In a conventional conflict, it would seem that arming various groups to fight one another would simply just exacerbate violence and bloodshed. However, Iraq and Syria are not conventional conflicts and our lead antagonist, the group calling itself ISIS or Islamic State, is certainly not a conventional foe. They don’t play by conventional rules or adhere to the Geneva convention. There is probably no force since the Nazis or the Pol Pot regime that has so wantonly disregarded the sanctity of human life as ISIS has. Whether Shia, Sunni, Yazidi, Christian or any one of the other multitudes of sects and ethnicities, each story ends more or less the same. Now we have several hundred Assyrian Christians who have been captured and face an uncertain but most likely grim fate.
As the world has seen firsthand, Kurdish forces, whether they be the Peshmerga in Iraq or the YPG in Syria, are really the only groups who have had any real success against ISIS. This of course is with the help of US and coalition airstrikes, no doubt, but also in spite of having little more than rifles and basic mortars to defend themselves with.
It is important that we not only keep supporting the Kurds, but also that we give then better weapons that the aging ones they currently have an are running out of. The have the manpower and the will but unfortunately not enough weapons.
There are many reasons why increased support of the Kurds is important and in our best interest.
Perhaps with the exception of Israel (minus of course Netanyahu’s recent shenanigans), the Kurds are probably the most reliable and pro-American group of people today in the entire middle east. They are not going to turn their weapons on our allies as perhaps was done in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal and up to and after 9/11. The Kurds have proved to be tolerant of other faiths since they themselves count several religions amongst them including Shia Mulsims, Christian, Yazidi and even Jewish minorities (the majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims). If anything, the Kurds in northern Iraq are the best hope for democracy in the region. They already have a functioning parliament and have given their women rights equal to those of men. Compare that to our other allies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
The reasons for the “Baghdad first” policy, where weapons and munitions are sent to the Kurds through the Iraqi government, are understandable since the coalition doesn’t want to be seen as overtly supporting separate groups in Iraq and wants to back a unified government. The problem is that such an idea does not work very well in practice. There are at least two problems with this. The first is that sending these weapons through the Iraqi forces to be distributed to the Kurds obviously delays their delivery to the Peshmerga and other fighters who really need them now to combat ISIS. The longer these shipments take, the more territory ISIS has the chance to regain and also the more Kurds and civilians are killed.
The second issue is that it is probably likely that the best weapons from such caches will not even get to the Kurdish forces on the front lines that need them. Think about it. If you are the Iraqi government that wants to keep the Kurds in the fold and lessen the likelihood that they’ll declare independence one day, why would you distribute anything but worst weapons of the bunch? After all, the Iraqi government’s Shia officers are also fighting their own sectarian war with ISIS and need all the arms that they can get both for themselves and their Iranian-backed militia allies.
For the time being, the Shias seem to be able to take care of themselves and if not, there is no shortage of Iranian support and weapons that they will receive in future. The Iranians in reality are the Iraqi government’s best hope and to be honest, most reliable partner. After all, US forces and its western allies will once again eventually leave Iraq as a long-term presence for them is not sustainable. It is the Iranians who share a 1500 mile long border and a common faith with the majority of Iraqis that will keep them engaged for the foreseeable future.
The Kurds however have few natural allies in the region. After all, the Turks and the Iranians, while they may sporadically help them out, also want to lessen the chance of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan becoming a reality due to their own restive Kurdish populations.
Thus it turns out that the only group who can supply the Kurds with a supply of adequate weapons is the US and its allies, and they need to be doing this. Let’s hope that practicality prevails and that the Kurds are given arms directly to fight the terrorists on their doorstep.
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