Finders keepers, losers weepers

Evin Cheikosman

 By Evin Cheikosman:

Congratulations to the Kurdish men and women, who have expelled the Islamic State from Kobanê on January 26th, and are now working harder to extend their influence to the surrounding areas currently under IS control. Support for the YPG, YPJ, and the Peshmerga is growing on many levels:


  • The U.S. led airstrikes are hitting IS targets harder and more frequently. As Kurdish fighters move towards surrounding the Iraqi city of Mosul in efforts to cut off the IS supply lines from Syria. About 15 U.S. and coalition airstrikes have been conducted over Iraq and 11 over Syria from 8 a.m. Friday (February 6th) to 8 a.m. Saturday.
  • On February 6th Germany announced their decision to supply $13m worth of military aid to Kurdish fighters in Northern Iraq. According to multiple sources, the German defense ministry revealed that the aid includes 30 anti-tank missiles, 203 bazookas, 4080 rifles, 40 pistols, 10000 hand grenades, 10 military vehicles, 10 ambulances, 6.5 million bullets and winter military clothing.


  • Many westerners and former soldiers are leaving the comforts of their own home to aid the Kurdish fighters battling the IS. “I decided that if my government wasn’t going to do anything to help this country, especially Kurdish people who stood by us for 10 years and helped us out while we were in this country, then I was going to do something.”- A quote from U.S. soldier Jordan Mason, who joined the Kurdish ranks last year.

Of course there are many more individuals and international actors who have and are helping the Kurds, however the point I want to make in even listing the above is that the domestic support for Kurds is what’s missing in all this.

The Islamic State is a diverse group of Sunni’s who are fighting anyone in opposition to their goals to erase country borders drawn in the early 1900’s (also known as the Sykes-Picot agreement) and create an Islamic caliphate. When these militants first entered Iraqi and Syrian territory that are pre-dominantly Sunni, the people saw them as revolutionaries and thus welcomed their “fellow Sunni brothers.” In Iraq’s case, in particular, after being oppressed by a Shiite led government for years, Iraqi-Sunnis viewed the takeover as an opportunity to finally live freely within their own Sunni central sphere. This belief of course has been overturned as the Iraqi’s realized the ultra-conservative cage, per se, that the IS was creating around them. As the Kurdish fighters liberate these towns and cities from IS control, a high level of distrust surges with Kurds now in the driver’s seat.

Some Iraqis fear that Kurds will soon expel the Iraqis out of their homes to make  way for an independent Kurdish state.  According to various sources, there have been reports that some Iraqis are helping the IS in figuring out Kurdish positions.

This benevolence and semi-loyalty to the jihadists on the domestic level negatively affects the international mission to defeat the IS. In addition it is creating a greater divide between Kurds and Arabs. This a dangerous issue, thus there has to be an overall domestic understanding and collaboration to expel the prime enemy. The people need to first and foremost cease the facilitation of the flow of weapons and supplies to the IS across their borders and through their towns. This is the primary issue as the Kurds continually call for more arms to match the bigger and newer weaponry given to the IS.

This would be the ideal strategy to weaken the IS, but because of the deep rooted sectarian conflict embedded  into the foundation of this country, it will be difficult. What makes it so difficult for the Kurds to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq, in particular, is the fact that those Iraqis loyal to the jihadists see the IS as a form of the Sunni resistance for Iraqis. There is a deep desire amongst the citizenry that the IS will restore Iraq to its pre-2003 borders, and the fact that the U.S. led coalition is  conducting airstrikes against a Sunni- led group  gives legitimacy to the belief that the west is still in favor of an anti-Sunni Iraqi establishment. Such a belief reinforces resentment against the Shiites as well. Given all these complications, it is unlikely that a one state solution to this dilemma will come to fruition.

The world needs to accept that Iraq will never be a unified one, as its longtime sectarian warfare intensifies at the hand of the IS. The border in and around Iraq will inevitably be reconstructed by those who believe it is their ideological duty to do so. In addition, a unified Iraq is teetering more everyday as we witness a reverse of Sadaam Hussein’s Arabization policy go into effect in Iraq. The Kurds, the focus of Sadaam Hussein’s Arabization policy, are taking over territory that their ancestors lived on but were expelled from to make room for Arabs. The Kurds have already taken over Makhmour, Zimmar, Wanah, the area around Mosul dam, Arab villages located in and around the Sinjar mountains, oil-rich Kirkuk, and they are strategizing to surround Mosul to suffocate the IS out which will ultimately result in the Kurds moving in; all this upsets Iraqis who argue that the Kurds should join the Iraq army in defeating the IS. However, given that the Kurds have been pretty much the only boots on the ground strong and fearless enough to battle the jihadists, it is unlikely such a “match-up” will happen. Kurdish fighters are freeing many small towns in Iraq from brutal IS control despite the knowledge that many of these people who the Kurds are helping will never be in favor of an autonomous Kurdish state.

The IS conflict in this country has emboldened pre-existent territorial antagonism between Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds and will only worsen with or without IS presence.  What makes the Iraqi-Sunni population annoyed with the Kurds, however, is the fact that the Kurds have proven to be the only people capable of succeeding in this territorial battle against the IS; also the Iraqis have to resentfully deal with the fact that they have done little thus far to protect their homeland from the jihadists now and when this whole issue erupted in the first place. As one Kurdish commander states,

“[a]ll the current military operations that involve the Peshmerga are implemented in coordination with the international military coalition and the central government is aware of it, but, in the Kurdish areas, we will never ever let Arabs control them again…we are not ready to fight, terrify our fighters’ souls to liberate these areas and hand them to a traitor who would sell it to the killers. We will not allow this scenario to take place again in these areas.”

This isn’t a “land grab;” rather a taking back of what was once the Kurds’ – sorry Iraq.

Evin Cheikosman is a Kurd living in Los Angeles, CA, A recent graduate in International Politics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, she has studied abroad in Berlin, Germany and will soon be traveling to Zhuhai, China on a teaching assignment. Thereafter she will be pursuing a masters degree in foreign affairs. During her free time, Evin posts facts and opinions concerning Kurdish politics on her blog: Minority Politico

One Response to Finders keepers, losers weepers
  1. Jan Best de Vries
    February 9, 2015 | 22:03

    The prize of some 1000 Peshmerga soldiers killed and 5000 wounded, was too high to rely on any foreign help so desperately hoped for during the last months. In Iraq the only guarantee for the safety of Bashur against IS is that the remaining Peshmergas storm Mosul in order to get the American heavy weaponry of IS in their hands, take it and keep it to fight on for the survival of the Kurds in Rojava, just as keeping Mosul itself after declaring the independence of Bashur. In Syria the situation is quite different, here the flow of Russian arms into Syria for The Arab Syrian Army of Assad and Hezbollah can only be stopped by a coalition of Israel and the Free Syrian Army. Here the Kurds of Rojava can only wage a defensive war against both the Arab troops of Assad and those of al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State. Of course, American air support may neutralize somewhat the Russian shipping of modern heavy weaponry via Latakia. This is the present situation in West Asia, sorry for having to tell it to you….

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