By Brandon Roselius
The United States has funded some of the world’s most questionable allies. Shiite militias, Sunni tribesmen, violent revolutionaries, and oppressive regimes have all been armed, supported, and funded by the United States government, yet the US still refuses to arm arguably one of their most stalwart allies since the beginning of the US Invasion of Iraq—the Kurds of Iraq.
Between 2003 and 2011, not a single U.S. soldier died in the Kurdish territory of Northern Iraq, but according to US military documents released by WikiLeaks, 3,771 Coalition members were killed in the Shiite and Sunni dominated parts of Iraq between January 2004 and December 2009. Additionally, the Kurdish territory had been openly welcome to a U.S, presence in Iraq and assisted with a variety of U.S. operations and policy implementations—a fact that you cannot also say about Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites.
Even today as the U.S. confronts the Islamic State, it’s been the Kurdish peshmerga that has been the most effective fighting force utilized against Islamic State targets. Nonetheless, the United States still insists that all weapons must be transported first to Baghdad and then to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Northern Iraq.
The U.S. does not wish to directly arm the Kurds because it risks the U.S.’s one state solution for Iraq. By directly supporting the Iraqi Kurds, the U.S. will further embolden the Kurd’s desire for independence—an independence that they may deserve, but goes directly against U.S. regional objectives. Therefore, the US continues to arm the Kurds through Baghdad and the central government, but this has been wholly ineffectual.
Baghdad has even less of a reason than the U.S. to take the initiative and arm the Kurds directly. The Kurds are already seen as the only real effective fighting force in Iraq. Continuing to arm the Kurds risks further embarrassing Baghdad. Moreover, the Baghdad fears are fueling the separatists flames in the KRG even more than the US. Simply put, the model for supplying and aiding the Kurds is completely ineffective.
The U.S.’s one state policy for Iraq continues to complicate its short term objective of weakening the Islamic State’s hold in Iraq. With the spring offensive to retake Mosul just over the horizon, the United States needs to fix its method of supplying the Kurds, because once the time comes to retake Mosul and the rest of Iraq, the United States will desperately need the experienced peshmerga well-equipped and willing to cooperate.