Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Broken Kurdish Aspiration

"Training with the peshmerga was ceased when it was no longer of any value in terms of the battle against Daesh,:
"We have changed … partners,"
"They [Islamic State sympathizers] are not actively conducting operations but they could."
"We are still deeply involved in helping set conditions for the successful return of the population to Mosul."
Gen. Jon Vance, Chief of Canada’s Defence Staff

"During the high point of ISIS as a threat, we put all our chips behind the Kurds because they were in the best position to fight and the most willing to fight."
"But if we’re training them now, we’re training a separatist movement."
"We will need to monitor the situation very closely and find out if the people we are training are becoming death squads, or were death squads. [In that case], we would need to get out of business."
Prof. Stephen Saideman, political scientist, Paterson Chair in International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa
The Canadian Press
A Canadian soldier directs Kurdish soldiers training near Erbil in northern Iraq in 2015.
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau had pledged to supply $9.5-million of military weapons to the Kurdish Peshmerga who had distinguished themselves as the only reliable fighting force in Iraq to face the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Where the Iraqi military turned and fled the advance of ISIL, the Peshmerga held their ground and prevented them from entering Erbil, from massacring fleeing Iraqi Christians and Yazidis finding haven in Iraqi Kurdistan, protected by the Peshmerga.

The Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighting force of courage against stark adversity were universally admired. The U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq in recognizing the fighting skills and determination of the Peshmerga committed military trainers and small arms to the Kurds to enable them to acquire modern fighting skills and capability in the use of more advanced weaponry than they were familiar with. ISIL had taken advantage of an immense store of weapons and vehicles the fleeing Iraqi military left behind, in Mosul.

That was four years ago when Islamic State emerged as a viral scourge and threat destabilizing the entire Middle East, sending its jihadi fascist tentacles well beyond the Middle East, to Africa and North America and Europe. The weapons destined to support the armoury of the Peshmerga were never delivered, though the Iraqi government had issued its permission. The Kurdish independence referendum intervened. The Kurds felt they had established a reputation, they had the support of NATO members.

They represented the original inhabitants of the land and across the Iraqi border to Syria, Iran and Turkey. They felt entitled to recognition and the only recognition that had real value to them would be that Kurdistan be declared a fully sovereign and autonomous state. Only if this were to be recognized by the international community, however, could that be accomplished. Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria would never acquiesce, and the outcome would be catastrophic. As it was, Iraq reacted instantly, making it clear that Kurdish aspiration for total autonomy would never be sanctioned.
A trench near the Christian town of Bartella marks the extent of Kurdish military control in northern Iraq. Photograph: Cengiz Yar

When the Iraqi military moved in to take possession of the oil fields and areas that Kurds declared their own, part of their nascent independence, the Peshmerga melted away rather than risk a military confrontation with all the loss of life that would entail. Those weapons have been stored, collecting dust in warehouses in Montreal and Jordan. General Vance, Chief of the Canadian Forces, spoke of those arms never finding their way into Kurdish military service at this juncture, past the imbroglio of the independence bid.

The most successful fighting force in Iraq whose central role in arresting the advance of the jihadis of the Islamic State, driving them out of Iraq overplayed it hand. The Kurdistan government was convinced of its right to campaign for independence and to demand it of the world. And it was not wrong. But the world was not prepared to support them and in the process to take sides, wresting territory from four powerfully resistant countries who had no intention of sharing the geography despite Kurdish heritage.


The years that Canadian special forces took pride in working alongside the Kurdish fighters to provide military assistance was borne of recognizing the effectiveness of the Peshmerga as opponents of the Islamic State. Even while so doing, Canadian authorities were fully aware that in sharpening the fighting skills of the Peshmerga, Canada could conceivably be involved in a situation where it could be blamed for helping to prepare Kurdish ambition to become reality in the pursuit of independence that would unleash mass regional violence.

The Kurds deserve much, much better. But that better future has been forestalled. Their just entitlement doesn't appear to be anywhere on the near horizon and more's the pity.

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