Via The New York Times’ Opinion Pages — The Islamic State continues to control a huge section of Syria. But in Iraq, its advance has stalled. While Shiite militias and their Iranian allies fight the Islamic State ferociously, the Kurds have held a 640-mile front against the Islamic State’s advance. Their steadfastness should prompt America to rethink its alliances and interests in the region and to deepen its relationship with the Kurds — who are frequenty described as the world’s largest stateless nation.
The Kurds Need American Help to Defeat ISIS
Lydia Wilson and Hoshang Waziri from Artis, a nonprofit group that uses social science research to resolve intergroup violence, found that the Kurds demonstrate a will to fight that matches the Islamic State’s. But the Kurds need the United States’ help to defeat ISIS.
To be sure, coalition airstrikes have prevented Islamic State forces from deploying heavy artillery to break Kurdish lines, although Gen. Sirwan Barzani, the Kurd who commands the main front between Erbil and Mosul, said that a Pentagon lawyer must approve every strike (a policy intended to minimize chances of civilian casualties from drone attacks). Sometimes, that approval comes too late.
Furthermore, the United States insists that the Kurds obtain permission, grudging and often denied, from the central government in Baghdad for essential equipment to counter these and better weapons that the Islamic State seized from the Syrian and Iraqi Armies.
ISIS Brutality Toward Sunnis and Shiites
The Islamic State has not been kind to the Muslims who live in the areas they control. The Islamic State will say to a local sheikh: “Give us 20 young men or we loot your village.” To a father with three sons, they will say: “Give us one or we take your daughter as a bride for our men.” One girl of 15 told how she was “married” and “divorced” 15 times in a single night to a troop of Islamic State fighters (under some readings of Shariah law, “divorce” is as easy as repeating “I divorce you” three times, which makes it easy to cast rape as marriage). In the face of such brutality, wavering supporters of the Islamic State could well rally to an Arab Sunni force allied with the Kurds. That is a prospect the United States, which fears leaving the fight mainly to Iran and its allies, should welcome.
Kurdish leaders say they would accept a federated Iraqi state if they were given autonomy in political, economic and security matters. The United States should have agreed to do this long ago; it’s not too late to do so now. If America does not, Iraqi Kurdistan will most likely declare itself an independent state, which Turkey, Iran and Syria will move forcefully to stop, for fear that their own Kurdish populations will try to join it.
The United States must help the Kurds translate their bravery into a true ability to defeat the Islamic State. They are America’s most reliable friends on the ground, and should be treated as such.
[Read more at The New York Times]