The recently declared “Islamic State” (IS, formerly ISIS) rise, which led to the eventual fall of Mosul city in Iraq has been perceived as an opportunity for Kurds to retake disputed territories that have historically belonged to them, and realise their century-old dream of independence.
ISIS terrorists managed to reach the gates of Erbil, capital of Kurdistan Region of Iraq, causing panic publicly. Their attempts to reach Erbil were unsuccessful, and ISIS eventually focused on the other cities and towns located in the disputed areas, and the fight still goes on.
ISIS currently fights Kurds alongside their border in Iraq, and Syria, from Diyala northeast of Baghdad to Kobani, north of Syria.
There are several reasons for ISIS waging war on Kurds, and their relative success. Namely, Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution defines the future of disputed areas between Arabs and Kurds, and these territories are largely in Sunni-populated areas, which impacts the current war. These areas are known for being rich in natural resources such as oil and gas.
ISIS has managed to gain some tribal support from Sunnis who live in the disputed areas, and successfully motivated them to join the fight against Kurds on the basis that Kurds are annexing more territorial gains to the disadvantage of Sunnis. Tribal support for ISIS was key for their success in Shingal, which led to the kidnapping of thousands of women, who were later sold as sex slaves, and the displacement of thousands of Yezidi Kurds.
Kurdish leadership has failed to create a buffer zone in the disputed areas with Sunni Arab tribes since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. One of the main reasons some tribal leaders pledged allegiance to ISIS was the fear of losing wealth and land if the Kurds conduct referendum in disputed areas as part of implementation of article 140.
The Kurdistan region must be able to resolve disputes with Sunni Arabs on the ground prior to undertaking bureaucratic steps in Baghdad as part of normalization process. ISIS relative success in reaching the gates of Erbil was partially due to exploiting Sunni Arab scepticism of Peshmerga forces, who filled the vacuum after the Iraqi army was dismantled, which allowed ISIS to penetrate into Kurdistan region.
The Kurdistan region is paying the price for siding with the West and its pro-western views. This policy has enabled ISIS to recruit more Jihadists against Kurds, enticing militants to believe they are fighting a western ally.
Unlike other Muslim-dominated states, Kurds announced their objection to ISIS. The ideology of ISIS has been widely and publicly rejected by both secular and Islamist Kurds. Muslim-populated states have not announced their support for Kurds who are fighting ISIS as a result.
Israeli-Kurdish links has been used against Kurds by ISIS sympathisers, in an effort to demonise Kurds because of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
For the past five months, the KRG has failed to adopt a clear strategy on how to defeat and degrade ISIS threat on its borders. No research has been conducted by KRG or the Ministry of Peshmerga to further understand the capacity of ISIS, their numbers, weakness, and resources.
Kurdistan region is fighting an enemy that they don’t know well, putting them at a disadvantage. KRG has sought to increase its military capacity, but that alone does not eradicate the threat of ISIS and the future problems that could arise in the region because of their current territorial gains.
The KRG and Parliament should focus on local research centers and encourage the Ministry of Peshmerga and Kurdistan National Security Council to cooperate with the researchers to share non-confidential information with research staff.
Enabling research facilities to have access to reliable intelligent data, and cooperating with public institutions are key to successful research that can benefit KRG. These research facilities can act as a foundation for a KRG long-term strategy in confronting ISIS.
The KRG is relatively new, and because of that the notion that parliament alone is equipped to do everything by virtue of its members, is flawed. KRG ministers are supposed to execute the strategies and plans that are defined by universities, research centers, and think-tanks.