February 28, 2017

Corker Opening Statement at Hearing on "Iraq After Mosul"

 United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations 

Hearing: Iraq After Mosul

February 28, 2017

U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Chairman

Opening Statement

I want to thank our witnesses for testifying today. We appreciate your willingness to come before this committee.

I spent part of last week in Iraq, and I think it is quite clear that ISIS will soon lose all of its territory in Iraq. I think we are well on the way to making that happen.

As we sit here, Iraqis are returning to their recently liberated homes in eastern Mosul and security forces are fighting through western Mosul. I think it is pretty incredible to understand what ISIS is doing to booby trap these homes as they go back, with bombs under their mattresses, behind their refrigerator door. It’s a pretty unbelievable situation.

It's worth commending the work the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga have done in Iraq. American support has been crucial, but the Iraqis are liberating their own country. Their success is what brings us to the topic of today's hearing, what happens after ISIS.

There's reason for a degree of optimism in Iraq. In many ways, the unthinkable horrors of ISIS have unified Iraq against a common enemy.

I spent time at an [internally displaced person] camp, and I know many of you have done the same thing, and met with Iraqis with many different ethnicities, supporting and relying upon each other, which was great to see. But the same underlying problems that contributed to success of ISIS still remain, and they will remain after the kinetic activities underway and the re-stabilizing completes.

Prime Minister [Haider al-Abadi] recognizes the need for decentralization, political reform, and control of the militias, but he’s had trouble implementing solutions, and I think that trouble is going to continue. I know there's an election coming up in 2018, and my sense is many of the same issues that created this will continue. The Shia militias are an enduring and existential problem for Iraq as they attempt to turn battlefield success into political success.

Candidly, we're setting the precursor for, in some ways, a Hezbollah-like entity in Iraq, just like we have in Lebanon right now. In many ways, Iran appears to be supportive of U.S. efforts to defeat ISIS, but I think we're all waiting for the day when our interest in Iraq no longer align with theirs and Iranian-supported militias attack American forces.

I traveled to Lebanon after Iraq, and the parallels between Hezbollah and the Shia militias in Iraq are hard to miss.

With Iraqi elections coming in 2018, I think the big question is whether Iraq can unify behind their effort to rid the country of ISIS and finally move forward politically, or in a different scenario, could the underlying and unaddressed sectarian tensions in Iraq provide the background for an Iranian-backed militia leader to become prime minister. I think that's not out of the question.

For us, I think the questions focus on what steps we can take to ensure Iraq has the best possible chance of success. Part of that is a longer-term security commitment to Iraq. Another part is the longer-term political commitment.

I hope both of you can help us remember the lessons from the past and recommend what steps we should take going forward. And with that I'd like to thank you again for appearing before the committee and turn to my good friend and ranking member, Ben Cardin.

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