary supply corridor of ISIL from this area here into Raqqa. The Tishreen dam is now no longer in their hands, so they have to go all the way around. It’s one just one effort of how we’re going to continue to isolate and constrict in Raqqa.
As we do that, and as I think I mentioned last time, and our friends in the intelligence community and also in this building constantly looking to see how they adapt. As they come under pressure, they do stupid things. We’re able to see who they are and then our military colleagues are able to, with quite devastating effect, strike them in their heart in Raqqa. And the high-value targets we continue to strike in Raqqa. Just the day before Christmas, we killed an individual who you know was directly linked to the Paris attacks.
So that’s all going to continue and that’s a fused effort across the interagency from here, DOD, our intelligence community, Treasury, across the board.
Before I leave Syria, the last point that – and Deir al-Zor and that Euphrates Valley that’s kind of the heart of their economic infrastructure, and again, I think Amos spoke in some detail with this about you, but we know more about ISIL’s economy now than we ever did before, and we’re putting all of that information to very good effect. So I think you’ll see over the coming weeks and months more news coming out on that area.
If I just go into Iraq very quickly around the horn, there’s Sinjar, which is number four. Sinjar, of course, is where a lot of this burst onto the public consciousness with Mount Sinjar and the Yezidis. That’s the heart of that area and our Peshmerga friends were able to retake Sinjar last month. So Sinjar is now a real humanitarian kind of coalition effort to try to get the resources in place to restore, reconstruct, and get people back into their homes in Sinjar. That is a huge, huge challenge, because one thing that ISIL does when they take over these areas, they booby-trap houses, they booby-trap public infrastructure, and before they leave they either make the area almost impossible to re-inhabit or they blow up buildings as they’re leaving.
So Sinjar is now an enormous challenge. We’ll be meeting as a coalition in early February – I don’t think this is – but Secretary Kerry meeting with kind of key coalition members to talk about what we have to do now over the next three to four months, bringing the coalition together and the resources for the humanitarian and the stabilization challenges. So more to follow on that.
Mosul, which is just north of the number five – Mosul – people ask, “When is Mosul going to begin?” Mosul has kind of already started, but you’ve got to think of it of a rolling kind of campaign to isolate and squeeze, learn more about the information about what’s happening there, but also a very heavy diplomatic-political effort to get the Iraqi Government in Baghdad working with the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Kurdish Regional Government to kind of work together to figure out how to do Mosul, because Mosul is very complicated. There’s Shia, Sunni, Arab, Kurd; kind of everybody is there together, and we want to make sure everything is synchronized and working together, and that has now really started. We have a joint operations command center set up in Makhmur, and our diplomats and our ambassador in Baghdad is constantly shuttling between Baghdad and Erbil, and we’ve had very good cooperation with President Barzani in Erbil and with Prime Minister Abadi about planning Mosul.
When I was in Iraq last week, one of my critical meetings was with the new governor of Nineveh province, so we have a new governor in Nineveh province who’s very actively engaged about planning and coordinating how to constrict and isolate Mosul. So more to follow on that, but it’s really focused on isolating, constricting, getting this kind of coherence and cohesiveness together. And I think that – you’ll see that come together again over the coming months.
Going south in Tikrit, Tikrit now is kind of where everything comes together. We’ve learned an awful lot of lessons about Tikrit. ISIL, when they moved into Tikrit in the summer of 2014, totally depopulated the city. They committed mass atrocities, killing thousands of people, putting it up on YouTube. The retaking of Tikrit was incredibly challenging, just given some of the forces that were involved. And when it was eventually retaken, again, it was a situation where the population was almost entirely gone, the city was almost destroyed, and we had to work closely with the Iraqi Government and with the United Nations and with the local leaders in Salahuddin province. And what we did – a very active 24/7 effort over a number of months, based out of Baghdad – our embassy – and also folks here at the State Department, to put together the plan about how we can begin to bring the population back to Tikrit. It looked like a very daunting task at the time, the kind of thing that looks impossible to do. But if you look at it now, according to the UN statistics, about 90 percent of the population has come back to Tikrit. Tikrit University, which was a headquarters of ISIL not too long ago, is reopening, and it’s reopening thanks to funds donated by the coalition; about 16,000 students returning to the University of Tikrit, something that would have been unimaginable not too long ago.
We’ve learned a lot of lessons of Tikrit about how to do stabilization, about how to work with the central government in Baghdad and the local authorities to get people back safely. And those are lessons we’re now building on.
So I’ll finish just on Ramadi. Ramadi’s significant because it was really the first significant test for the Iraqi Security Forces that we have helped reorganize and retrain as a coalition. When Ramadi fell in May, it was a real kind of shock to the Iraqis. Ramadi had been under threat when ISIL first moved into Ramadi on January 1, 2014 – six months before Mosul, to kind of put this in perspective. It had been contested, constant fighting. And after a massive car bomb wave, when the forces left, it was something that was a real shock.
Prime Minister Abadi immediately engaged with us, engaged with the coalition, and said I’m going to put together a plan to retake Ramadi as soon as we can. We met at the White House within about 36 hours with President Obama and we said we’re going to look to see what we do and we’re going to help the Iraqis try to retake Ramadi. Again, at the time, it looked like quite a daunting challenge.
If you go back to that time and you look at the sequence of decisions that were made, the President made a critical decision on the recommendation of the Secretary of Defense and the chairman to deploy U.S. Special Forces to Taqaddum Air Base, not far from Ramadi, and they got out there very, very soon. And this is right between Fallujah and Ramadi, a really heroic mission those guys took on to advise and assist the Iraqi Security Forces, to reorganize, to think about what are they going to need, and then to begin to plan a counterattack on Ramadi. And I mean, those guys, you just can’t speak enough about what they were able to do in terms of the influence they have and the capabilities that they can bring to bear.
Every single time now against ISIL that we have advised and assisted an Iraqi operation, or any operation against ISIL, ISIL has not only been defeated, they’ve been just totally routed. So we kind of have the combination of what works, and Ramadi was the most difficult test for this. I think Colonel Warren in Baghdad said it’s the most difficult thing the Iraqis have done on their own as a military force really since 2003. That’s true. And it was a real, so far – and there’s some ways to go – but it’s a success and it’s a point that even when the Iraqis are taking casualties – they’ve taken over 1,000 casualties in this counterattack – they have continued to advance, they’ve continued to fight, and they’ve continued to liberate their territory.
Commensurate with the counterattack was a very active effort learning and building on the lessons of Tikrit to work with the Iraqi Government and to work with the local officials in Anbar province, with the tribes, with the governor to mobilize local forces, to hold areas, and to put together the stabilization plan.
So shortly after Ramadi fell, we met in Paris with Secretary Kerry and the main ministers of the coalition, with Prime Minister Abadi. And I have to admit, it was a kind of a dark cloud moment because Ramadi had just fallen. And Abadi told the ministers of the coalition, “I want your help. I need to retake Ramadi. Here’s how we’re going to do it, but we need help. We need resources.” And the coalition really responded.
I put out a letter for New Year’s kind of to the coalition, which we put up just kind of listing about the number of coalition partners that stepped up at that critical moment, not only with military support but also with stabilization and reconstruction support.
And so what Abadi did at that critical time was delegated an awful lot of authority to the local leadership of Anbar province. We now have authorization for 10,000 tribal fighters in Anbar province. There is authorization for 24,000 police in Anbar province. The new Iraqi budget in 2016 has 20,000 new positions for the Iraqi army, which are very important. We think many of those will come from Anbar province as these areas are liberated.
So as the clearing went into Ramadi, we worked at the same time and in parallel with the stabilization and the hold and the resources to bring people back to their homes. Now, because Ramadi was fought over for almost two years, you can imagine that most of the city has been quite devastated in the fighting. Booby-trapped houses, I think the number of IEDs just since – this is just a statistic to give you an indication – since the 28th of December, so about a week ago, 2,316 IEDs were deactivated by a single IED unit that we helped advise and assist out of Habbaniyah base, which is near Taqaddum.
So that just gives you a sense of what has to be done here and how difficult this is, and the skills and the expertise that it takes to actually clear these areas. But the fact that we have a central government in Baghdad delegating authority to the leaders of Anbar province, we have a coalition supporting this effort, we’ve learned a lot of lessons from Tikrit – and so we feel that a lot of the pieces are in place to begin to move to the stabilization phase, however recognizing just how difficult this is going to be.
As ISIL is defeated in areas, we see what they do. They come with waves of car bomb attacks and try to restore kind of some of their luster in the headlines. But unlike the days – and I’ve been doing this a long time – where they would come with 10 car bombs and then they would come with an infantry assault to retake territory, hold it, that’s not really happening anymore. They’re coming with a bunch of car bombs, many of which we’re now stopping because of the military capabilities that our partners in DOD have provided to the Iraqis. But they’re not then coming with the assault force. It’s just – it’s not the kind of – it’s a much – it’s a degraded organization compared to what we’ve seen before. That said, there’s a ways – there’s still a ways to go.
So I just wanted to give you an update on – because I went last time about this simultaneous pressure campaign and what we’re working to do, and I think the result to that – I mean, we check it every single day – but I’d like to come check in with you every couple months just to talk about different areas and what we’re seeing, some things that are going well and then some things that, obviously, there will be setbacks along the way. None of this is going to be linear.
But overall, that’s what we’re trying to do. Ramadi was a key test. It’ll remain a key test. I think it’s still a big place. The entire city is not entirely cleared. The IED statistic I mentioned just gives you some indication of what we still need to do. And after Ramadi, there will be a number of follow-on steps because this thing is far from over. I was in the region last month – in UAE and Jordan and Iraq – talking about the kind of next steps in the campaign and what we need to do. And I think we have some coherence and some commonality of vision, but it’ll remain a very challenging and very difficult fight.
So with that, I think I’ll turn it over for any questions.
MR KIRBY: We’ll start with you, Matt.
QUESTION: Thanks. I’m just curious if you have seen or are concerned about any complications from the Saudi-Iran flare-up causing any sectarian tensions; if you see any complications to the synchronization, as you called it, of the effort in Iraq.
MR MCGURK: Yeah, Matt, no – thanks. It’s a great question, and so far, we have not seen any impact on the overall ISIL campaign. As you know, I mean, Secretary Kerry here was on the phone almost all day yesterday. We are encouraging a de-escalation because anytime you have regional polarization, regional escalation, it obviously can cause difficulties and it opens up seams for extremists on all sides to take advantage of the situation. So there were reports yesterday of a couple mosques that were targeted. The governor of Iraq immediately responded to that.
So I would say so far, we have not seen that type of impact on the overall campaign, but obviously, it’s something that we’re concerned about and that’s why the Secretary’s been spending so much of his time on it.
MR KIRBY: Arshad.
QUESTION: Are Saudi aircraft taking part in strikes against ISIL targets?
MR MCGURK: I’d have to refer to DOD. I know the last time the Saudis took an airstrike against ISIL in Syria – as you know, they’ve been heavily engaged in Yemen, but some of our other partners, the Jordanians and others, have been – continue to strike ISIL targets in Syria.
QUESTION: Are you aware of one recently?
MR MCGURK: A Saudi strike against ISIL in Syria?
QUESTION: In Syria.
MR MCGURK: As I said, I think the Saudi – they have their capabilities, their bandwidth is pretty stretched with Yemen. So I can’t say when the last time they took a strike in Syria, but of all our partners, you have to look at how they’re contributing in different ways. And the Jordanians, for example, just – I think just took a number of airstrikes just last week.
MR KIRBY: Jim.
QUESTION: Sorry, the who?
MR MCGURK: The Jordanians.
QUESTION: Oh, the Jordanians.
MR KIRBY: Jim.
QUESTION: Brett, thanks very much. Looking at that map, when you look particularly at the Syrian border, it looks like you’ve cut off to really a small chokepoint the controlled area, just as you were saying. I wonder, has that translated into stopping – effectively stopping the flow of fighters across that border? And are you seeing cooperation from the Turks, which I know has been ambivalent, as it’s been described to me at times? Is that in much better shape, as it looks on the map? Because physically, it looks like you made that progress. I’m just curious if it translated to stopping that. And then I just have a quick follow-up, if you don’t mind.
MR MCGURK: So Jim, I think as I mentioned in my opening, definitely seeing progress along that border on the Turkish side, and definitely seeing a willingness and readiness for the Turks to engage with us in terms of advice on what needs to be done. They have moved resources there. And I think this has been covered in the press, but they’ve moved resources there. It’s much harder to get from the Turkish side of the border into Syria from that strip, all of which is very positive.
So now this month we’re following up with them on a number of things – not only what’s happening on their side of the border, but also what we want to do together on the Syrian side of the border. And that’s why the chairman is there this week. That’s why the Vice President will be in town. And that’s why we have a number of – the Vice President going to Turkey, and a number of our kind of border security experts at the working level going to Turkey.
So I would just say yes, the cooperation’s been good. Our information – it’s much harder to get – for an ISIL fighter to get from Turkey into Syria now than it was some months ago. When you look at the data on this, those who kind of count this, there’s often a lag in terms of the – when they can take a number and what’s happening today. All I can say is our sense and our indication is that the network overall is substantially degraded. We know that ISIL in its public statements has called on foreign fighters, “maybe, hey, don’t go into Syria; maybe go to Libya,” which is another indication that Syria is now not as hospitable an environment as they might have – as it might have been in the past.
So I think the trend line overall is moving in the right direction, but it’s something we got to stay at every single day. Because as I’ve said before to you, this is a challenge like we’ve never seen before. The world has never seen something like this, upwards of 35,000 now foreign fighters from 100 countries all around the world supercharged by social media and Twitter and everything. It’s something we’ve never seen before.
So as we try to – when we think of the core, we want to make sure that if a foreign fighter gets into Syria or Iraq they can’t get out, and we try to make sure that they can’t get in. At the same time, we’re working globally with all of these partners – which is why we have a 65-member coalition – on the criminal justice side, on the intelligence sharing side, just to try to make it harder for these guys to move around. But again, as we saw in Paris and elsewhere, that – we have work to do.
QUESTION: Just a —
MR MCGURK: And our partners have work to do.
QUESTION: A brief follow on the 10,000 tribal fighters you mentioned in Anbar. Is Prime Minister Abadi playing nice with them, so to speak? Or is he – the concerns expressed about his deference to Iran and therefore reluctance to play nicely with the Sunnis – are you seeing that abating?
MR MCGURK: He’s fully supported the tribal mobilization in Anbar province. When Secretary Carter was there a couple weeks ago, this was one of their key conversations. In fact, he upped the cap from 8,000 to 10,000, and that just comes into the kind of – I think it’s about 10,000 tribal fighters, 24,000 local police from Anbar. So you’re talking an awful lot of people. So if a young Anbari wants to get in the fight, there are plenty of avenues to do that. And our two platforms – one at Taqaddum Air Base and one at Al Asad, where we have been since this campaign really started, out in western – the western Euphrates Valley.
We’ve been working closely with three tribes there in Haditha and these areas in which if you looked at – I mean, if you looked at this map over time, you’d have a little bit of green in Haditha. And that has expanded. And had we not gone to Al Asad Air Base when this campaign kicked off in September of 2014, had we not engaged with those tribes at the time that we did, I think that entire area would’ve been gone. But by engaging with them, by giving them capabilities – and they have gotten the full support of the Iraqi Government – we were able to not only hold off these number of ISIL advances back in those days, but they’re now not only holding the line, but beginning to conduct their own operations. So the tide out there – and it’s like the wild west out there; I’ve been out there a few times – has shifted.
But to answer your question, in terms of Prime Minister Abadi, he’s given full support to this program we have in Anbar.
MR KIRBY: We’re just going to take two more. Justin.
QUESTION: Thanks. So if the negotiating parties are demonstrating that they can’t work together to find a political solution in Syria, as we’re seeing with Iran and Saudi Arabia, does that require you or are you working on a strategy that doesn’t include a political solution in Syria? Is there a way to defeat ISIS without that?
MR MCGURK: I think what – I mean, our special envoy in Syria is in Saudi Arabia now, working with a lot of the opposition groups to set the stage for these negotiations that have to take place, we hope later on this month. But I think even the Saudis recognize you have to have some sort of a political process to de-escalate the overall conflict. So I let the Saudis speak for themselves, but, I mean, what I’ve heard is they’ve said that nothing here should really stop the process that was launched in Vienna. And that’s something that’s not – that’s a real consensus of the international community now, enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution.
No question this is extremely difficult. That’s something that we’ve said from day one. But you have to bring all the external actors to a table, and then the internal actors to a table. So we’ve gotten all the external actors together really for the first time since the civil war started, and now we’re working to bring the internal actors together to a table later this month. So a lot of folks here in this building are working on that every day, and that remains the plan as enshrined in the Security Council resolution.
MR KIRBY: Said, I’m going to give you the last one today.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Yes, sir, I’m a bit confused on the figure that you gave – the numbers, the vacancies in the Iraqi army – the 26,000 or something like this that it can absorb. Will these be special units like the Awakening Council, or are they – will they be part of the Iraqi army? And will they coordinate with militias like al-Hashd al-Shaabi and so on?
MR MCGURK: So the 20,000 numbers – in the new Iraqi budget, they opened up space for 20,000 new positions, and that’s important because we want to bring more folks into the army. So again, if you are – if you’re from a town in the Euphrates Valley in Anbar province and you’re 20 years old and you want to join to protect your community, we want to make sure that some of the deficiencies of the prior model, where it was a little bit more ad hoc, such as in the Awakening – that it’s embedded and enshrined in the state structures. So if you want to risk your life to defend your community from Daesh and others, you’ll be taken care of by the state.
So there are three vehicles now to do that. There’s the tribal mobilization program, and that is all enshrined in the Iraqi legal structure and the budget to make sure that people get paid – something you work on every single day. There’s the police, and there’s a cap for 24,000 police in Anbar province, which is what it was before the crisis. And then there’s now 20,000 new positions for the army in this new budget. We have the training facilities; we’re training. It’s going up almost about – we’re at about 18,000 now that we’ve trained. But it’s a whole host – it’s the army, it’s the CTS in terms of our training.
But just to be very clear on the numbers I’m talking about, focus on Anbar: 10,000 tribal fighters in Anbar, 24,000 police. And then there are the new number of recruits in the Iraqi army of 20,000. Now, the Iraqis have asked us to help them with this in terms of where the folks go, what units and things, and that’s something that we’re working with them all the time in terms of how to structure their overall security architecture, but that will take some time.
But in terms of defeating ISIL, you need the force to go in and do the clearing, and I think we’ve – have had some success with that now. You need the force to do the holding, and that’s the police and these tribal forces. And then you need the long-term, sustainable architecture, because we’re learning a lot of the lessons from the past year. And the long-term, sustainable architecture is to make sure you have a more federal-based structure which is interwoven in the Iraqi constitution, in which the central government is delegating authority to the provinces, to the local leaders, so the people who are risking their lives to take – protect their community are taken care of by the state. And that’s the bargain that this new Iraqi Government has offered. And so far, if you look at Tikrit, if you look at what we’re starting to see in Anbar, you can see how that can come together.
QUESTION: How concerned are you, though, that these sectarian tensions in the region – not just between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but now all the Sunnis – are going to bleed over into Iraq and the Shia and the Sunnis are not going to be able to work together, and Abadi will maybe hesitate to reach out to the Sunnis in deference to Iran?
MR MCGURK: So let me say – answer it two ways: On the one hand, as someone who works this every day, very concerned whenever you see this kind of potential for a real polarization, because it enables extremists on both sides to take advantage of the situation, which is extremely dangerous and plays into the hands of groups like ISIL. So that’s something, of course, that we’re concerned about because our objective here is to support moderates on both sides of this kind of sectarian divide. So that’s one, and that’s why we’re working very hard to try to de-escalate things.
On the other hand, try not to get into a too simplistic box of Sunni and Shia, because there’s so many divisions within the two communities. I’m talking a lot here about Anbar province. It’s about 100 percent Sunni but it’s – there are Salafi, there are secularists, there’s Baathists, there’s tribal divisions, there’s like everything. There’s so – there are a whole array of different viewpoints. Among the Shia, you have in Iraq a great deal, a majority of the Shia see their marja as Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who has a totally different vision than the supreme leader in Tehran. Sistani believes in the separation of the state and the community and a more quietest tradition than Khamenei, and it’s a totally different viewpoint. So trying to kind of not get into the box of all the Sunni and all the Shia because it’s just not really accurate and not how this thing goes.
What we worry about when things get too polarized is that extremists on both sides try to take advantage of the situation. So no doubt in the immediate wake of something like this, I think you’ll see more provocations from some of the extremists on both sides, and that’s something that we try to tamp down. And a good example was in – when there were reports yesterday that some mosques were attacked in Hilla, some Sunni mosques were attacked in Hilla, the Iraqi Government responded immediately.
So I would just say concerning – yes, there’s all sorts of things that concern us every single day. Whenever you see something like this for potential polarization, it’s concerning. At the same time, we try to not put things into too simplistic a black and white box because that’s not the reality. It’s just so many divisions within each community, and trying to strengthen the cohesiveness of the moderates on both sides is something that we try to do every day. But I will not underestimate just how difficult it is, as you know, Elise.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Do have an updated version of that map? And if you do, can we get a copy? And if you don’t, can we get a copy of this one?
QUESTION: Yeah, that would be great. In a JPEG or something like that?
MR MCGURK: I’ll defer to these guys.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, we’ll get you a copy. We will.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Thank you.
MR MCGURK: Thanks.
MR KIRBY: Thank you, Brett. Appreciate that.