Why Does ISIS Fight the Kurdistan Region?

By Nawzad Jamal:

ISIS war criminals

ISIS war criminals

Answering a simple question like this can cause us a headache because there is not only one convincing response. I keep myself away from arguments like the one that a Kurdish political party is suspected of having dealings with ISIS at the time of the first attack on Mosul. Those kind of theories are very hard if impossible to verify.

Due to the ISIS campaign of rapid advance to seize Mosul and its vicinity, Kurdistan became isolated from Iraq. The scenes of bulldozers carrying images signifying the destruction of the Sykes-Picot borders embodied a group of hints and strategic messages, revealing the main purposes of ISIS. At that moment the Kurdistan border with the ‘Islamic State’, running for a thousand kilometers, became a challenging truth. Despite the danger of the ISIS force, it was not then expected that it would shift its aggressive attentions towards Kurdistan.

Many people didn’t believe that the amateur expansionist strategy of the ‘Islamic State’ would be at the expense of the Kurdistan region. Simple interpretations of ISIS conduct and ideology proved to be superficial. The ISIS advances were carried out with the support of many people in Mosul and other Sunnis from the north and the middle: that’s the result of Maliki’s aggressive policy towards them. At the same time, a serious political fervor was being felt in Kurdistan around the issues of independence, referendum as a means to insist on self- determination, the oil issue and conflict between Erbil and Baghdad, changing the prime minister…etc. Our naivety and credulity made us to believe that this dragon would not attack our den because we and the Sunnis are in the same boat against Maliki; therefore, we are safe!

But ISIS could seize the opportunity through its strategy of capitalizing on the widespread belief that Sunnis are oppressed; Maliki became less powerful than ever, inside or outside Iraq, and Maliki’s government is the main reason for current crisis in Iraq.

In addition, benefiting from the Israel /Gaza war, they attracted Islamic public opinion into thinking that ISIS is their saviour and presenting themselves as a future hope for Palestine later. It was also clear that Kurdistan did not want to fight against ISIS or take sides in this war.

It is obvious that, due the military and logistical factors, ISIS cannot advance on the capital Baghdad, since it is a big city and its percentage of Sunnis is less than previously; the announced goal of ISIS to take control of Baghdad was nothing but a tactic to deceive its enemies. ISIS could also outwit its enemies’ interpretations by frightening and terrifying them as well as by exploding Hussaynies (Shias Mosque), shrines and expelling ethnic and religious minorities and killing many Shia soldiers. They could also have exploded Imam Askari shrine and Mosul Dam but it did not happen because this was not their aim, and many other aggressive actions, such as suicides by self-explosion, were not the main and core aim of ISIS, at least for now, but rather a tactic to deceive its enemies.

So, the question is: why is ISIS fighting the Peshmargas? In my view the biggest factor is petroleum. Taking over the petroleum fields, gas and natural resources were their main motives in changing their direction towards Kurdistan. It is clear that ISIS does not want and isn’t able to come to the Kurdistan Mountains; therefore, its advances are mostly in the countryside and foothills. Moreover, ISIS found out that its neighbor (Kurdistan) is its competitor for petroleum, which is also one of the basic problems between Erbil and Baghdad. Beside the petroleum matter, ISIS also wants to secure natural resources for waging its war and building a strong economy. Therefore, it was not possible for this new neighbor to accept any expansion of the Kurds’ petroleum borders. Clearly, ISIS can no longer be seen as a card for the Kurdistan region to use against Baghdad and to regain the disputed areas.

Nawzad Jamal is researcher and Instructor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Salahadeen-Erbil.

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