The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) now occupies a territory the size of Jordan, stretching from the edge of Aleppo to the outskirts of Baghdad. From there, it poses a grave threat to regional and U.S. security interests. Yet those who seek to stop it have few options. ISIS easily trounced the Iraqi security forces, which outnumbered the jihadist group 100-1. And it could likely do the same to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that have trickled over the border to bolster the Iraqi forces; Iran’s elite fighters are simply spread too thin across Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, the United States seems unwilling to send U.S. troops back into the fray at all.
Enter the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and its skilled (and intact) peshmerga forces. The Kurds field the only proper army left in Iraq, and, for that reason, the United States and Iran will each attempt to draw the Kurds into the conflict. Yesterday, during a meeting in Tehran between Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Iranian officials reportedly asked the Kurds to join the fight against ISIS. U.S. officials apparently hope that the Kurds will step in as well. Indeed, if Washington wants to quell ISIS, the peshmerga are its best bet.
But will the United States and Iran get what they want? Some think so. Among oil executives and seasoned Iraq analysts, for example, some believe that the Kurds can be moved by the prospect of oil revenues and budgetary guarantees alone. The KRG has piped nearly three million barrels of oil to Ceyhan, Turkey, but it has struggled to sell its product on the world market -- not least due to Baghdad’s interference. Should the Kurds cease to meet resistance on oil sales, the thinking goes, they will be more inclined to support the United States and Iran against ISIS.