UK defense chief meets Kurdish PM and President with Mosul top of agenda

 Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani discussed with the UK Defense Minister Michael Fallon the ongoing Mosul offensive, post ISIS governance and the military cooperation between the two sides Sunday morning, Kurdistan's Head of the foreign relations Falah Mustafa said.
Kurdistan's Minister of the Interior and acting Minister of Peshmerga Karim Sinjari and the head of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa welcomed the UK Defense chief and Britain’s Ambassador to Iraq Frank Baker at Erbil International Airport on Saturday evening.
Fallon met with PM Barzani today in Erbil, and also, his deputy Qubad Talabani, President Masoud Barzani’s chief of staff Fuad Hussein, Mustafa and Sinjari were among senior officials present at the meeting.
He told reporters Saturday evening after his arrival that he will be visiting a Peshmerga training site on Sunday.
Following his meeting with the prime minister Fallon met with President Masoud Barzani.
Fallon said that UK’s past supply of weapons to the Peshmerga were through the Iraqi government, and therefore it was indirect.
"The material that we have supplied in the past [to Peshmerga] has been routed through Baghdad — through the state of Iraq. We aren't processing a request at the moment, so I can't give you a direct answer,” Fallon said Saturday, when asked whether the UK would join countries that would directly send weapons to the Kurdish Peshmerga, currently only Germany makes such arrangements.
Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga, with the support of the international coalition launched an offensive in October to recapture Mosul from the extremist group ISIS. They have since liberated the eastern half of city, while ISIS still is in full control of the western part.
Fallon was also asked about the status of the liberation of Mosul and a timeline for the defeat of ISIS.
"We haven't given a specific timeline. I wouldn't want you to infer anything as far as the number of months. We have seen different dates for the liberation of Mosul over the couple of years,” he said, deferring to previous US Secretary of State’s estimate of Mosul being liberated by the end of 2017.
"But you see in Iraq these last few months very significant progress," Fallon added. "Two million people have been liberated under Daesh control. That's a huge improvement. But I'm not going to put a final date on the liberation of Raqqa.”
He however was more specific about the Kurdish-led operation to liberate Raqqa, the de facto capital city of the ISIS group, where he said he is hoping the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will complete the isolation stage “by the end of Spring”.
The US-backed SDF launched the operation last November, and they announced the third stage of the operation to isolate and eventually defeat ISIS in Raqqa this month.
The primary goal of this phase is the complete isolation of Raqqa, clearing territory east of the city, Cihan Shekh Ahmed, spokesperson of the general command of the Wrath of Euphrates had earlier said.
"I hope that isolation will be completed by the spring and then operations to liberate Raqqa itself can begin thereafter," Fallon said.
The US-led anti-ISIS international coalition, which also includes the UK, provide air support and military materiel in support of the campaign.
"Raqqa is a much smaller city than Mosul but will clearly be defended very vigorously by Daesh and that means the operation to liberate Raqqa has to be very carefully prepared, as the operation for Mosul was," Fallon said, using an Arabic name for ISIS.
"Once Raqqa is liberated after Mosul, we will see the beginning of the end of this terrible caliphate."
Raqra is the capital of the ISIS’s caliphate.
Prior to coming to Erbil, Fallon stopped in Cyprus where he discussed the country's increased role in promoting regional stability and security with the Cypriot defense minister.
Fallon said in 2017 the coalition forces aim to strike the "decisive blow" against ISIS after pushing back its fighters in 2016, adding that two million people in Iraq have been liberated from the group, and that it now controls less than 10-percent of territory in Iraq.
Fallon last visited the Kurdistan Region's capital in September 2016, when he discussed the ensuing Mosul operations with Kurdish officials.

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