As the unfolding humanitarian crisis intensified in Kurdistan, the world can ill-afford to become bystanders once more to massacres against the Kurds or fail to match mere rhetoric with tangible support.
Under great pressure, US President Barack Obama, finally authorised air strikes against ISIS forces threatening the Kurdistan Regional capital of Erbil and the thousands of desperate Kurds from the Yezidi community stranded on Mount Sinjar.
Yet Obama’s reluctance to get involved was all clear to see. Obama hesitated to get involved in what he deemed would be taking sides in a sectarian war as the Islamic State (IS) first took Iraq by storm in June.
However, the IS phenomenon is anything but a local crisis, it’s now a major global concern. The US support of their Kurdish allies has been lukewarm as their obsession of keeping a united Iraq and fears of a Kurdish drive towards independence has led to disconnect with realities on the ground.
“When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” Obama said. “We can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”
Unfortunately, it is no longer about preventing genocide. With thousands of Yezidis and Christians brutally killed and thousands more Yezidis dead due to thirst and starvation on Mount Sinjar, genocide and massacre has already been committed. It is now only a question of preventing further genocide.
Kurdish suffer from oil exports, Baghdad and IS
The more that Washington treats Iraq as a whole piece, the more that the Kurds suffer. Obama added, “The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces,” making it clear that intervention would be limited.
Obama needs to distinguish between Kurdistan and the general term “Iraqi”. IS was not a problem created by the Kurds but due to years of marginalisation and centralist policies of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Even under the current IS whirlwind that has taken Sunni rebels to the doorsteps of Baghdad, Maliki was reluctant to reach out to Sunnis and stubbornly refused to relinquish yet another term as Prime Minister. Iraq is broken and the Kurds are facing the greatest blow-back for failings of the state or policies of Baghdad.
A great example is the controversy over Kurdish oil exports. In the hope of preventing the collapse of Iraq, the one-sided US policy that frequently favours Baghdad, continues this notion of Iraqis resolving their issues without assessing the situation on the ground.
The Kurds are owed billions of dollars of payments for their share of the national budget since January. Deputy Spokesperson for the US State Department, Marie Harf, recentlystated “There is no US ban on the transfer or sale of oil originated from any part of Iraq…Our policy on this issue has been clear, Iraq’s energy resources belong to all of the Iraqi people. These questions should be resolved in a manner consistent with the Iraqi constitution.”
The same Iraqi constitution that the US refers to is already clear, it doesn’t need negotiation but implementation.
Now Kurds are deprived of much need oil revenues with a tanker anchored off the shore of Texas, no budget payments and are then expected to fight Baghdad’s war with a lack of weapons or support. “Stronger Iraqi forces” should also translate to stronger Kurdish forces.
Obama stated that the US and its allies had failed to “appreciate” the weakness of the Iraqi security forces. The problem was never a lack of arms but a lack of will tied to growing sectarian splits in Iraq. Funnelling yet more US advanced weaponry is not a solution.
The phobia of keeping Iraq united and not bolstering the Kurds for fear of seeing them breaking away, will lead to more to more massacres under the hands of extremists.
Even as Kurdistan was under great threat, Baghdad was quick to undermine Kurdish leadership with Amer al-Khozai, adviser to Maliki, stating they were “pay(ing) the price for the negative positions it took against Baghdad”. Al-Kohzai urged Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani to “correct his mistakes against the federal government so as to face the terrorism threat that has started to threaten the region.”
Kurdistan has to contend with an uncompromising Baghdad, a determined and well-equipped enemy in IS and lack of international support.
Following US commitment to limited air strikes, the response of EU powers was initially limited to support of humanitarian operations before sentiment within the EU rapidly turned in favouring of arming the Kurds.
France was one of the first EU powers that promised to support the Kurds. In discussions with Barzani, French President François Hollande “confirmed that France was available to support forces engaged in this battle,” before later confirming plans to supply arms to bolster Kurdish forces.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier admitted in a statement that “It is clear that (humanitarian aid) is not enough and we have to see what we can do beyond that.” Referring to “new horrors”, Steinmeier added “We condemn these despicable crimes, targeted at entire communities, in the strongest terms.”
Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, strongly condemning the “barbaric attacks”, backed US military action as he insisted on the need to help the Yezidis in their “hour of desperate need”. While the UK quickly ruled out military intervention, momentum in recent days has strongly turned to arming the Kurds.
There are growing calls from MPs to bring the matter to UK parliament. Prominent Labour MP, Mike Gapes, voiced criticism of UK government’s response and urged recall of parliament to debate the issue.
UK Labour MP, Tom Watson, stressed that the sovereign view of the parliament was need than unilateral decrees and warned that “We cannot abandon Iraq to the black flags of Isis any more than we could leave Europe to the Kaiser or to his black-shirted inheritors 22 years later.”
Lord Dannatt, the former head of the British Army, warned that history will be their judge and believes that UK has a “moral obligation” to join the air strikes on Iraq and even station troops to create a safe area. Dannatt urged “Parliament needs to be recalled and the West needs to face up to its responsibilities.”
Kurdish need arms not sympathy
The Kurds are more than capable of defending their territory, however, no sheer will or numbers will ever win a war. The Kurds need advanced firepower. The IS is anything but a militia. After taking huge amounts of advanced US sourced military gear from the Iraqi forces, they are now a formidable force.
Kurdistan Head of the KRG’s Department of Foreign Relations, Falah Mustafa Bakir, stated “Christians and the Yezidis must be protected. We do not wish to face this war alone. The international community must act and the US should take its responsibility. We need advanced weapons and ammunition to fight the terrorists.”
Sharing an immense border with IS, Kurdish forces are spread across a wide area. Jabar Yawa, chief of staff and spokesman for the Ministry of Peshmerga, stated “It is a vast area…We need a lot of troops to protect and cover almost 40 kilometres of land.”
In a response to Iraqi Yezidi MP, Vian Dakhil’s passionate cry for help, Obama declared “…today America is coming to help”. It is not just today but the needs of tomorrow that Kurdistan must be provided.