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Will Paris atrocity foster stronger French-Kurdish cooperation against ISIS?

By Paul Iddon 15/11/2015
French President Francois Hollande (R) with Kurdish President Masoud Barzani at Erbil international airport during his visit to the Kurdistan Region, September 2014. Photo: AFP
French President Francois Hollande (R) with Kurdish President Masoud Barzani at Erbil international airport during his visit to the Kurdistan Region, September 2014. Photo: AFP

Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani offered a message of condolence to France and its people in light of the heinous crime in Paris for which the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility. Barzani pointed out that France has stood with the Kurdish region in the fight against their mutual Islamist enemy.

For his part, French President Francois Hollande deemed the terror attacks “an act of war” and accordingly vowed to “triumph over the barbarism” of that group and “act by all means anywhere, inside and outside the country,” to confront it.

This indicates that the French president may pursue a more rigorous campaign against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. In both countries French fighter jets, operating from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, and soon the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle which is returning to the Persian Gulf, are bombing ISIS-related targets as part of the U.S.-led air campaign. What Paris will do in light of this atrocity will be very telling given the fact that there is plenty France can do in addition to the air strikes it is already carrying out.

Already under Hollande's government France directly intervened on the ground in the African nation of Mali back in 2013 after an al-Qaeda offshoot seized over two-thirds of that country. A detachment of approximately 4,000 French soldiers helped the Malian Army kick those Islamist's out of the major urban centers in that country, including the ancient city of Timbuktu. Since then French forces have remained in that country where they have been carrying out low-level counter-terrorism operations.

Whether Hollande will pursue a similar strategy in Iraq and Syria against ISIS has yet to be seen. But if he does he would doubtlessly seek to work closely with the Kurds. The Europeans have sent arms to Iraq's Kurds to help them fend off ISIS attacks. Germany donated modern assault rifles to the Kurdish Peshmerga last year and has also helped train those Peshmerga forces who recently kicked ISIS out of the Sinjar region and seized important routes which connect ISIS-occupied territory in Iraq from Syria. A more direct French intervention now could further weaken ISIS and speed up its demise and defeat.

If we take Mali as a precedent, and bear in mind that any increased action France takes against ISIS from now on will be in light of the gravest terror attack on its soil in decades, then it wouldn't be far-fetched to anticipate a detachment of French ground troops being deployed against ISIS. Such forces would most likely seek to, at least, coordinate with the Kurds, especially in the Kurdistan Region. As with the Germans French advisors could train more Peshmerga in the run-up to the long anticipated battle to retake Mosul, a blow Paris likely wants to play a much larger, and visible, role in now. Similarly in Syrian Kurdistan France could assist the Kurds there and with their consent possibly use their territories as a launchpad to pry Raqqa from ISIS's grip.

While admittedly both scenarios are speculative, nevertheless far more likely than they were just hours before the Paris attack. France certainly has the means, as it demonstrated in Mali, to successfully coordinate and fight with friendly ground forces against such groups. Perhaps we may see the transpiration of joint French-Peshmerga anti-ISIS operations in the not-too-distant future. 

A French ground deployment in Iraq alone, even for the ad-hoc purpose of combating ISIS, would be quite an interesting development. The very Sykes-Picot border that has been frequently discussed since ISIS's symbolic dismantlement of it last year was drawn to demarcate not just the boundaries of the then new emergent nation-states, but British and French spheres of control and influence in the region. While France has a colonial legacy in Syria (Syria's independence day is, after all, celebrated on the date that the French evacuated in 1946) it has none in Iraq.

In more recent times France played a major role, along with the Soviet Union, in arming the tyrannical Saddam Hussein regime with advanced aircraft throughout its 1980's war with Iran. Following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which Paris was a member of the multinational coalition, French warplanes joined British and American ones to enforce the no-fly zones over Iraq's Kurdish north and Shia south but pulled out in 1998. France also didn’t participate in the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Since Hollande became France's president however there has been a notable shift in France's foreign policy. Namely it has become much more interventionist when it comes to combating the threat of Islamist terrorism at a time when Washington's appetite for foreign interventions declined in the post-George W. Bush presidency and post-Iraq War era. This was strikingly salient after August 2013 when the Obama administration solicited the help of Britain and France to attack Assad for crossing Obama's “red-line” over the usage of chemical weapons. London and Washington fell back on Parliament and Congress respectively who both voted against such an intervention. Hollande, who was ready to start bombing, was reportedly shocked by the decision.

In the air campaign against ISIS France has maintained an active role at hitting any target it deems to be of value to ISIS, be it economic military or otherwise, to undermine the jihadis ability to project terror. That will likely be stepped up in the coming weeks and months and if the French do deploy ground forces to take on that group head-on they will more likely than not seek to work more closely with Erbil.


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Welat | 15/11/2015
Problem is ISIS is supported by a NATO member Turkey and a major oil producer Saudi Arabia, both of which are Western allies. The world knows that but has chosen to be blind to the facts. The Kurds have been on the very front line of the fight against ISIS. The truth is we Kurds have been fighting this menace called ISIS with very little help from civilized world. I hope this was a wake up call to realize that what happened in Paris is witnessed by Kurds every day. Turkey blocks Kurds from pushing ISIS back and is directly responsible for the ISIS carnage and should be held accountable for that.
Pike | 15/11/2015
Terrorists thrive when there is political and military vacuum. The world is leaderless right now, hence a terrorist haven.
Brzoo Kurdi
Brzoo Kurdi | 15/11/2015
The history between France and the Kurd is a great history , France has always been a great friend of the Kurd , there is no doubt, that we the Kurd need help to remove the cancer cell from our this surgical operation we need smart and sharp tools , to remove the cancerous cell around Kurdistan....i have always been proud of the french for admitting that the Turkish atrocity against Armenian was a genocide.
kurt basr | 15/11/2015
I hope so, but as long as Turkish AKP cult & their leader Erdogan, who is leader of the Muslim brotherhood & staunch supporter of the Salafi ISIL savage criminals are running the Turkish republic, that will be unlikely. The biggest mistake of the western civilization is? letting Mr. Erdogan who is zealot Salafi Muslim to open gates of the Europe, by supporting those ISIL criminals, and because of their membership of the NATO letting Turks to slaughter the Kurds, who are secular & fighting those ISIL savage cutthroats fiercely. Today's Turkish republic as a Nato member is hosting almost all of the Muslim terrorist groups w/ the Sunni/ Salafi faith (Uyghurs, Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Dagestanis, al Qaeda, ISIL, Hamas & both Egypt & Syrian Muslim brotherhood org, etc), but these civilized nobel Nato members are letting this terrorist state bomb and slaughter the Kurds daily without shame or any remorse which is insane and unjust.
Brzoo Kurdi
Brzoo Kurdi | 15/11/2015
Nothing will protect us, as a new religion a new God to preach peace and humanity , no more war no more killing , we have to create a new God.we have to create a God who does not preach killing and jihad .

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