Could the Kurds be a Key Player in the Fight Against the Islamic State?
Could the Kurds become the USA’s best ally in the fight against The Islamic State? The USA recently headed over to Iraq to begin airstrikes against the terrorist organization. Meanwhile, the Kurds have coincided their attacks with US airstrikes, retaking towns and assisting in saving those brutalized by the terrorist organization. This dual action has helped wound The Islamic State, driving it further afield.
Ever since The Islamic State emerged, the United States has been looking for a partner to help in the fight. Iran offered, but given the lack of diplomatic ties, that option remains dubious. Bashar al Assad, the current President of Syria would be happy to help, but being accused of war crimes, the PR crisis of getting involved with a murderous dictator makes Assad as an ally less than appealing.
In the thick of all this mayhem, the leadership in Iraq’s own government is facing upheaval. The President and the Prime Minister have been locked in a battle for reappointment. Although Prime Minister Maliki won the election, the Iraqi parliament refused to appoint him. This led to Maliki accusing President Masum, a Sunni, of violating the constitution. Maliki, who is Shiite, has been accused of rallying sectarian division in favor of Shiite principals.
It is said that Prime Minister Maliki’s security forces were assembled around Baghdad’s main hubs. However, no reports of violence have been recorded.
With all this political entanglement, the United States has found itself in a bit of a quagmire.
Enter the Yazidis
In the mountains of northern Iraq, an ethnic minority group has faced an incredible onslaught by The Islamic State. The Yazidis, an ancient and often persecuted people, were under siege, surrounded by Islamic State militants and unable to leave a small region known as Mount Sinjar. They were given a deadline by The Islamic State to convert to Islam or die. Yazidis, who believe in a mix of Christianity, Islam and Zoroastrianism, did not, and so the wholesale slaughter of them began.
It is said that around 500 Yazidis were executed while some of the women were taken as slaves. It was on this act that the United States justified its airstrikes, warning that genocide could take place if they did not intervene.
Soon the United States was engaged in air strikes around Mount Sinjar, trying to drive The Islamic State away from the besieged ethnic group.
The Kurds Step Up
The Kurds, who established their own region called Iraqi Kurdistan in the north, have been autonomous for ages. They have their own parliament, president, security checks and police. It’s worked out relatively well for them. During the height of violence in the Iraq War, Iraqi Kurdistan was known as a developing center, with very few explosions, attacks or militants.
It is said that when The Islamic State took Mosul, the Iraqi Army simply ran away. The Kurds, they say, have wanted to fight but couldn’t due to a lack of munitions.
During the Yazidi siege, a mission flown by the Kurdish Pashmerga Army and the Iraqi Air Force was able to remove a small group of Yazidis, including a number of children. They also assisted those still stuck on the mountain by dropping supplies such as food, diapers and water.
Ivan Watson with CNN was on the rescue mission and describes the scene when they landed. “We landed on several short occasions, and that’s where — amid this explosion of dust and chaos — these desperate civilians came racing towards the helicopter, throwing their children on board the aircraft. The crew was just trying to pull up as many people as possible.”
This led to the president of the Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani, asking the west for arms. They want to fight The Islamic State, said the president, but were unable to because they lacked superior weapons. The CIA has responded, sending over both basic arms and some high tech weaponry such as armored personal vehicles, surveillance drones and anti-tank missiles.
The Start of a Beautiful Friendship?
The United States is hoping that Iraqi Kurdistan becomes an invaluable partner in the fight against The Islamic State, without being a political liability.
However, that hope may soon be dashed. There have been talks to put a new independence referendum on the docket in the upcoming months, which would declare Iraqi Kurdistan an independent nation. Naturally Baghdad is against this. However, the United States might find itself caught in the middle between these two allies.
Regardless, the enemy that we can all agree on, who is trying to wipe out minorities and wreak havoc in the country, seems to be priority #1 for now. And as long as The Islamic State rages across the region, it’s likely these groups will all have to work together, whether they like it or not.