Why ISIS Fears the Kurds
Scrolling through a photo gallery on the Middle East, I couldn’t help but pause as I looked at a picture of a female YPG sniper unit perched on a rooftop in Tel Abyad. As I looked at this picture, the thought came to mind that it represents ISIS’s greatest fear and nightmare. After some reflection, I realized four reasons of why ISIS may fear the Kurds:
ISIS fears the Kurds as an enemy that has motivation to fight. Particularly in Iraq, more so than Syria, ISIS has faced unwilling and incompetent foes on the battlefield. The Iraqi army fled Iraq’s second largest city because they didn’t have the incentive to stay, risk their lives, and fight. Even now as the Iraqi government seeks to retake the land acquired in ISIS’s August 2014 land grab, their soldiers prove their motivation is limited to fight for lands that are not historically Shia. Yet, on the contrary, Iraq’s Kurds view this as the fight of their life—not only to defend their historic lands but to perhaps attain the Kurdish dream of independence through it. The Kurds, unlike other factions in Iraq, have proven their stalwartness to fight, and lay down their lives, to defeat ISIS.
Second, ISIS fears the Kurds because they are the only force they’ve almost exclusively lost to. Only one word is necessary to make this point: Kobani. Many more could be added, particularly after this week’s liberation of Tel Abyad, but the embarrassment of well-equipped ISIS getting outlasted and defeated by a small, unarmed band of Kurds (many of whom were women!) has to keep imagefocused ISIS awake at night. Not only that but Kobani will always be a reminder of Kurds of multiple countries (and even the greater international coalition) uniting against ISIS to force them out with their tail between their legs.
ISIS also fears the Kurds because they are an on-theground Sunni Muslim majority population who absolutely hate them. ISIS has long taken advantage of Shia marginalization of Sunni populations to gain some local support in the areas they govern. The Kurds, however, represent a community of Sunni Muslims who won’t be won over to radical ideology and, though they are both Sunni, are against ISIS and what they represent. Not only that, but ISIS’s propoganda machine, which often recruits on the premise of potential recruits getting the opportunity to protect fellow Sunnis, falls apart when they realize they are pointing their guns at fellow Sunnis.
Finally, ISIS fears the Kurds because the Kurds are seen more favorably than ever by the West and with their allies. While most of ISIS’s enemies (Shia militias, al Nusra front, Syrian government) are seen in a poor light by the greater world, the Kurds have dozens of allies on the ground providing training and consultation. ISIS is no doubt savvy in their media war, but time will prove the Kurds have won the day as their roladex of allies has provided them nearly constant air cover and worldclass training.
In this fight against evil extremism, don’t forget that ISIS is not without fears of their own.