Kurdish Peshmerga forces took control of the town of Zumar near Iraq's border with Syria Aug. 1, routing ISIS militants from oil installations they had taken in a surprise attack earlier in the day. Kurdish authorities said two Peshmerga troops were killed, along with several ISIS fighters, with several more ISIS militants taken prisoner. The Peshmerga victory comes two days after ISIS insurgents blew up the critical bridge over the Tigris River at Samarra, effectively cutting off Baghdad from Nineveh and Iraq's north. The emergence of the Peshmerga as a more potent force against ISIS than Iraq's national army (now approaching a state of disentegration) raises obvious dilemmas. In fact, in 2012, the town of Zumar was at the center of a political crisis between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government. The central government sent military units to Zumar to take the border post, but were stopped by Peshmerga forces. Zumar lies in the northwest of Nineveh governorate, on the border of teritory controlled by the KRG and ISIS. (See map.) (Rudaw, Aug. 1; BasNews, July 30)
A delegation from the KRG visited Washington earlier in July, to press the Obama administration for arms to fight ISIS. (Reuters, July 31) Meanwhile, the ruling State of Law Coalition of outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on the new President Fuad Masum to reclaim the northern territory and gain control of the arms seized by the Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk after the withdrawal of the Iraqi army in June. Coalition leader and parliament member Abboud al-Issawi also said the new president must demand that Peshmerga forces withdraw from disputed areas (a reference, most critically, to Kirkuk) and hand over protection of the region to the Iraqi army. (Tehran Times, Aug. 1)
We can imagine that Baghdad will protest bitterly at any US arms shipments to the KRG. Yet arming the Peshmerga may seem like Washington's best (or only) bet to beat back ISIS.
This isn't just a dilemma for Washington, but for progressives in the West as well. BBC News on July 15 did a compelling feature on an all-female Peshmerga battallion now being trained to go into the field against ISIS. We understand that the KDP and PUK, the two parties that jointly control the KRG, are corrupt, patriarchical machines that have made an alliance with US imperialism… But where else in the Middle East are women taking up arms to fight back against jihadis? Impossible not to take hope from this…