Czech foreign minister assures Iraqi, Kurdish officials of Czech support in the fight against IS militants

Lubomír Zaorálek, Haydar al-Abadi, photo: CTK

Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek paid an unannounced one-day visit to Iraq on Thursday to discuss military and humanitarian support for the country in its fight against Islamic State militants. During talks with Iraqi top officials and Kurdish representatives the Czech foreign minister pledged to speed up a contract on the sale of L 159 fighter jets for the Iraqi army and offered to provide rehabilitation treatment for injured Kurdish fighters in Czech spas.

Lubomír Zaorálek,  Haydar al-Abadi,  photo: CTK
Tight security measures were in place when the Czech foreign minister arrived at Bagdad airport early on Thursday. Wearing a bulletproof vest he was transported to the Presidential Palace in an armoured vehicle with road blocks and armed guards protecting the motorcade. During his hour-long meeting with President Fuad Masum the Czech official reiterated his country’s interest in a stable and democratic Iraq and pledged continued support for the country in its fight against Islamic state militants which he said was a threat not only to the region but to the world at large.

In the course of the talks Iraq expressed pressing interest in speeding up the sale of 15 Czech-made 159 fighter jets for Iraqi armed forces which the Czech side said it was ready to provide. Talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi focused on the present situation in Iraq as well as the possibilities opening up for Czech companies in helping to rebuild the country’s infrastructure.

Lubomír Zaorálek,  Masoud Barzani,  photo: CTK
From Bagdad the Czech foreign minister was transported to Ibril, the administrative center of Iraqi Kurdistan for talks with Kurdish President Masoud Barzani who arrived at the meeting straight from the front where he is leading the fighting against Islamic State radicals. Minister Zaorálek later told journalists that he had detected a certain bitterness regarding the fact that the Kurds were taking on the lion’s share of the burden in the fight against Islamic radicals and the far-better equipped Iraqi army was less involved. The Kurdish fighters’ involvement and losses are immense, Minister Zaorálek said later, citing a death toll of 700 and thousands of Kurdish fighters injured. The Czech official said this had prompted him to make the suggestion that some of the injured could get rehabilitation treatment in Czech spas.

“We said we had a spa which is ideally suited for rehabilitation and was used by our own soldiers injured in Afghanistan. Of course they had all heard about Karlovy Vary and immediately showed interest in the idea. The prime minister of the Kurdish regional government told me it was a great idea and we should work together to bring it about.”

Kurdish fighters,  photo: Boris Niehaus,  CC BY-SA 3.0
The talks inevitably also focused on Kurdistan’s pressing need for military equipment in the fight against the IS. Earlier this year the Czech government approved the delivery of ten million rounds of ammunition for Kalashnikov assault rifles, eight million rounds for machine guns, 5,000 for rocket-propelled grenades and 5,000 hand grenades for Kurdish fighters. Some of it has already been shipped out. During the meeting Kurdish representatives expressed interest in acquiring more helicopters and aircraft which they said was an essential factor in securing the success of ground operations.