Since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, the autonomous area of northern Iraq known as Kurdistan has stood as the lone bastion of stability throughout the entire country. Now, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has its sights firmly set on conquering the Kurds, a move that would send Iraq and much of the Middle East into chaos.
The good news is that American airstrikes have helped the Kurds to repel ISIS’ advance. The American assistance allowed Kurdish forces known as the Peshmerga to take back two key towns that ISIS had taken.
The bad news is that the fight is far from over. ISIS is wounded but not defeated. The Peshmerga is going to need more than just American airpower if it is to turn back ISIS, which had advanced deep into Kurdistan.
That’s why an American official told the Associated Press Monday that the White House would begin to supply weapons directly to the Peshmerga. Previously, weapons sent to Kurdistan were funneled through Baghdad. Because the situation in Kurdistan is so dire, the Pentagon will now deal directly with the Kurds.
ISIS “obtained some heavy weaponry, and the Kurds need additional arms and we're providing those — there's nothing new here," State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said Monday, attempting to downplay the move. She added that the Iraqi government “has made deliveries from its own stocks and we are working to do the same."
The decision to directly arm the Kurds comes after their political leader, Massoud Barzani, made an appeal for assistance. He said that without more international help, it would be difficult for the Peshmerga to hold the ground it retook.
“We are not fighting a terrorist organization, we are fighting a terrorist state,” Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government, said Sunday. “The weapons they possess are more advanced than what the Peshmerga have.”
A stable Kurdistan is vital to the future of a stable Iraq. Compared with much of the rest of Iraq, Kurdistan has a functioning economy and reliable infrastructure. It also has billions in tapped and untapped oil resources.
Stability in Kurdistan is not just important for Iraq. It’s also important for Turkey, which shares a border and has a sizable Kurdish population. If ISIS takes Kurdistan, it would be on Turkey’s doorstep. And being on Turkey’s doorstep also means that it’s on Europe’s doorstep, as Turkey is a bridge to the continent. As the group has proven in the past, it’s has ambitions far beyond Iraq and Syria.
This is why Turkish F-16s have been flying over Kurdistan to monitor ISIS’s advance.
“As a strategic neighbor, the stability and security of the Kurdistan Region is important to Turkey and to keep that stability Turkey will do whatever falls on its shoulders,” deputy head of Turkey's ruling party Huseyin Celik said last week. “The Kurds and Turkmen of Iraq are our relatives and now that they are facing difficulties we will not stay silent.”
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