When he reluctantly announced America’s military return to Iraq, President Obama led with what was clearly his strongest case. Tens of thousands of minority Yazidi refugees were trapped on Sinjar Mountain without food or water — and the surrounding forces of the Islamic State intended to wipe them out.
We are also told America’s staunch Kurdish allies seemed to be unable to stop Islamic State advances on their own, compounding the defeat and disarray unfolding farther to Iraq’s south.
It would take a cynic indeed to claim that the humanitarian crisis on Sinjar was seized upon by policymakers to shoehorn the U.S. back into Iraq. Nevertheless, the timing of the emergency matched up remarkably well with the imperative to rescue the Kurds — the last fighting force in Iraq with the experience, morale and unity necessary to repel the invaders Obama has repeatedly called “terrorists.”
Now, after a lot of airdropped food and water and some pinprick airstrikes, a military assessment has revealed two things that won’t shock the cynics. First, there are now only a few thousand refugees on Sinjar, pretty much eliminating the need for a “specific humanitarian rescue mission” led by the U.S.
Second, the Kurds still need weapons to stave off the Islamic State. In fact, their situation is so bad that they have an unlikely ally to thank for the brief reprieve that has come in the wake of the U.S. airstrikes: guerilla fighters from an organization the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization.
The PKK, as it’s known, is a group of Turkish Kurds that has been locked in a long struggle against the Turkish government in Ankara. “Terrorists” though they may be, McClatchy reports, their experience in the rugged territory of Turkey and Syria has helped them to hold their own in pitched battles with Islamic State armies.
The news is a bracing indication of just how desperate U.S. policy has become in Iraq.
If the Kurds should fall to the Islamic State, the repercussions will be devastating.
The entire economy of the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq — especially its capital, Erbil — is built on oil wealth, which western companies have rushed in to help exploit.
Empowered by such a conquest, the fall of Kurdistan would allow the Islamic State to outflank the beleaguered and disorganized Iraqi forces to the south, near Baghdad.
The Obama administration is already very reluctant to commit more military resources to Iraq — thanks to the destabilizing and destructive presence of Nouri al-Maliki, the rather nefarious prime minister who has been squeezed out of power but refuses to go quietly.
With the Kurds laid low, Obama’s willingness to salvage Iraq will likely decline even further — and those agitating for a massive intervention will have one fewer logistical leg to stand on.
That’s why a large, swift supply of major arms to Kurdistan is essential, not just to the Kurds, but to Obama’s own foreign policy, such as it is. At moments like these, there are no second chances. And in Iraq, the U.S. is already on chance three or four.
— From the Orange County Register