Winning the war against ISIL means Iraq will split
This sustained effort will eventually enable the Iraqi Army and Kurdish forces to defeat the extremists but it could also spell the end for the Iraqi state as we know it.
The Iraqi-Kurds have gained the praise of the West for their central role in the fight and have gained significant international sympathy, particularly since the plight of the Yazidi Kurds, who were stranded on Mount Shingal, became headline news in mid-2014.
But the price for their sacrifice is likely to be the creation of a Kurdish state.
The Iraqi-Kurds have autonomy and a regional government in the north but the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party – Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan) are more efficient than the Peshmerga ‘army’ which is anything but.
However, both forces are working together to defend Kirkuk from ISIL after the Iraqi army fled and some Peshmerga troops have been allowed access to fight ISIL in Kobani, Syria. Nevertheless, the PKK and its Syrian Kurdish wing – the YPG – is the main force fighting in Kobani and once the ISIL threat has been defeated it may see the time as ripe to secure official nationhood.
This is important because although the PKK has officially rejected claims to a state it has only recently ended a conflict with Turkey and is registered as a terrorist group by NATO, the US and EU.
This could lead the Kurds to think that backed by significant international sympathy for their plight this would be the time to try to secure full independence post-ISIL. It will require skilled politicians on both sides along with international mediation to navigate a route through this minefield, or there will be more blood.
Until now the Kurds have never had enough military training or equipment capability to fight for independence. But events are coming to a confluence: a weak government in Baghdad, Turkey supporting a move for the Kurdish regional government in Erbil led by the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani to sell their own oil, Washington examining ways for the Kurds to fund their own armed forces, and the influx of arms by airdrop to the Peshmerga.
In late-2014 the Peshmerga were equipped with the British .50 calibre Browning heavy machine guns. They have also been receiving donations of rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition, grenades and other infantry equipment from a variety of sources.
Now the US has supplied 250 MRAPs to Iraq – 25 for the Kurds and 225 for the Iraqi security forces. The latter are due to get more equipment under a government-to-government deal.
Earlier in November, through the US DCSA, the Iraqi government requested 2,000 APKWS for $97 million, which will be contracted to BAE Systems. Then in December it requested 1,000 M1151A1 up-armored HMMWVs, 1,000 M2 .50 calibre machine guns, and 1,000 MK19 40mm GLs for $579 million. AM General is the prime contractor.
Also in December, Iraq requested 175 M1A1 Abrams tanks with 120mm guns, 15 M88A2 Improved Tank Recovery Vehicles, 175 .50 calibre M2s, 350 7.62mm M240s, 10 .50 calibre BR M2 HBs, 190 AN/VRC-92 Vehicular Dual Long-Range Radio Systems, and 700 M1028 Commercial Utility Cargo Vehicles, for $2.4 billion. A contractor has not been decided.
With these armaments flowing into the country, the stage is being set for a conflict between the Iraqi government and the Kurds – unless leaders can find a solution at the negotiating table.