Thursday, January 1, 2015

Baghdad's Dilemma - Lawrence A. Franklin

by Lawrence A. Franklin

The Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are poorly armed.
When you hear an occasional conversation in Persian, you listen harder, or should.

There are U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq. Most, as in the first months in Afghanistan after 9/11, appear to be CIA ground troops. The airline passengers who get off in Erbil, Kurdistan are all males in good shape and appear to be members of Western intelligence agencies, military advisors or diplomatic personnel.

The unobtrusive but well-guarded U.S. Consulate is a tiny, hole-in-the-wall compound on the main thoroughfare in the town of Ankawa, Erbil Governorate. The CIA and military intelligence compound rests on high ground on a nearby mountain. U.S. and West European military advisors train Kurdish Peshmerga fighters behind walled compounds. The American military advisors seem particularly drawn to the Kurdish volunteers' willingness to fight ISIS. The far thunder of allied bombing raids on ISIS pin-point targets can be heard late on most nights.

German military advisors train Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, October 2014. (Image source: Euronews video screenshot)

And of course, there is the U.S. Consulate's small, but larger than usual, Marine guard contingent. Despite this U.S. presence, the Americans are ghost-walkers. They are nowhere to be seen. It is lonely. You do not see anyone who looks like you. So many of the Western businessmen and investors got out when ISIS seemed on its way to Erbil. You can walk for hours and not hear any language except Kurdish or Arabic. However, when you hear an occasional conversation in Persian, you listen harder, or should.

Despite a few missteps in August in the fight against ISIS forces,[1] the Peshmerga's will to fight seems strong and, as can be seen by the huge processing backlog on volunteers, their morale seems high. The backlog list includes many women as well, some of whom may have been inspired by the brave young women fighting ISIS in the Syrian town of Kobane, near the Turkey-Syria border.

The Peshmerga fighters, however, are poorly armed. Iraq's former Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was largely responsible for blocking the delivery of weapons, ammunition, and salaries to the Peshmerga. Nevertheless, since the combined efforts of the newly appointed Prime Minister, Haidar al-Abadi, Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] Prime Minister Nerchivan Barzani, and Federal Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Kurd, the situation has eased but is not totally resolved.[2] One KRG official, in conversation with its Minister of Peshmerga Affairs, Mustapha Sayyid Qadir, exclaimed, "Only half of the new recruits are outfitted with automatic weapons."[3] Peshmerga officers are bitter at Baghdad's failure to supply their troops with heavy weapons, while many such weapons fell into the hands of ISIS, after being left behind by fleeing Iraqi Army units. The Kurds, however, understand the logic of the Iraq's Arab regime: "The more weapons they permit us to have," one wounded Kurdish soldier explained," the more difficult it will be for them to suppress us as they have done so often in the past." [4] This is Baghdad's dilemma: Does it arm one of the few elements presently capable of resisting ISIS, even though such a decision risks strengthening Kurdistan's ability to secede from Iraq in the future?

The new, heavy footprint of allied military assistance for the Kurds may relieve Baghdad of that choice.

[1] The Kurdish Peshmerga forces fell back against determined attacks by ISIS along a belt of villages north of Mosul.
[2] Nightly News of Kurdish Rudaw Television, Al Jazeera reports, and Kurdish Globe Weekly articles.
[3] Source quoted upon agreement to maintain anonymity.
[4] Azad Ihsan.

Lawrence A. Franklin


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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