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Iraq 2014 Developments and Kurdistan

In the spring of 2014 extremist Sunni militant groups liberated western and northern areas of Iraq from the Shia dominated central government. The group, called by many names, but officially known (self-designated) as the Islamic State, soon turned its attendion to Kurdish held areas of northern Iraq in early August of 2014.

The Islamic State fighters attacked areas north and east of Mosul, some areas close to Erbil, and regions of northwestern Iraq (notably Sinjar). At first the Peshmerga had a difficult time - yielding terroritory to the IS (July 2014 timeframe); however, by late August the Kurds counterattacked in a number of locations pushing the IS fighters back and regaining lost territory.


Kurdish Factor in 2014

One primary group in Iraq that is both benefiting and suffering from the current Sunni-Shia conflict is the Kurds. With the fall of Mosul the Iraqi army also vacated Kirkuk. The Kurds quickly moved their forces into this oil-rich but disputed city. However, the Kurds and the central Iraq government are at odds with each other. In mid-2014 the central government cut off the flow of arms, money, and equipment; which affects how well the Kurds can fight off ISIS. The Kurds reached out to the United States for assistance 1. but initially (at least publically) the U.S. did not respond with much help to the Kurds (certainly a short-sighted decision that soon was reversed when the depth of the ISIS threat became more known).

Who are the Kurds? The Kurds are a secular, democratic group that reside in several countries to include Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. In Iraq they live in a large part of the northeastern area of the country (mostly mountainous terrain) and are linguistically and cultural different from the Arabs of Iraq - both Sunni and Shia. Throughout history the Kurds have always been supportive of the United States and were true allies during the 2003-2011 Iraq War. During this war the Kurdish zone was known as a "safe area" for U.S. troops.

Kurdish and Islamic State Battle Each Other. The Kurds are resisting ISIS advances into their territory. However, in early August 2014 ISIS did make some advances 2. against the Kurds in Sinjar, Rabia, and in areas northeast of Mosul. The Kurds and ISIS share a 600 mile long border.

Initial Non-Support by the United States of the Kurds. Once again the Kurds may find out that the United States is not the "great friend" we pretend to be. History shows that the U.S. will walk away from the Kurds when it is politically expedient.

Betrayal of Kurds by U.S. in the 1970s.  In the early 1970s the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was covertly supporting the Kurds against the Iraq regime and the United States was encouraging the Kurds to rebel. In effect, the Kurds were surrogates supporting the Shah of Iran and the United States. 3. The Kurds were operating in camps from the Iranian side of the border. However, the United States (Henry Kissinger) helped to broker a deal (Algiers Agreement 1975) between the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein that brought a temporary peace between those two nations. As part of the deal the Kurds were sold down the river by the U.S. when the U.S. government stopped the support to the resistance, pulled its CIA advisors, and revealed the locations of Kurdish resistance forces along the Iran-Iraq border to the Iraq security forces. 4. These camps were promptly attacked and the Kurdish resistance movement decimated.

False Hopes during Desert Storm. Once again, during Desert Storm in 1991, the Kurds were asked by the U.S. to revolt against Saddam Hussein. The U.S. promised them aid and assistance. The Kurds revolted, driving their Peshmerga forces south towards Baghdad. Unfortunately (for the Kurds) the U.S. signed a ceasefire agreement with the Iraqi forces and Iraq promptly moved north against the Kurd revolt. The U.S. allowed Iraqi Hind-D Mi-24 gunships and thousands of T-72 main battle tanks to head north and decimate the Peshmerga - not doing anything to stop the carnage against the Peshmerga and Kurdish population. 5. The result was over one million refugees crossing the border into Iran and almost 1/2 million arranged in over 30 camps located on the Iraqi side of the Iraq-Turkish border and thousands of Kurds massacred and thousands more starving or freezing to death in the snowy mountains of northern Iraq. The Bush administration was so embarrassed by this betrayal of the Kurds in the court of world opinion and the constant coverage of Kurds stranded on mountain tops dying from hunger and exposure that it felt compelled to respond. Bush partially regained some standing among the Kurds with his full-court press to provide humanitarian aid to the Kurds in the Provide Comfort operation of the spring of 1991.

Unrealized Expectations. In the early days of the Iraq War (2003-2011) the Peshmerga were stalwart allies of the United States. The 10th Special Forces Group moved into northern Iraq prior to and at the start of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and, working with the Peshmerga tied down a number of Iraq divisions and liberated many northern Iraq cities such as Mosul, Tal Afar, and Kirkuk. Once the Peshmerga occupied Kirkuk (a life long aim of the Kurds to regain a lost city) Paul Bremer (head of the Coalition Provisional Authority or CPA) pressured the Kurds to withdraw. Of course, this move by Bremer - a former partner of Henry Kissinger's law firm - should have been anticipated by the Kurds.

'One Iraq". And now . . . the U.S. refuses to provide weapons, supplies, or funds to the Kurds saying that the assistance has to come from the central government of Iraq. This goes a long way to ensure that the Kurds don't break away as an independent nation or establish an independent part of Iraq that has little to do with the central government in Baghdad. So the bottom line is - the U.S. will not assist the Kurds to the extent that it makes it possible to break away from Iraq.

Shortsightedness of the U.S. Unfortunately, the only military force currently in Iraq that can actually stand up to the Islamic State is the Peshmerga. 6. But to do that they need continued funding, heavy weapons, intelligence, ammunition, and air support. 7. There are many who believe that the U.S. should ignore the incompetant Iraq government in Baghdad and arm the Kurds with weapons, supplies, equipment, and money. 8. In addition, the United States should strongly consider the deployment of advisor teams from the 10th Special Forces Group - a military special operations unit with an extensive history of working with the Kurds and in the Northern Iraq region. 9.

Kurds Have Trouble Exporting Oil. The broken relationship between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraq central government has hurt the economy of the Kurds. The central government has cut off funding for the Kurds and the Kurds are being prevented from exporting some of its oil. The United States is not helping much in the ability of the Kurds to sell its oil. 10.

Kurds Respond to Islamic State Attacks Against Kurdish Territories. The Kurds finally came off the defensive in early August 2014 following a number of offensive actions by forces of the Islamic State (capture of Sinjar and other locations along the ISIL / Kurd border). 11. The Peshmerga mounted counterattacks into the Sinjar area and locations surrounding Mosul and also south of Kirkuk. It seems, based on early news reports 12., that the Iraq government has supported this counteroffensive with air support; which although limited in tactical value may provide a psychological boost. The Kurdish offensive provided some relief to the Yazidi sect - a minority people found in the location of Sinjar, Iraq area who are fleeing Islamic State fighters. 13. Some Kurdish fighters from Turkey and Syria have entered Iraq to fight against the Islamic State fighters in the Sinjar area (along the border of Syria); the fighters are identified as local self-defense units using the acronym YPG. 14.


August 2014 - Limited Airstrikes,
Humanitarian Assistance, and Arms to Kurds

The United States conducted a series of limited airstrikes in support of the Kurds against fighters of the Islamic State. Several positions were hit in support of Erbil (the Kurd capital). Air strikes also supported the Kurd counterattack to regain two towns (Gwer and Mahmour) along the "Green Line". 15. In addition, air strikes were conducted to support the Yazidis people stranded on Sinjar Mountain. The air sorties continued through August and into early September of 2014.

Humanitarian Assistance. C-17s and C-130s dropped food and water to stranded Yazidis who were atop Sinjar Mountain as well as to other areas where a humanitarian crisis was taking place.

Arms and Supplies. The U.S. acknowledged in early August that it had begun to supply arms and supplies directly to the Kurds. Previously the U.S. stance was that arms could only come from the Iraq government; however, the U.S. government soon came to its senses - admittedly much too late for some observers.


Maps of Kurdistan

Areas of Kurdish Population
www.businessinsider.com/heres-a-map-of-the-kurdish-nation-2014-6

"The New Map of the Middle East", The Atlantic, June 19, 2014.
www.theatlantic.com/ . . . the-new-map-of-the-middle-east/373080/

Iraqi Kurdistan - Maps of the World
www.mapsofworld.com/kurdistan-map.html

Atlas of Iraqi Kurdistan - Wikimedia Commons
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Atlas_of_Iraqi_Kurdistan


Websites with Info on the Kurdistan

Peshmerga Fighters of Kurdistan
http://www.iraqwarnews.info/kurds/peshmerga.html


Papers and Reports on Kurdistan and the Kurds
(listed in chronological order by date)

July 28, 2014. Life Under ISIS in Mosul, by Jenna Lefler, Institute for the Study of War. A read on what life in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, is like under the rule of the Islamic State (ISIS) can be accessed at this link.


Videos about Kurdistan

Where is Kurdistan? A short video (2 mins) that depicts areas of Kurdistan in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey using a Google map. (2011).
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7IpUyM4w_w

 



Endnotes

1. For more on the Kurds request for U.S. assistance see a news report by The Washington Post dated July 24, 2014 at this link.

2. See Kurdish Forces Suffer Major Losses Against Islamic State, Voice of America (VOA), August 3, 2014 at this link.

3. For more on the Kurd support of the Shah of Iran against Iraq see "Master of Treachery: Kissinger on Iraq", Counterpunch, February 4, 2010 at this link.

4. For more on the betrayal of the Kurds during the 1970s see "Flashback for the Kurds", The New York Times, February 19, 2003 at this link.

5. For more on the sell-out of the Kurds during Desert Storm see "Will the U.S. Sell out Kurds Once Again? Now, The United States Says That It Won't Let the Kurds Down"., Philly.com, August 7, 1992 at this link.

6. For more on the Kurds as the best option for fighting the Islamic State see "Kurds to the Rescue: How to Get the Kurdish Regional Government to Take on ISIS", by Dov Friedman and Cale Salih, Foreign Affairs, June 17, 2014 at this link.

7. See more about the U.S. non-support of the Kurds in "Will the U.S. help the Kurds fight ISIS?", The New Yorker, August 4, 2014 at this link.

8. There are many who advocate arming the Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State - read "Army the Kurds", Bloomberg View, August 5, 2014 at this link.

9. The 10th Special Forces Group based at Fort Carson, Colorado with a forward battalion located in Stuttgart, Germany has worked with the Kurds off and on from Desert Storm to 2011. This unit has received extensive Special Forces training that has provided its Green Berets with the ability to train, advise, and assist paramilitary indigenous units such as the Peshmerga.

10. See "Kurds ask U.S. to Scrap Seizure Order", Maritime Executive, August 4, 2014. The U.S. will not allow the Kurds to export oil to the United States; lining up with the Shia dominated central government against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). View at this link.

11. For more on Kurd counterattack see "Kurdish forces to launch counterattack against Islamic State fighters", Chicago Tribune, August 4, 2014 at this link.

12. See more at "Iraq offers air support to Kurdish fighters", BBC News Middle East, August 4, 2014 at this link. The Iraq governments previous stance provided no economic or military support to the Kurds - so this is a change.

13. See "Iraqi Yazidis stranded on isolated mountaintop begin to die of thirst", The Washington Post, August 5, 2014 at this link.

14. The YPG comes from Kurdish areas of Syria - see "Thousands of Kurds from Turkey, Syria enter Iraq to battle Islamic State", Stars and Stripes, August 6, 2014 at this link.

15. For more on US airstrikes supporting Kurds see "Capitalizing on U.S. Bombing, Kurds Retake Iraqi Towns", The New York Times, August 10, 2014 at this link.

 

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