Iraq: ISIS poses Kurdish dilemma for Washington

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…

  1. Peshmerga lose a round to ISIS

    ISIS militants pursued their advance in the north of Iraq Aug. 3, capturing strategic territory close to the Turkish and Syrian borders, including the Mosul dam, Iraq's biggest, and the Ain Zalah oil field—adding to four others already under their control. Two towns were also taken. The advance marked the first major defeat for Peshmerga forces since ISIS seized much of Iraq's north in June.

    The newly sezied area is near the Sinjar Mountains, inhabited by the mostly Kurdish-speaking Yazidi minority. Hundreds of Yazidi families have fled to Daouk for fear of persecution by ISIS. They are among 200,000 who have fled the Sinjar area. (VOA)

  2. Yazidis face extermination

    In a rare instance of the world media taking note of the Yazidis, the Washington Post reports that up to 40,000 have taken refuge on top of Mount Sinjar, overlooking the town they were driven from by ISIS. A few of them have cell phones that are still working, and have got out the word that they are dying of thrist one by one—with at least 10 children dead already. "There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads," said Marzio Babille, the UNICEF representative in Baghdad, where the report was filed. "There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It's a disaster, a total disaster." 

    "Children have died because of dehydration and lack of food," Vian Dakheel, a Yazidi parliamentarian from Sinjar, said through tears. "My people are being slaughtered," she continued, referring to reports of mass killings of those who had stayed behind.

    The Guardian adds that appeals for emergency food and water drops to the mountaintop have gone unheeded because of ISIS control of the surrounding country. At least 500 Yazidis, including 40 children, have been killed in the past week, local officials say. Many more have received direct threats, either from the advancing ISIS militants "or members of nearby Sunni communities allied with them." Some 150,000 have fled to Kurdish-controlled territory.