Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on allies in the fight against the Islamic State militant group to contribute more in Iraq’s reconstruction—but Iran has also pledged its support after contributing heavily to the battle against the jihadis next door, Newsweek reports.
Tillerson made his remarks Tuesday at a ministerial meeting of the U.S.-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, in Kuwait City. Coinciding with Tillerson’s visit, Kuwait also launched Monday the three-day Kuwait International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq, during which Iraqi officials revealed an estimated $88 billion price tag to rebuild the country after its cities suffered an onslaught from both ISIS and the forces that defeated the jihadis.
At the ministerial meeting, Tillerson said the U.S. would extend a $3 billion line of credit to the Iraqi government and urged coalition partners to do more for the war-torn country in order to prevent a resurgent ISIS, Reuters reported.
“The end of major combat operations does not mean that we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS. ISIS remains a serious threat to the stability of the region, our homelands and other parts of the globe. Without continued attention on the part of coalition members, we risk the return of extremist groups like ISIS in liberated areas in Iraq and Syria and their spread to new locations. Each of us must continue our commitment to the complete defeat of ISIS. Maintaining stabilization initiatives is essential in this regard. If communities in Iraq and Syria cannot return to normal life, we risk the return of conditions that allowed ISIS to take and control vast territory,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson emphasized the importance that the initiatives to stabilize Iraq “be fully funded,” but U.S. officials have told Reuters that the Trump administration had no plans of pledging any money directly to the conference. Instead, the outlet quoted one senior State Department official as saying the U.S. would instead seek private investment to assist Iraq and let willing Arab partners foot most of the bill.
The money would reportedly be used both to reconstruct Iraq and counter foreign influence, likely referring to neighboring Iran, which shared a Shi’ite Muslim majority with Iraq and served as the leading regional rival to both the U.S. and its Gulf Arab allies, especially Saudi Arabia.
Iran, however, was also planning on taking part in the Kuwait-led initiative to rebuild Iraq. Tehran offered substantial support to the fight against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria via majority-Shi’ite Muslim militias, which have fought alongside the armed forces of both nations. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reportedly arrived Tuesday in Kuwait to participate at the conference.
“As in the past, Iran will keep playing its supporting and constructive role in the reconstruction and economic development of Iraq in the post-ISIS era as it has always played the same role in other political and security fields,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said, according to the semiofficial Fars News Agency.
Iraq has suffered from 17 consecutive years of warfare since the U.S. invaded to overthrow President Saddam Hussein in 2003. Amid the ensuing U.S. occupation, jihadi groups such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq—which would later form the Islamic State of Iraq and ISIS—launched deadly attacks against civilians and soldiers. This stirred further sectarian violence between newly empowered Shi’ite Muslims, increasingly disillusioned Sunni Muslims and a number of religious and ethnic minorities, such as the Kurds, who have their own nationalist aspirations.
ISIS rose from the unrest in 2013 and expanded across half of Iraq as well as neighboring Syria, where a sectarian conflict was also raging as a mostly rural, Sunni Muslim rebellion backed by the West, Turkey, and Gulf Arab states tried to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite Shi’ite Muslim, and an ally of Iran and Russia.
The U.S. gathered an international coalition to support a campaign of airstrikes against ISIS in both countries, while Iran backed its own local allies battling the militants in a campaign later backed by Russia in Syria.
The U.S. and Iran have both blamed each other for destabilizing the Middle East and of attempting to use the unrest to further their own influence in the region. Trump called out the “evil dictatorship” in Tehran in his “America First” National Security Strategy that accused Iran, along with North Korea, of being “determined to destabilize regions, threaten Americans and our allies, and brutalize their own people.”
Trump has also charged Iran with funding terrorism and of developing ballistic missiles he felt threatened the security of nearby countries, leading him to decertify and potentially scrap a historic nuclear deal reached between the U.S., Iran and other major nations in 2015. Iran has denied these charges and has called on Trump to respect international commitments made by his predecessor, Barack Obama.