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Rudaw

Analysis

The Kurds could free Raqqa and Mosul, but should they?

By Paul Iddon 7/11/2015
Kurdish Peshmerga at a graduation ceremony at the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center in Erbil. April 2015. Photo: AFP
Kurdish Peshmerga at a graduation ceremony at the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center in Erbil. April 2015. Photo: AFP

Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani described the joint US-Kurdish commando operation on a prison in Hawija as a “turning point” in the war against ISIS.

Indeed mere days after that raid Washington announced that it will be deploying a small number of special forces on the ground in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) along with a task force in Iraqi Kurdistan. They will likely coordinate future offensives against the ISIS-occupied cities of Mosul and Raqqa.

While both offensives will consist of coordinated efforts between different groups the Kurds of both Iraq and Syria will undoubtedly play key roles in both battles. Kurds in both countries are expected to undertake yet more sacrifices by mounting offenses outside their respective territories in order to eliminate this terrorist threat. Despite the fact that it will be in their own interests to do so, they should, reasonably, expect much more assistance than what they have faced so far.

The Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) are going to make-up the backbone of the new Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) group which will also include Arabs, Assyrians and Turkmen minorities from that part of Syria and whose task will be to march south and pressure ISIS in Raqqa and eventually uproot the group from its capital.

U.S. air support to the YPG has been decisive in its fight against ISIS especially throughout the lengthy siege of Kobani. The YPG has also given the Americans a decisive edge over ISIS in Syria due to the lack of any other effective ground force they have had to work with in Syria. They will be instrumental in any effort to drive ISIS out of Raqqa and the U.S. knows they are their best option in Syria in lieu of a direct American ground intervention, which is unlikely to happen.

In addition to providing these Kurds with the weapons they will need to lay siege to Raqqa the U.S. should also seek to secure Kobani and Afrin from attacks by the Islamists who occupy 68-miles of Syrian territory between those two Kurdish cantons. Remember Turkey intentionally opened fire on YPG forces recently under the pretext that it only adhered to a policy (that the U.S. supports) against the YPG moving west of the Euphrates from Kobani.  And this in turn prevents the YPG from pushing ISIS out of Jarablus which lies just to the west bank of Euphrates.

ISIS has been firing mortars and other projectiles across that river at villages near Kobani, terrifying Kurds who, upon detecting strange smells in the areas shelled, fear ISIS are also trying to poison them with chemical agents – which ISIS has already used against both the Peshmerga and the YPG before.

The U.S. should accordingly take steps to remove this threat to the Syrian Kurds. Otherwise how could Syrian Kurdish leaders justify focusing their important resources on the battle of Raqqa while their own civilians at home are fired at and may be subjected to poison gas attacks?

Similarly Washington's policy towards Erbil could do with some revision. Washington has provided the Peshmerga with very inadequate financial aid and weapons to enable them to hold a 650-mile front against ISIS. It wouldn't be a violation of the principle of the One Iraq policy to increase the amount of arms it allots to the KRG through Baghdad. Any new increase in arms support should also keep in mind the defense of Kirkuk where, remember, the Peshmerga are not only defending Kurds but also Iraqi Arabs who have sought sanctuary there from ISIS.

Furthermore Washington should also insist, and ensure, that the KRG have the means to mount offensive operations as part of a broader Iraqi effort to retake Mosul since it really cannot realistically expect the Peshmerga to even contemplate marching on Mosul while barely possessing enough arms and military hardware to defend its own territory.

Aside from the fact that Baghdad could not defend Kirkuk from ISIS's infamous advance last year Erbil has reasons to be concerned about the fact that Baghdad may not be able to rein in some of the powerful Shia militias who may seek to remove the Peshmerga from Kirkuk in the future. Baghdad has yet to implement Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution in order to resolve that contentious issue. Washington should urge Baghdad to do that, too. It should also reassure Baghdad that a strong KRG, a U.S. ally, isn't a threat. If anything it should be viewed by Baghdad as a bulwark against ISIS.

In short the United States needs to take solid steps to solve these aforementioned issues on behalf of the Kurds of Iraq and Syria if it expects them to do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the extremely unenviable task of destroying the ruthless and violent adversary embodied by ISIS. 

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ܣܗܕܐ ܝܘܢܢ
ܣܗܕܐ ܝܘܢܢ | 7/11/2015
My guess would be No as Raqqa and Mosul will cost alot of casualties.
Gerdi | 7/11/2015
Look IS poses a big threat to us and everyone else, for us more so than others (at least for now). So yes if the opportunity presents itself we should absolutely take them on both in Mosul and Raqqa. It's the best thing to do for us, and we owe it to our martyrs and our people who got slaughtered in Shengal. With that said it's the duty of the coalition (specially the US) to provide our forces here in South Kurdistan and in Rojava with everything they need to get the job done. It's not going to work so well if we see other fighting forces in Syria and Iraq who are not pulling their weight receive a lot more arms and equipment, Kurdish lives are not less valued than others.
Reber | 7/11/2015
Good insight, but I don't understand why the mainstream media bother to hide the fact that "Syrian Democratic Force" is a made up term for the US to aid the YPG?. The New York Times exposed this two weeks ago. The Turks who are the main reason the US administration made up this term for, knew this from the very beginning, so why keep up the ridiculous charade?. The Turkish army has been trying to provoke a clash with YPG none stop since this "Syrian Democratic Force" lie was announced. Most of those few Arab and Christian fighters who are incorporated were armed and trained by YPG, so they were YPG before this "Syrian Democratic Force" became a term.
FAUthman | 7/11/2015
Then there is the Russian approach for how to defeat ISIS in Raqqa which may be already unfolding: keep bombing until ISIS caves in, with little regard to civilians killed and destruction to the city. The US may abandon Syria for the Russians to defeat ISIS, and focus on Iraq only!
Flaminco | 7/11/2015
"Remember Turkey intentionally opened fire on YPG forces recently under the pretext that it only adhered to a policy (that the U.S. supports) against the YPG moving west of the Euphrates from Kobani. And this in turn prevents the YPG from pushing ISIS out of Jarablus which lies just to the west bank of Euphrates" So by now every journalist on the planet knows that the Turkish army fired at Kurdish forces who tried to take on ISIL in Jarabelus (which is ISIL's last life line from Turkey). The only question remaining is why isn't this reported by the international news agencies? the Turkish army and government announced this publicly!
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