Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told Deutsche Welle that Iraqi government forces are ready to begin the long-expected military operation to retake the city of Mosul from the so-called Islamic State (IS).
Speaking to Tim Sebastian on Thursday for DW's 'Conflict Zone,' al-Abadi said: "We are ready. We started deploying forces in East Mosul last week. They are ongoing - our process is ongoing. We are on plan now to start the operation for Mosul."
Speaking about the fight against IS - also referred to as 'Daesh,' Prime Minister al-Abadi said: "Many of our forces collapsed when Daesh rolled into Iraq. We have to rebuild that. I don't have a rapid fix for this. We have liberated large areas of the country. Daesh is on the retreat at the moment."
Referring to reports that more checkpoints have been constructed to cut off routes into Baghdad used by IS terrorists, al-Abadi said: "We have reduced checkpoints in the cities (...) even in Baghdad." But he acknowledged that the government has put up new checkpoints, "around Baghdad, not inside Baghdad."
Asked if abuses by Shia militias had pushed Sunni Muslims into the arms of the so-called Islamic State, the prime minister replied: "They have been before. That's why Daesh was there in the first place. But Sunni communities are siding with us. If you look at Ramadi, civilians are moving in their thousands towards our security forces and the safe areas, leaving Daesh."
Challenged to acknowledge that Sunni Muslims are facing abductions and extra-judicial killings by Shia militias, al-Abadi said: "Iraq is fighting a war against terrorism. We are trying to our best to fight them. We are trying our best to fight outlaws in our country. It's not black and white. I cannot turn the country upside down in one day. There are a lot of problems in this country, a lot of countries intervening in my country. There has been a lot of support to terrorism, to militias in my country. We are trying to fix it."
Prime Minister al-Abadi: "One and a half years ago the country was at the brink of division, the brink of total collapse. We are in a much better position now than at that time."
Haider al-Abadi, born in Baghdad in 1952, has been Iraqi prime minister since 2014.
Tim Sebastian invites national and international decision-makers to his weekly DW show. "Conflict Zone" airs every Wednesday at 17.30 UTC and is available online on demand.