Tag Archives: Islamic State

Post IS reality in Mosul as tricky as the protracted liberation of the city

It took the Islamic State (IS) just days to seize Mosul and large swathes of territory, yet the Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition have been planning or trying to liberate Mosul for several months.

As Iraqis were caught up in the prolonged planning for the liberation of the city and the protracted training of a new Iraqi force, IS has become more deeply entrenched.

A new battle for liberation of the city was launched in March but this has quickly stalled. If breaking down the doors of Mosul and eventually eradicating IS wasn’t difficult enough, the future of Mosul is just as precarious.

It was as much as support from disenchanted Sunnis in Iraq and coordination with various Sunni militant groups as IS firepower that helped overrun large stretches of land.

If the root causes of Sunni animosity and discontent is not addressed, then Iraq could end up at square one. The local tribes must play a crucial role in any liberation, but this is difficult when the Iraqi forces rely heavily on Peshmerga forces and Shiite Popular Mobilization Units for any chance of beating IS.

It seems great on paper, Sunnis, Shia and Kurds join forces to launch a national struggle. However, who then retains control of a predominantly and restive Sunni province?

Leaving a weak Sunni force will simply invite IS to quickly regroup and launch more attacks. Leaving a stronger force may well mean presence of Shia militias and Kurdish forces.

The Kurds have already expressed reservation at spear-heading any attack or becoming embroiled in ethno-sectarian violence.

US President Barack Obama recently vowed to clear Mosul of IS by the end of this year which would coincide with the end of his final presidential term. US defense Secretary Ash Carter was in Baghdad this week to provide support to Iraqi forces and pledge another 200 American troops to the fight against IS including deployment of Apache helicopters in combat.

As much as Washington can press Iraqis and set goals, it can only influence the picture so much. The US has been involved in training new Iraqi forces and providing weapons, as well as carrying out thousands of air strikes over the past 18 months or so.

Air strikes and months of training is no match for determined and loyal fighters on the ground. The battle for Mosul with IS deeply entrenched and with widespread booby traps is not one for the faint hearted. IS will fight for Mosul to the death and unless Iraqi forces have a deep belief in the cause, progress will be slow, indecisive and costly.

The bloody and protracted battle for villages on the outskirts of Mosul as well as other smaller cities and towns is a testament to this.

But even if Kurds, Sunni and Shiite forces combine together and are successful in their national battle for Mosul, far too much animosity, mistrust and political instability exists that will quickly extinguish any sense of triumph.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

More reforms but same old problems hamper Iraqi fight against Islamic State

The visit of U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, to Baghdad this week in what he deemed as “a very critical time” for Iraq, coincided with 13 years since the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

Iraq remains in a critical battle against the Islamic State (IS) that continues to hold large swathes of territory almost two years since their rapid routing of the Iraqi army. What makes this already tricky fight all the more strenuous is the political and economic struggles that have crippled the government.

Kerry arrived as a show of support for under-fire Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi whilst reinforcing Washington’s readiness to assist at a crucial time.

Abadi has been under pressure from popular protests led by influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and successive drives at implementing reform and measures to root out corruption have largely failed. Abadi’s latest attempt to appease sentiment with a move towards a technocratic government and streamlining of cabinet posts still lack the broad endorsement needed.

13 years on, the old cracks that underscored post-Saddam rule are seemingly as wide as ever. Years later, the US is still pushing for national reconciliation, reconstruction of the country and ethno-sectarian concord.

In addition to Baghdad’s own conundrums, years of friction with the Kurdistan Region and continuous withholding of the Kurdistan share of the national budget has left an unrepairable divide. As Abadi announced his new cabinet, the Kurdish leadership has strongly insisted that only they can decide on their nominations.

Kerry insisted that he is not in Baghdad to mediate but no doubt that after meeting the Kurdish delegation that included Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, that the warning and demands from the Kurds was clear. They would not participate in the fight to liberate Mosul or support any measures to instill political stability in Baghdad without firm preconditions.

Kurdistan has its own bitter fight against IS and continuous to house millions of refugees, whilst tackling their own economic hardships that have been fueled by Baghdad’s withholding of budget payments.

The Kurds have also reiterated to Kerry their insistence on receiving a portion of any military or financial support provided by Washington to Baghdad.

Iraqi forces have made steady gains against IS but they have relied heavily on US-led coalition support and Shiite military forces.

As Kerry stressed that Baghdad must “unify and rebuild its country and to reclaim territory that was occupied by Daesh”, a challenge tougher than ousting IS would be the soothing of the sectarian animosity that helped IS to solidify their advance.

The need to entice the Sunnis into wider political framework stems from 2003 and IS simply took advantage of years of Sunni discontent, much in the same way as al-Qaeda and various other hardline groups in the past.

Unfortunately, for the much suffering population, doubts linger of a better tomorrow even when IS is out of the picture.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The Allies Must Help Kurdistan in Economic Downturn

With plunging oil prices, fight against Islamic State and thousands of refugees, allies must support Kurdistan but financial aid should be coupled with reforms

Oil is a black gold that all is too great when prices are sky-high. It can easily balance the national budgets of many a country. At the same time, an inefficient and unbalanced economy can be easily papered over with the huge windfall from oil revenues.

The oil honeymoon of recent years when prices were at record highs is now replaced by rattled markets and oil based economies who have continuously revised down expectations of the floor in oil prices.

Even low-level estimates of $45 USD a barrel priced in for many 2016 national budgets is been rapidly revised with current prices of $30 USD a barrel.

The ramifications of the oil price drop can be felt across the Middle East but none more so than the Kurdistan Region. Kurdistan was already feeling the burden of financial constraints in 2014 as Baghdad halted budget payments. The first half of 2015 was hardly much better as budget disputes with Baghdad meant that Kurdistan was left with no choice but to resume independent oil exports.

But this isn’t any normal economic crisis. The financial crisis has intensified at a delicate and unprecedented juncture for the region. Kurdistan is at the heart of a vicious war with the Islamic State (IS) that naturally warrants significant expenses in addition to catering for 1.8 million refugees and internally displaces persons that need food, medicine and shelter.

Simply put, the Kurdistan revenues are insufficient to cater for refugees, Peshmerga, military equipment and supplies and public wages with the majority of the people directly relying on salaries from the government.

The current revenues are largely from oil sales but one must not forget that this oil is not been pumped for free. The International Oil Companies operating in the region under already tight financial regimes must be paid.

An obvious solution is of course to pump more oil, but since prices have continued to tumble, this is hardly a rewarding ploy and at the same times the upgraded infrastructure to do this costs significant money.

All these factors point to an unsustainable situation for the region. The economic cloud should not mask the need for economic reforms, decreasing the heavy reliance on oil revenues, tightening of budgets, implementing new tax reforms, reducing the high dependence on imports and of course addressing the heavy reliance on the state for salaries.

However, the current situation is simply unmanageable and Kurdistan needs to be supported by the United States and its key allies at this difficult juncture. Iraq, with its own financial conundrums, can hardly be relied on or trusted to come to the aid of the Kurds.

Kurdistan cannot ignore 1.8 million refugees nor can it lighten its burden against IS. Kurdistan must be given the credit it deserves at the forefront of the coalition fight to oust IS from Iraq and Syria.

It must be given the military aid and financial assistance required to shore up its finances but at the same time must embark on an extensive economic reform programme of its own to safeguard and own its destiny.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As UK and Germany vote for military intervention, the Paris tragedy should not overshadow years of brutal suffering and atrocities in Syria

The vicious Islamic State (IS) coordinated attacks in Paris last month dominated the media and sent shockwaves across Western capitals. Just this week, governments of the United Kingdom and Germany voted to intervene militarily in Syria owed strongly to the events in Paris.

But while media and public discussion has been dominated by the threat of IS, did the Paris attacks really change anything that we didn’t already know?

For a Syrian war fast approaching its 6th year, humanitarian catastrophe, bombings and bloodshed has become a daily reality. Over 7.5 million people have been internally displaced whilst a further 4 million refugees have escaped the country.

Over 250,000 people have been killed in a brutal war with seemingly no end in sight. As tragic as the Paris atrocities were, it should not mask the suffering and deaths of the thousands of civilians in Syria, Iraq and the greater region. No life should be deemed more precious than another.

The Syrian war that began in 2011 is nothing new for Western governments who are only now been prompted to take bold action. IS was as much a threat before Paris attacks as it is now. The brutality and mass hardships in Syria are as much of a reality now as they were for the past 5 years.

Western governments have a tendency to only react when problem reaches their doorstep. Too often the suffering and conflict have been seen as wars in a distant land, not a war that very much implicates them.

United States and European intervention in Syria was too slow and tepid and the greater foreign policy lacked conviction or consistency. Regional powers raced to take sides in the conflict with various interests in the outcome of the war.

IS militants and various other groups were able to roam freely across Turkey’s long porous border with little regard to the ensuing danger that would unfold.

IS were in the ascendancy and gathering strength long before West eventually intervened last year and that was only prompted by IS capture of large swathes of Iraq than their already considerable domination of Syria at the time.

IS atrocities in Syria were quickly introduced to Iraq as thousands of Christians and Yezidis were slaughtered and over 6000 Yezidi girls were imprisoned under the most horrible conditions.

Now, not only is the West subject to a grave threat but also faces swarms of refugees that the European governments are struggling to deal with.

Of course, people point to the danger of terrorist elements amongst the refugees but so many refugees would not pursue perilous journeys in the first place if their homes were not destroyed and their lives shattered.

As brutal as the Paris attacks were, we must see the bigger picture of human suffering and not only react when tragedy strikes close by. Western governments must do all they can to not only implement short-term measures to bring security and stability to their respective states but finally end the tragic suffering of millions of people.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc


The battle for Tikrit – Iraq going down “that” sectarian road again?

Why does the following sentence hold so much significance? Iraqi forces, backed by thousands of Shiite militiamen and Sunni tribesmen and supervised by the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, launched an attacked to retake the Islamic State (IS) held town of Tikrit, without the assistance of Coalition forces.

This sentences pretty much sums up Iraq’s past, present and most likely its future failings. Just who are the ‘official’ government forces and why after a decade of rebuilding, extensive training and supplied with vast amounts of weaponry, do they need to be significantly augmented by Iranian backed Shiite militia or indeed led by an al-Quds Force commander?

Any sense of a united force is lacking in Iraq and having wasted the chance for several years to build a cross-sectarian and multi-ethnic armed force, the scene is dominated by one of a number of different forces depending on where you are in Iraq.

Whilst hundreds of Sunni tribesman have played a role in the Tikrit offensive, currently it is more of symbolic than of real strategic value. There are plenty of Sunni tribes that are anti-IS and support Baghdad’s efforts but by large the Sunni position from the pre IS days has not been drastically addressed.

Sunnis continue to view the Baghdad political chambers and its Shia dominated security apparatus with distrust and resentment. It is easy to forget that IS strolled into town amidst widespread Sunni protests and continued clashes in the traditionally problematic Anbar province.

As the combined Iraq force slowly makes progress around Tikrit, there is a growing danger of a wider sectarian divide. Crucially, the liberators must be separated from the eventual protectors. If the Sunnis do not lead the protection and control of their heartland then this is a recipe for disaster.

Iranian backed militias on the Sunni doorstep simply echoes the sentiments that led to the Sunni welcome from some sections as the IS blitzed in to town.

In fact, the Iraqi Sunni tribal and various Baathist forces became so blended with the IS ‘label’ that it is often misleading when attacks merely become tagged as against IS. There is a danger that sectarian atrocities could be committed under the banner of banishing the evil of IS.

The Sahwa or Sunni Awakening Councils that drove al-Qaeda out of the Sunni hotspots is an example that Sunnis can be enticed into the fold – but the success of the Sahwa initiative was greatly diluted as the Sunni tribal forces were not sufficiently embedded within the national security apparatus and the opportunity to lure the Sunnis into a greater political role was lost by Baghdad.

Even as the Coalition plays no part in a key offensive against IS in Iraq, the US has somewhat tried to brush off the Iranian influence in the battle for Tikrit but this fact is not lost on weary regional powers. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal pointed to the offensive in Tikrit as the prime example of the anxiety of Gulf States of Iran “taking over” Iraqi forces.

With the U.S. in deep negotiations with Tehran over the curbing of its nuclear program and concern amongst regional powers that US is softening its stance on Iran, hardly soothes this regional anxiety.

In the words of US General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the hodge-podge of Iraqi Humvees and various vehicles who darted towards Tikrit like “rush hour on the Washington Beltway”, will ultimately overcome IS forces in Tikrit due to their “overwhelming numbers.”

The US is naturally worried that their enormous investment in eradicating IS will be hijacked by Iran as it increasingly displays its influence and plays a leading role by training militia and providing general arms and increasingly sophisticated weaponry.

Of course, Iraqi forces in spite of any backing from Iran would not be anywhere near Tikrit if it was not for the significant coalition airstrikes.

The greater concern for Iraq is whether the common threat of IS, where battles rage from Kurdistan to the north, Anbar to the West or to the gates of Baghdad further south, will be bring the county closer together or even wider apart?

Unfortunately, augmented by the growing political rifts with Kurdistan, all the signs currently point to the latter. As U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter pointed out “We’ve been down the road of sectarianism in Iraq and it’s important that the government of Iraq not go down that road again.”

When you have a significant Shiite militia backed by Iran that is perhaps more powerful than the official state forces leading the road to Tikrit, it’s hard not to see that in spite of Carter’s warnings, Iraq is going down that road again and fast.

Tikrit is the all-important dress rehearsal for Mosul. If Iraqi forces get bogged into a protracted battle with IS or worse the situation turns into sectarian anarchy, then the battle for Mosul will no longer be Iraq versus IS but Shiite versus Sunni.

First Published: Daily Sabah

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As Iranian commander and Shiite militias spearhead attack on Tikrit, more questions than answers emerge from Iraq

As lines of Iraqi Humvees and trucks jammed the roads to Tikrit with thousands of Iraqi forces looking well-motivated and itching for battle, on the surface this would point to all the positive signs – Iraq was finally ready to banish the Islamic State (IS) from their doorstep.

However, as Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, pointed out, eventual recapture of Tikrit is not the burning question. The key issue is the security and political apparatus that is left behind to support Tikrit and other Sunni towns that are retaken.

Whilst Sunni tribal forces play a role in the battle for Tikrit, it is the unmissable presence of thousands of Shiite militia supervised by commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani that speaks volumes.

Kurdistan leaders have repeated warned that without the support of local Sunni tribesman in Tikrit and particularly Mosul, any military offensive will ultimately not have the desired long-term goals.

Masrour Barzani, Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, reiterated warnings this week that “Without the Iraqi army and, more specifically, Sunni elements within these forces, it will not produce the results that we all hope for.” Barzani also lamented the lack of supplies of heavy weaponry to the Peshmerga forces even as Kurds play leading role against IS.

The Tikrit offensive was underscored by a lack of Coalition involvement. It also comes amidst signs of cracks with the coalition over strategy. Where the U.S. openly lauded a looming spring offensive to retake Mosul, Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi quickly reminded that Baghdad would determine the timing for any Mosul offensive.

It was Iran pulling the strings in Tikrit and whilst U.S. officials have played this down for now, this has hardly soothed regional anxiety.

“As the Iraqi army stands up more and more, militias and external actors are going to be less and less imperative and needed,” US Secretary of State John Kerry tried to reassure its coalition partners. But for Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, Tikrit was example of the Iranian “take over” that they are worried about.

Iraq has been engulfed in sectarian storms since 2003. On paper it built a considerable state force with years of training and US military aid, yet without support from Shiite militias, attacks such as that on Tikrit are simply not possible.

Sunni Sahwa or Awakening Councils that were crucial to previously driving out al-Qaeda have shown that Sunni tribal leaders can be enticed. But many of their demands, such as embedding Sahwa forces into the official security apparatus and greater control of their affairs were not met and increasing sectarian policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki fanned more Sunni discontent which eventually led to the welcoming of IS in various Sunni circles.

If greater local Sunni support can be attained in Tikrit and Mosul, IS can be much more readily defeated.

Of greater importance is the shape of Tikrit and Mosul that is left behind, if Sunnis can take control of their own security and see humanitarian assistance and reconstruction from Baghdad then stability can be achieved.

If Shiite militias or any semblance of Iranian marks are left behind on these cities or if Baghdad wastes yet another opportunity to entice the Sunnis with greater political and security representation, then a sense of déjà vu cannot be avoided.

One of the conditions for the eventual support against IS was that the new Iraqi premier, Haider al-Abadi, could achieve the elusive U.S. hope of a plural and stable Iraq with cross sectarian and ethnic representation.

In Iraq, there remains as always more questions than answers.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

With Kurdish forces in ascendancy against IS in Syria and Iraq – coalition must focus on empowering vital allies of today, not training of Syrian and Iraqi forces that may come too late

As the barbarous threat of the Islamic State (IS) has become the top global concern, Kurdish forces have taken center stage in the fight in Iraq and Syria.

Peshmerga forces have been instrumental in breaking any notion of invincibility of IS. Meanwhile, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Forces (YPG), have proven that on both sides of the border, the US-led coalitions biggest bet against IS are the Kurds.

Since the siege of Kobane was broken after months of fierce battles with the help of Peshmerga forces and hundreds of coalition airstrikes, YPG forces have been on the offensive, retaking hundreds of villages in the area and dealing a blow to IS.

Advances also included sections of the vital highway that connects IS forces from Aleppo to Raqqa, as YPG and Peshmerga forces closed on another vital border crossing with Turkey – Gire Sipe (Tel Abyad).

YPG forces also took control of the strategic town of Tel Hamees in the Hassakah province in recent days, clearing dozens of villages along the way. The battle against IS, cannot be confined to local battles in Iraq or Syria – the battle is one and the same.

With the Peshmerga continuing to choke IS supply lines around Mosul, Shingal and key areas on the border with Syria, YPG led advances break a vital IS bridge linking forces across the border.

However, as symbolic as Kurdish gains appear to be in Syria, they are by no means irreversible. IS may have lost strategic ground and their pride will be hurt, but they far from a spent force.

Whilst coalition air strikes have been pivotal in Kurdish advances on both sides of the border, it brings into full view the lack of short-term urgency in the US strategy.

The US plans to start training the first batch of moderate Syrian fighters as part of its wider initiative to defeat IS. Unfortunately, the 5000 or so fighters will only be ready by end of year and in total there may be 15000 fighters after 3 years.

This is where the vast cracks in policy appear. The battle against IS is now, not end of the year or in 3 years’ time.

Crucially, the YPG were supported by Syrian rebel fighters. It proves that as fractured as the opposition forces are in Syria, alliances can be affective. YPG forces need support now if they are to firstly hold onto their gains and secondly if they are to continue their vital push into IS strongholds.

Syrian Kurds have proved an affective fighting force but they remain somewhat in the shadows of Turkish suspicion and anxiety over empowering them any further.

Turkey has to choose between a strong Kurdish force that will be vital to defeating IS and bringing stability to the Turkish border, which has been the real gateway for IS, or seeing that IS regains the upper hand whilst moderate Syrian forces get trained.

The people greatly afflicted by IS cannot wait whilst Syrian rebels or Iraqi forces are trained. Only this week the militants abducted over 200 Christian Assyrians in the same area that YPG forces later liberated.

If US continues to focus on Syrian and Iraqi forces, the gains against IS will be diluted. As much as YPG forces need arms, Peshmerga forces are in need of heavy weaponry and equipment. Yet the US has focused on training Iraqi battalions to retake Mosul.

Ironically, the same Peshmerga forces are then expected to make further sacrifices in joining the battle for Mosul, when local Arabs have not been enticed to fight.

With coordinated action across the borders, IS can be split further and their effectiveness greatly hampered. Does the US provide necessary arms and support to the Kurds now in their ascendency, or do they drag out the war waiting to train Syrian forces?

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As Iraq prepares for Mosul battle, sentiments in post-Islamic State Iraq unlikely to change

Fasting approach a year since the Islamic State (IS) darted across the Syrian desert to rapidly occupy Mosul, this week an official from the U.S. Central Command laid out plans for a spring offensive on the city involving Kurdish and Iraqi forces.

The five Iraqi brigades expected to spearhead the attack are subject of frantic efforts by coalition forces to complete training on schedule. The smaller brigades will serve as reserve forces with three Peshmerga brigades playing the crucial role of pinning down IS fighters in the north and west of the city.

Whilst a spring offensive is highly symbolic for Iraq and the Coalition, it is less a question of training but more whether Iraqi forces will sufficiently motivated to drive out thousands of well-armed IS fighters or if sectarian affiliations will once again prove a handicap.

Moreover, the long-term questions still cast a dark cloud over Iraq – the size and buy-in of any Sunni force, their role in the battle for Mosul and whether they will be sufficiently enticed into an IS-free region after years of animosity and mistrust of the Baghdad government and Shiite dominated forces.

Even if IS driven from Mosul, who assumes control of the city? If Baghdad does not deal with the Sunni card effectively, something that it has failed to properly address since 2003, then any post IS Iraq may not be a far cry from the one before it.

Sunnis continue to view Iraqi forces with mistrust, not to mention the sectarian militias who have for many years been a source of blood-letting.

As for Baghdad-Erbil tensions, although the Kurds have played the pivotal role of containing and driving back IS, the divide with Baghdad has if anything only increased.

The oil exportation deal struck in late 2014 between Baghdad and Erbil, which delivered a glimmer of hope that age-old tension over oil exports and revenues would finally be settled, has once again stalled. You would think that with the menace the IS poses, Baghdad would focus on the task at hand, and not the ubiquitous policy aimed curbing Kurdish drive towards full autonomy.

The Kurds quickly took control of Kirkuk in the aftermath of the IS onslaught as Iraqi forces wilted away. Giving up control of Kirkuk has become a Kurdish red-line, but there are clear signs that Sunnis and Shiites will not accept such a view.

Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani warned that Kurdish control of Kirkuk was not a topic of discussion. “…they must know that either we will all die, or Kirkuk will never fall to the enemy ever again,” Barzani vowed.

Barzani warned that only the Kurds can decide if they needed support in Kirkuk, “unless we make such a decision no other force is allowed in Kirkuk,” Barzani stressed.

However, the growing presence of Shiite militias on the borders of Kirkuk, principally aimed at IS, but certainly as a show of force against the Kurds, demonstrates that in spite of all the Kurdish sacrifices against IS, Baghdad’s stance towards the Kurds remains unchanged.

As Barzani insisted that Shiite militiamen would be “prohibited under any circumstances” from entering the Kirkuk, Hadi al-Amiri, a top Shiite militia commander, vowed that his forces “are able to go wherever if needed”.

The question remains, are such forces really needed to protect Kirkuk or attack Tikrit and Mosul?

If IS can be defeated, then it is likely that Baghdad would insist on a return of Iraqi troops to Kirkuk. It was the lack of competence of the 12th division in Kirkuk that caused the vacuum in the first place.

Barzani urged Arabs who oppose IS to “play your roles” and to come forward “with action, not words alone”.

But are Arabs really ready to reconcile, unite and bridge the sectarian divide? Unfortunately, this is very doubtful.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

At the forefront of the war on Islamic State, yet Arab suspicions of Kurds highlight failed state

Months of fierce fighting and several hundred coalition air-strikes later, the Islamic State (IS) finds itself largely on the defensive, but as a spate of attacks across Iraq clearly showed in recent days, IS is an adaptive and determined organization that is far from a finished force.

As recent Peshmerga advances around Mosul threatened to choke vital IS supply routes, IS militants launched a series of attacks on Kurdish positions to the south of Kirkuk. The aim of the move was to sow new fear amongst the people and show it can still strike at the heart of Kurdistan but also to divert Kurdish forces from the real IS prize – Mosul.

US-led coalition airstrikes have no doubt been in instrumental in keeping IS militants on the back foot, but the protracted and deadly battles have shown the limitations of airpower without an effective ground force.

Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani highlighted this very point, “The question is: is the policy one of containment, or to dislodge and destroy them?” adding, “In order to totally eradicate them, further action must be taken.”

Barzani rejected any notion of the Kurds spearheading an attack to wrest control of Mosul, to avoid any ethnic battle between Kurds and Arabs.

Such fears speak volumes about the fractured nature of the Iraqi landscape. Whilst Kurdish advances have proved pivotal against IS in recent months including protecting areas where the Iraqi army originally fled, some noises in Baghdad and in segments of the Sunni population have viewed Kurdish advances against IS and their defense of disputed territories with suspicion.

The Peshmerga have lost over 700 men since the start of the conflict with thousands more wounded. They have afforded protection to Arab areas not to mention hosting thousands of refugees. Furthermore, Kurds filled a security vacuum and didn’t oust Iraqi forces from Kirkuk and the like. What would have happened to such cities if IS had a free ticket to roam in or indeed if Kurdish forces were not protecting the city in recent days when IS launched attacks on Kirkuk?

As Barzani explained, “there is no loyalty to a country called Iraq. It really is important to find a formula for how to live together within the boundaries of what is called Iraq. Unless a formula is found, there will be more bloodshed and the country will remain a destabilizing factor in the region.”

And here is the problem, whilst Peshmerga have advanced against IS in the north, it is Shiite militias and not really an Iraqi army that have thwarted IS from the doors of Baghdad in Anbar and Diyala provinces.

A number of Sunni tribes are fighting IS but by large the disenfranchised Sunnis have not been enticed to fight IS forces. On the contrary, prior to the IS advance, Sunni dominated areas of Iraq where gripped with protests and violent skirmishes with security forces and some influential tribes welcomed IS with open arms.

Barzani played down any imminent joined attack on Mosul setting the fall of this year as a more realistic target. For any chance of IS to be eradicated, Iraq needs some semblance of an effective national force including the all-important Sunni components in Mosul.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

As Peshmerga continue advance on Mosul, Kurds repaid with no seat at international anti-Islamic State conference

When the Islamic State (IS) launched rapid attacks on Mosul, Tikrit and large swathes of Iraq, the well-equipped and sizeable Iraqi army wilted away. Ironically, IS took large quantities of US-supplied heavy weaponry and laid siege on more Iraqi cities and then Kurdistan.

The United States led coalition has spent billions and several hundred air-strikes destroying a large proportion of their own weaponry.

As the Iraqi army evaporated, the Kurds took center stage in the battle against IS. The sacrifices of the Peshmerga have directly resulted in the IS staying largely on the back-foot and on the defensive.

It was highly symbolic that in the same week that Kurdish force took control of several towns and villages in an offensive west of Mosul bringing Mosul center firmly within range, that Kurdistan leadership was not even represented at the international anti-IS conference in London.

Kurdistan forces have gained international-wide coverage and respect as the champions of the war against IS and Western powers, seeing the strategic importance of the Peshmerga in the fight against IS, have supplied heavy weaponry and ammunition to the Kurds.

The Kurds hoped that their ever increasing strategic standing would have enshrined their quest for independence. After all, they were the real defenders of the so-called disputed territories in Iraq, it was their forces that led the push-back against IS and it was their bastion of peace and tolerance that IS wanted to break.

The Kurdish role took on greater significance for the West but yet again it appears that the Kurdish effort is diluted by the Western obsession of a united Iraq. It was as though, Iraqi Prime Ministers Haider al-Abadi presence was all that was necessary.

Baghdad has proven anything but a true representative of the Kurds. When IS attacked Kurdistan and the disputed territories that Baghdad so stubbornly refused to hold referendums over, the Iraqi army was nowhere in sight. In fact, for over a decade Baghdad has refused to fund the Peshmerga forces even though they have protected Iraqi cities amidst al-Qaeda and inter-sectarian conflict, never mind the fight against IS today.

Kurdistan President, Massoud Barzani, who expressed his disappointment at the organizers of the conference, stated “it is unfortunate that the people of Kurdistan do the sacrifice and the credit goes to others.” Barzani highlighted that the Peshmerga “are the most effective force countering global terrorism today” and that “the people of Kurdistan bear the brunt of this situation and no country or party can represent or truly convey their voice in international gatherings.”

Meanwhile, Abadi pleaded for more weapons. The problem is not providing heavy weaponry to the Iraqi army, they have already received plenty. The underlying problem is that sectarian animosity, lack of belief in a national cause and no common loyalty, means that such provisions were quickly wasted.

It is time for the Kurds to receive military assistance and the due credit they deserve. The continuous illusion of US and European powers of a unified Iraq was one of the main reasons for the IS onslaught in the first place. If Iraq as a nation was fractured before the events of 2014, it is now firmly beyond repair.

Stable, secular and pro-Western forces are values and allies that the US should be running to protect and endorse, they have hardly got them in abundance in a rapidly deteriorating Middle East.

With a major assault to retake Mosul mooted for the spring, already hesitant Kurds must be thinking twice of further sacrifices in fighting Baghdad’s war.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.