ISIS And The Coming Escalation In Iraq
This is an interesting article in that it actually gives some views from the Kurdish side, which is rare in the mainstream media.
Kurdistan Has a New Neighbor – The Islamic State
A mere two and a half weeks ago, Falah Mustafa Bakir, the head of foreign relations for the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government), gave an interview to Vice News that contained several quite stunning statements (see below for details). At the time (i.e., in late July), the Kurdish Peshmerga had just taken over areas of Iraq that have been contested for a long time. Specifically, the Kurds regarded these areas – most important among them the oil-rich city of Kirkuk – as their territory.
There was an agreement that the status of Kirkuk would eventually be put to a vote, but Iraq’s central government kept delaying the promised referendum, probably because it suspected that the likely outcome would be a vote in favor of Kirkuk joining the autonomous Kurdish region. This would presumably have deprived Baghdad of a sizable chunk of oil revenue. So when ISIS conquered Mosul, the Kurdish Peshmerga took the opportunity to take over Kirkuk. The Iraqi army had already fled from the disputed region, so all the Peshmerga had to do was waltz in and move into the now deserted former Iraqi military bases (similar to ISIS, they also ended up with a nice chunk of Iraqi army equipment).
In late July, an uneasy truce obtained between the Kurds and ISIS. The general view on the ground was that ISIS could simply not afford to fight too many enemies at once. Moreover, rumor had it that ISIS and the KRG had worked out a sub rosa agreement to respect their respective areas of control and not tread on each other.
The interview with Bakir begins at approx. 0:50 in the video below. Several of his statements, as well as his demeanor and tone of voice strongly suggest that some kind of deal with ISIS did indeed exist at the time. Among other things, Bakir mentioned that the Iraqi army was lacking in morale, in spite of being extremely well equipped and in theory well trained, and that its dishonorable flight meant the Peshmerga had no reason to ever leave Kirkuk again. After all, so Bakir, if Baghdad really cared about Kirkuk, its army wouldn’t have turned tail and run away. Among his most stunning statements were however the following:
“The reality on the ground in Iraq has changed…today’s Iraq is different from last week’s Iraq.
“The political landscape in Iraq has changed…the balance of power has changed…and now we are a neighbor to another emerging state in Iraq: The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Today, Iraq is not our neighbor – ISIS is our neighbor.”
That sure didn’t sound like Mr. Bakir expected ISIS to go away anytime soon. He probably still doesn’t.
Part of a series of reports by Vice News on Iraq from late July, including an interview with Kurdish foreign relations chief Falah Mustafa Bakir (between 0:50 to 3:40).
However, in the meantime the situation has once again changed. ISIS is in fact fighting the Kurds now, and the vaunted Peshmerga were actually on the run until US airstrikes slowed ISIS down. Actually, they have so far failed to really slow it down much.
A fairly recent map of the territory controlled and/or contested by ISIS via the Economist. Since this map was drawn, a few days have passed, and the Northeastern border has undergone a few additional shifts (see below for details) – click to enlarge.