There is a military solution in Iraq, despite what Obama recently told the world, and it all starts with the Kurds. The international coalition should and can shape the future of Syria and Iraq with military force.
Working with Kurdish groups, the coalition can identify an inclusive government-in-waiting in Syria, return areas with Kurdish populations to Kurdish control, and conduct partnered military operations. Properly equipped, a unified and moderate Kurdish opposition will dismantle the Islamic State while also combating Iranian influence. Why should we stand in their way?
Baghdad cannot be considered a credible partner any longer in Iraq, by Kurds or the coalition. Iran’s Shia militia proxies control Baghdad and exercise significant influence over Iraqi military operations, and Baghdad–at Iran’s direction–has not allocated money earmarked for Iraqi Kurdistan for almost a year. The international coalition should launch, with Kurdish assistance, an aggressive counter intelligence operation to identify and detain Shia informants and spies working for Iran across Iraq. Simultaneously, the coalition should establish air corridors originating from Erbil and begin conducting daily airstrikes in Kirkuk and Mosul. Over time, the coalition should establish a significant presence behind Kurdistan’s borders, replete with barracks and storage depots—and ultimately, the headquarters of the various coalition task forces operating in Iraq.
To counter the tactical advantage held by IS and the Shia militias, moderate Sunni and Kurdish groups across the region should be armed and trained and equipped by special operations forces. Haidar al-Abadi’s new government in Baghdad is not inclusive and will not garner support of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs. Additionally, Iraq’s security apparatus is an extension of Iran’s military, presenting obstacles to Sunni inclusion.
These missions will require thousands of coalition troops inside Iraq and Syria. The bulk of this effort can be handled by special operations forces and quick reaction forces provided by NATO, but Kurds from across the region will play a pivotal role in combating the foreign fighters coming from Iran, Syria, and, Turkey. Additional coalition forces may be required to establish bases in Erbil and along the Kurdish-Syrian border, to provide battlefield medical services, interrogate detainees, process intelligence, and build helicopter pads and landing strips for propeller planes. Ultimately, the critical enabler will be Kurdish forces from across the region. Vetted groups should be provided with Javelin anti-tank missiles, Mine Resistant-Ambush Protected trucks, and night vision equipment to provide an unfair tactical advantage at night.
Kurdish groups require extensive technical assistance today. It cannot wait any longer. The international community has given enough excuses and must act urgently before it’s too late. It’s time to stand tall, and we should stand beside all Kurds in the war against Daesh–and Iran’s schemes.
Robert Caruso served in the United States Department of State and Defense. He is a contributor to Boston Globe Media; Associate Editor, NextWar, Center for International Maritime Security. He is now a member of a variety of non-profit and human rights organizations.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Kurdish Policy Foundation.