Azad Lashkari / Courtesy Reuters A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier, October 25, 2005.
Foreign Affairs From The Anthology: Endgame in Iraq
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Kurds to the Rescue

How to Get the Kurdish Regional Goverment to Take on ISIS

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. 

And there are good reasons for the KRG to work for ISIS’ killing 18 people. ISIS is unpredictable and it could, in the near future, pose legitimate security risks to the Kurdish region. For a Kurdish government that has cultivated a reputation for providing security, ISIS attacks would be a massive blow. Moreover, although ISIS has trained its attention on Baghdad for the time being, military conflict with the Kurds could flare up in several places. ISIS is fighting sporadically with the peshmerga in northern Diyala, which the Kurds want to control because of its proximity to the Kurdish-majority city of Khanaqin. In Kirkuk, too, the line between the peshmerga and ISIS is dangerously taught. The Kurds control most of the province. Sunni insurgents, however, control the southern parts, including Hawija -- the site of deadly violence between Sunni protestors and the Iraqi government last year. According to a Kurdish source, the region now shares a 1000-kilometer (620-mile) border with insurgents.

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