US Continues to Fail to Show Strategic Leadership in Fight Against ISIS

By Biza Barzo:

Almost simultaneous terrorist attacks in France, Kuwait and Tunisia on June 26th killed dozens of people, barely 24 hours after massacres in and around Kobani. ISIS attacks against Kurds in and near Kobani served both tactical and propaganda goals. The Kurds, however, have by now become the most effective fighting force against the Islamic State, with Kobani becoming the site of the first major defeat for ISIS after a lengthy siege in which Kurdish forces ultimately beat back and repelled them.

Kurdish forces have so far been the only force on the ground demonstrating a will to fight that matches the Islamic State’s. They have defended Yazidis and Christians, as well as Arab Sunnis, who all together make up the bulk of nearly two million displaced persons taking shelter in autonomous Kurdistan.

But perhaps what most reveals commitment by the Kurdish Peshmerga is how they hold the line with so little material assistance on the one hand, while on the other hand being surrounded by a number of ineffective passive actors, among them the Iraqi army which lacks the will to fight and has on several occasions run away from the battlefield and left the fight to the Peshmerga. We also have Turkey, which not only suppressed the Kurds for a long period of time but has also turned a blind eye to the Islamic State, not even considering it as a threat but instead only adding to the struggle faced by Kurdish forces. During a recent speech, which The Daily Beast reported, Erdogan vowed not to accept a move by Syrian Kurds to set up their own state, and the Turkish president was planning to invade Syria, to stop the Kurds and not ISIS: which basically sums up Turkey’s priorities at this time.

Massive amounts of weapons have been bought by a number of European countries to arm the Kurds, but American commanders, who are overseeing all military operations against ISIS, are blocking the arms transfers and demanding the weapons to be channelled through Baghdad.

One of the core complaints of the Kurds is that, while the Iraqi army has abandoned so many weapons in the face of ISIS attack, the Peshmerga are fighting modern weaponry with out-of-date equipment. The US has been aiding the forces on the ground fighting ISIS for some time, but their choices of the forces to support and the mechanisms to deliver support are questionable. As disputes between the KRG and the Central government in Iraq have been ever ongoing, the Iraqi government has continuously let its well-trained military run away from the battle field and left the fight to the unexperienced and not well-equipped Peshmerga, while also sending only a very small portion of the weapons received from the US to the Peshmerga.

The US refuses to directly arm the Peshmerga, who have in fact been the only major force on the ground fulfilling the supposed US objective of defeating ISIS without a repetition of an Iraq war or having a massive number of American soldiers killed.

An alternative solution, the crucial need for the right serious partners in the region to defeat the Islamic State, and the lack of will and commitment by the Iraqi army are issues that have been considered repeatedly by the Obama administration and most recently by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, Chris Murphy. Another question comes up here: isn’t directly arming the Peshmerga and other Sunni forces in the region, or developing a secure efficient mechanism for sufficient weapons to be delivered directly and separately to the different forces on the ground, including the Peshmerga, without having to going through the corrupt Iraqi central government, an alternative solution?

The arguments that come up in response are that the US hesitates to directly arm the Kurds for reasons such as the isolationist approach of the Obama administration, the threat to the “unity of Iraq” – as if there is any to begin with – and the threat to the US partnership with Turkey. Then the question becomes one about the priorities of US foreign policy in the Middle East; do the policies of the US need to be black or white, or can there be a middle ground in having neither intervention nor isolationism? Since the US continuously stresses the importance of supporting the right partners in the region, perhaps the time has come to determine who the true right partners are – the corrupt central government which has declared that it does not want US help in any way and is basically a satellite of Iran, or the Kurds, who have actually made significant efforts towards defeating ISIS on behalf of the rest of the world, and have proved themselves to be reliable US boots on the ground against the extremists? Is it the right call for the US to take into consideration Turkey over and above Kurdish forces at this critical point when ISIS has demonstrated again its interest in expansion and recapturing territories, especially the strategic city of Kobane which ISIS re-entered five months after it was secured by Kurdish forces, causing a large number of casualties; while Turkey, in many respects, fears Kurdish forces and Kurdish independence more than it fears ISIS.

The United States appeasing a Turkish state which supports Jihadists will only result eventually in more chaos in the region; and their support for the Iraqi government will only result in the strengthening of Iran as a regional power and will not benefit the fight against terrorism. An efficient and rational alternative solution is to develop a mechanism to separately arm the different Kurdish and Sunni forces on the ground in order, first, to eliminate the power of the Islamic State and, second, to prevent interdependent relations and domestic disputes among the different groups that could lead them to a defeat. The US needs to more deeply consider the interests of the groups they are arming on the ground. Ultimately, ISIS will continue to perpetrate the kind of horrors we have seen in recent weeks because it sees potential propaganda and strategic gains.

Biza Barzo is an International Studies student and a researcher based in Kurdistan and currently in the US researching about US foreign policy in the Middle East with a main focus on the KRG

6 Responses to US Continues to Fail to Show Strategic Leadership in Fight Against ISIS
  1. Ardalan
    July 8, 2015 | 20:04

    IS will die when it sees best universities, skyscrapers, 5 star hotels, health clubs, movie theaters, etc. US Forces only advice. Iraqi government and citizens take over.

  2. Suggestions
    July 8, 2015 | 20:23

    My suggestions for all:

    -Iran end its nuclear program. Meet P5+1 demands. Lift international economic sanctions.

    -Iran, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, grant Kurds and all other religious and ethnic minorities their rights.

    -Kirkuk and all Kurdish territories belong to Kurds.

    -Turkmen, Christians, Yezeids, Chaldeans ,etc. must reserve equal rights in Kurdistan.

    -End all wars.

    – Make Peace with Israel.

  3. Kelly Cowan
    July 9, 2015 | 00:59

    I wonder where the Kurds in Iraq and Syria would be right now if it were not for the US coalition that Obama has brought together in their defense. Kurdish lands would be under the control of Daesh, that is where they would be. This article is a bunch of ungrateful childish nonsense. Shame!

    • Biza
      July 10, 2015 | 05:48

      Thank you for your response. However, I believe that if you pay close attention, you will notice that this article aims to stress on the notion of current US foreign policy priorities and two main issues; one being Obama administration’s flaws in selection of the right regional partners to defeat the threat of ISIS, and secondly to point out the administration’s lack of trust in the Kurds as dependable local forces on the ground to be armed directly. The question is not what Obama has done so far to defeat the threat, but rather whether his administration are considering the threat of ISIS to be critical enough to be prioritized at this critical time.

  4. Soran
    July 11, 2015 | 06:23

    In response to Dr. Michael M. Gunter, Professor of Political Science at Tennessee Technological University in regards to Obamas Administration as well as possible U.S. position concerning Kurdish independence in Iraq and Syria:

    Just like some other oppressed nations across the globe, Kurds have been fighting for their inherent independence right for hundred of years. Just because Obamas Admin vetoes Kurdish independence at this point does not imply Kurds will abandon or discontinue their struggle.

    When Isreal reclaimed its historical lands back, when majority Muslim Pakistan seceded from Hindu India, when Christians and Muslims Sudanese decided to partition the country, most countries probably did not voice their support for it in first place. They had no interest to even get involved but they did what was in their best interests.

    In addition, Kurds have not yet obtained any official degree of autonomy in all 4 parts of Kurdistan as of now. Iraq future is in limbo. Syrian Kurds are repeatedly threatened to be invaded by neighboring powerful Islamist AKP. Ocalan and PKK peace talks must yet be resolved.
    Both oppositional Kurdish political parties and Tehran need to engage more seriously in diplomacy.

    In sum: Independence is always an option on the table depending on the right time and circumstances. It may be delayed but never will it be denied.

    Thank you for your personal views.

  5. Hashar
    July 12, 2015 | 08:23

    Will Kurds focus all their efforts on fighting Terrorism for the rest of their lives or strive to push a peaceful divorce from Iraq! Who leads here? Who determines Kurds destiny? Where is a young blood revolutionary to rise up against you and start chanting some independence slogans on the street to motivate others! Can Qubad Talabani or Masrour Barzani do it ?

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

Trackback URL