Iraq's security is in a better state than it has been at any time in the past, thanks in part to the valuable contribution made there by Estonian military personnel, Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) says.
"The president, prime minister and defense minister are confident that Iraq is now safer than ever before, however, despite that the state of Iraq wishes for the continued contribution of allies to both fight international terrorism as well as support the security of the entire region," the minister said.
"It is most certainly in the interest of Estonia to contribute to the security of Iraq and the region, because terrorism does now recognize state borders. The closer to the original source a problem is solved, the less likely it is for terrorist attacks to reach our region," Pevkur went on, via a press release.
The defense minister made his remarks while on a visit to Iraq, where he met with Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) personnel serving with the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve.
Pevkur also met with Iraqi leaders, where Iraq's future and options for the continuing contributions from NATO and allied nations in the coming years was under discussion.
The minister said he heard only positive feedback about the EDF's presence in Iraq, saying: "The Scouts Battalion had proven itself already in earlier missions, and the work they are currently doing is highly valued by locals and allies."
"Moreover, this praise did not just concern the usual political politesse, but full of substantial recognition for our fighters. It was great to see that, despite the nearly 50-degree heat, the contingent is still planning on building their own on-base sauna. The troops' motivation was high, too. I would also like to thank the families of every EDF mission participant, since they are the ones that have to make do on their own during this period, knowing that their close ones are ensuring Estonia's freedom, but thousands of kilometres from home," he went on.
The minister was joined by EDF Commander Gen. Martin Herem, and the pair were able to gain an on-site overview of the EDF troops' tasks and living conditions.
Gen. Herem said meeting switch commanders of Inherent Resolve and of NATO's Mission Iraq (NMI) confirmed Estonia's armed forces are performing a key role while in Iraq.
He said: "Estonians are fulfilling their service tasks well, to put it lightly. We can also confirm that if our allies and we were not here as the state of Iraq has requested, it would leave a void that some other force would fill. That, however, would benefit neither Iraq nor the region as a whole."
Minister Pevkur and Gen. Herem met with Inherent Resolve commander Maj. Gen. Matthew McFarlane, who highlighted Estonian-U.S. cooperation in Iraq, allies' common objectives in the fight against terrorism and in containing ISIS, and also the contribution of the U.S. towards ensuring Estonia's security.
A meeting with NMI commander Lt Gen. Agüero Martínez centered on developing the Iraqi security sector.
The Estonian delegation also met with President of Iraq Abdel Latif Rachid, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and Iraq's Minister of Defence. Thabet Mohammad Al-Abbasi.
Operation Inherent Resolve aims to advise and support local security forces, while the EDF's task include ensuring base security and preparedness for rapid reaction to adverse events, as well as guarding key persons in the Kurdistan region.
NMI aims at mitigating threats from the southern direction against the alliance, by helping Iraq build sustainable, transparent, inclusive and efficient security structures – through the training of Iraqi instructors, who in turn train the Iraqi state's security structures.
Nearly 90 EDF personnel take part in Inherent Resolve at the moment, while an additional staff officer contributes to the NMI.
Estonia has had a long pedigree in deploying its armed forces to missions in Iraq, particularly since joining NATO in 2004, missions which, while they may appear distant from Estonia itself, pay dividends when negotiating for allied contributions to security closer to home.
Editor: Andrew Whyte