With the government in Baghdad losing more and more control of the country the Kurds in northern Iraq are relying on ethnic solidarity to maintain their control as ISIS continues to expand its power.
On Tuesday Kurdish forces fought to retake territory they had lost to ISIS over the weekend as Kurds from neighboring Turkey and Syria scrambled to come to protect the Kurdish province in the northern Iraq known as Kurdistan.
The government in Kurdistan recently signaled its plans to become a sovereign nation, an idea that was previously considered a non-starter but in the wake of the ISIS threat has found a more receptive audience in Turkey and other places.
Kurdish forces made up of thousands of insurgents from Turkey and Syria attacked Islamic State positions at Sinjar, one of three Iraqi cities that fell to the Islamic State over the weekend, while peshmerga militias loyal to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government pressed to lift the Islamic State’s siege of the Mosul Dam, Iraq’s largest and an important source of electricity. The Islamists nearly overran the dam over the weekend.
U.S. officials said they were working with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Irbil and Iraq’s central government in Baghdad to counter the Islamic State’s advance. But it was unclear what material assistance, if any, the United States was lending to the fight.
The level of US support for Kurdish forces remains murky. Yesterday a Pentagon spokesman equivocated on whether the US was providing military assistance to the Kurds to fight ISIS.
If ISIS is able to successfully defeat Kurdish forces it is likely the Kurdish population will flee into Turkey or any other country that will take them creating a humanitarian and refugee crisis. There is little doubt that ISIS will slaughter any remaining Kurds. One Kurdish minority, the Yazidis, are already under threat of dying of thirst after ISIS forces trapped them on a mountaintop.
However, if the Kurds are successful in holding off ISIS and establishing sovereignty it will be very difficult for the government in Baghdad or elsewhere to take it away. The days ahead may determine if the dream of a free and independent Kurdistan is realized.
Image from the CIA under public domain.