Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Reputation Matters

The Kurds have built a reputation as good fighters. Part of this is myth, but during the Iraq War the Kurdish units were among the most effective in the Iraqi security forces. Defeat at the hands of the Islamic State risks this reputation that holds jihadis, Baghdad, Turkey, and Iran at bay.

I've noted that I would like the Kurds to provide the northern prong of an offensive against the ISIL-created Islamic State in northern Iraq and that we should directly arm the Kurds to do this.

The Kurds may have hoped to leverage this role for more assistance, but the Kurds now have their own reason to enter the fight--erasing this image of defeat:

Sunni Islamic State militants pursued their advance in the north of Iraq Sunday, capturing strategic territory close to the Turkish and Syrian borders, including Iraq's biggest dam, an oil field and two more towns.

Islamic State was able to inflict their first major defeat on Kurdish forces since sweeping through the region in June

Local officials said militants with the extremist group Islamic State took control of the towns of Zumar and Sinjar near the city of Mosul on Sunday, waging fierce clashes with Kurdish forces.

Control of the dams could allow the jihadis to unleash floods on downriver cities in Iraq. That's bad enough for Iraq.

But for the Kurds to have lost these battles so completely is a threat to the Kurdish reputation for military prowess.

If the defeat was due to running out of ammo, that lessens the reason for worry about the state of Kurdish ground forces but does not lessen the image of defeat.

For a small entity surrounded by hostile or potentially hostile powers, losing that military reputation built up through survival against Saddam after Desert Storm in 1991 (thank American and British airpower for that, more than Kurdish ground strength) and during the Iraq War could be fatal in the long run.

So now the Kurds have lost some of their leverage. Now the Kurds need to demonstrate that their forces can defeat the Islamic State jihadis. More is at stake than the survival of the Baghdad government. Now Kurdish survival in the long run is at stake. The Kurds must act.

UPDATE: This is good news:

Iraq's military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said Monday that al-Maliki has commanded the air force to provide aerial support to the Kurds in the first sign of cooperation between the two militaries since Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, was captured by the militants on June 10.

But Iraq has little air power for direct support. This is more important as an indicator that Iraq may allow us to help the Kurds, I think.