Kur­dish Pesh­merga call for heavy weaponry to take their fight to Isis

Mas­rour Barzani: “we are not go­ing to go into Mo­sul alone”

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS -

or so away from the front lines. “We are very care­ful not to take any Arab lands. We are not go­ing to go into Mo­sul alone. We are not agents.

“We asked the UK for some of their weaponry from Afghanistan,” said Barzani. “We were pre­pared to buy it, but in­stead we find it is be­ing sold else­where and de­nied to us.”

Bri­tain has sent the Pesh­merga 40 heavy ma­chine guns and ammunition, but has de­nied other re­quests, in­sist­ing pri­vately that will chan­nel its de­liv­er­ies through Iraq’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

Kur­dish lead­ers seethe at the de­ci­sive weaponry sent to Bagh­dad in re­cent months, much of which is be­ing used to re­place six di­vi­sions worth of trucks and tanks that were aban­doned when the Iraqi army fled the north of the coun­try in June.

Isis promptly looted more than 200 ar­mored troop car­ri­ers, more than 1,000 Humvees and sev­eral dozen US bat­tle­field tanks, and have used them ever since to men­ace Iraq’s army and the Pesh­merga.

Iraq's west­ern part­ners fear that send­ing weapons to the Kurds could give real im­pe­tus to fre­quent talk of sovereignty at the ex­pense of Iraq - the cur­rent bor­ders of which they re­main com­mit­ted to, even as the post-Ot­toman bound­aries of the mod­ern Mid­dle East con­tinue to wither.

Such a view is de­rided in Ir­bil and across much of the north. “We're fight­ing a war for a coun­try that we are not a part of, and that we have no fu­ture in,” said Falah Fikri, a busi­ness­man in Ir­bil. “We are in this state be­cause the Iraqi army col­lapsed, and we are told to be­lieve in them?”

In six months of fight­ing against Isis, Kur­dish lead­ers have al­ready faced a se­ries of reck­on­ings: what to do about the con­tested city of Kirkuk, which they now con­trol af­ter the Iraqi army aban­doned it in June; how to de­fend their seat of gov­ern­ment, Ir­bil, which was nearly stormed by the ji­hadis two months later; and what the col­lapse of Iraq meant for their am­bi­tions to etch a sovereign state from its ru­ins.

As US war plan­ners tout plans for 25,000 men - 12 Iraqi brigades, three of them Pesh­merga - to launch a fi­nal battle in April, Iraq's Kurds are try­ing to set their own rules of en­gage­ment.

The Pesh­merga have lost more than 1,000 mem­bers since Au­gust, with more than 4,500 oth­ers in­jured. The battle ahead will cer­tainly add to that. Since early Fe­bru­ary, Kur­dish forces have re­cap­tured roughly 400 square miles of land seized by Isis, in­clud­ing the Mo­sul dam, which sup­plies wa­ter to most of Iraq. “And what do you get for all of that?” asked Barzani. “We have re­drawn the Kur­dish bor­ders with our own blood.”

Kur­dish ad­vances have been se­cured by a USled air cam­paign, which was par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive around the Mo­sul dam. From the gi­ant wa­ter­way, built dur­ing the Sad­dam years, to the front lines, hun­dreds of con­crete homes lie in ru­ins. Many have clearly been hit by air strikes, but oth­ers were dy­na­mited as Isis re­treated. Large yel­low dig­gers gouge trenches from green fields, which will act as de­fen­sive po­si­tions if the ji­hadis try to re­claim their losses.

Much of the front line fight­ing ap­pears to be a throw­back to by­gone eras of war­fare. The Pesh­merga have enough Kalash­nikovs and ammunition, but their pleas for heavy bat­tle­field weapons that could help them make more gains have been re­jected by the US, Bri­tain and other Euro­pean al­lies.

Barzani bris­tles at the no­tion that the Pesh­merga may use any new weapons to con­quer Mo­sul, or lands closer to Kirkuk that are more cen­tral to the Kurds’ an­ces­tral claims.

“The east bank of Mo­sul is part of Kur­dis­tan, but we are not claim­ing that,” he said. “We will go as far as we are wel­comed into all those ar­eas that are part of the greater Kur­dis­tan. Any­thing above the Ti­gris River, we have taken it, but we are not as­pir­ing to a greater Kur­dis­tan. We are talk­ing about Iraqi Kur­dis­tan. We have to con­vince the coun­tries that we live with that it is in the in­ter­ests of every­body. We have to con­vince Bagh­dad through an un­der­stand­ing.

“Kur­dish Iraq has for too long been a taboo that we can­not even talk about. For Iraq [the Kur­dish north] is just an eco­nomic base. But we don’t need Kur­dis­tan for its eco­nomic value. This land is an­ces­tral.

“Wait­ing for the lo­cal forces to fight Isis is go­ing to give them the op­tion to grow, re­or­ga­nize, re­cruit and be a con­stant threat to the re­gion and the rest of the world. To de­feat Isis re­quires a lot more en­gage­ment, to send troops and to give the right equip­ment to the forces who are de­feat­ing them, and that is the Kurds. There is no ex­cuse not to arm the Kurds. No jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

As bul­lets ping past the Kiske junc­tion out­post, Ibrahim points to the skies. The roar of a jet comes into earshot. “I called them a while ago,” he said. “They need to deal with that mor­tar. We don’t have any trou­ble get­ting them to help, but we would rather do it our­selves.

“We are op­er­at­ing in ar­eas where we can­not trust the peo­ple. It is very hos­tile. The vil­lages don't like us, even though we are help­ing them,” he said. “I'll give you an ex­am­ple. When we ar­rived here we found a boy with a phone. He was telling [Isis] our po­si­tions. I told my com­man­ders and they said to let him go.

“A few weeks later, we went back to that vil­lage and were giv­ing them food. That same boy was at the front of the line. We told the lo­cals and they started throw­ing shoes at him. Maybe now they know we’re on their side, but we can never be­lieve it.”

An­other Pesh­merga un­sheathed an Ital­ian sup­plied rocket, part of a small cache sent by Rome sev­eral days ear­lier. “This is what we need, he said. “But it won't get us to Mo­sul.”

Sip­ping a cof­fee in his dugout, bra him said: “You know, we're puz­zled be­ing out here with such a lack of sup­port. Why is this hap­pen­ing? We like free­dom. We are just like you. We want what you have.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Iraq

© PressReader. All rights reserved.