Monday, August 04, 2014

Obama foreign policy team ignores Kurdistan's immediate needs

Kurdistan is an autonomous region of the country of Iraq, with its own parliamentary democracy, a Presidential election every four years, and its own but not so robust army.  Its relationship with the Iraq central government is often fraught with disagreements but in recent years it has meant negotiations rather than any but the most minor military skirmishes.  Now ISIS, repelled once by the Kurds a few weeks ago, is on the attack.

The headline on page A7 of today's New York Times reads, "Sunni Extremists in Iraq Seize 3 Towns From Kurds and Threaten Major Dam".  Among the three towns seized, two were on the border between Kurdistan the major part of Iraq and in an area close to the Syrian border.  The other town seized, Sinjar, was in the traditional area of Iraq near Syria, but protected by the Kurds apparently due to its unique status as home to a major population of Yazadis, Kurdistan speakers who ascribe to a religion that combines Islam and ancient Persian religions.  They are considered as heathens by the Muslim extremists, and their situation in now dire.

When discussing what ISIS has turned into, one cannot minimize how extreme they are.  They practice jihadist criminal "justice" and freely kill anyone who is not devoted to Islam or will not commit to it immediately.  The core leaders and militias of the group seem to be homicidal maniacs with no limits.  Extremist is too mild of a word to describe what they are.  Disenchanted Sunnis who have joined their cause are now in a quandary, detesting the al-Maliki government but not intensely extreme Islamists like many of the core ISIS fighters.

While a U.S. state department spokesman said that the U.S. would continue to seek ways to support the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish pesh merga, "pesh merga" apparently being the Kurdish name for their defense forces, any aid from the U.S. is not visible with the exception of the few hundred advisers holed in the green zone in Baghdad.  The following is a paragraph from later in the NYT article.

"The Kurds, who have been longtime American allies, recently asked for military assistance from the United States to fight ISIS.  American officials, determined to keep Iraq together as one country, are reluctant to supply weapons to the Kurds without the approval of the central government in Baghdad.  That is unlikely to happen given the worries by Iraq's Shiite-dominated leadership that the weapons would further embolden the Kurds to form a new state."

So that statement means that the Obama administration will wait for approval before helping the Kurds despite the Kurds longtime support for the U.S.  The Obama administration will wait for approval from Prime Minister al-Maliki, and that will never come.  He is corrupt, he is divisive, and he has alienated, imprisoned, or killed many Sunnis over the last three years.  The Kurds are for the most part moderate Sunnis, but have included minorities of Christians, Shiites, Yazadis, and Jews in their diversified citizenry.

For Obama to defer to al-Maliki now is hard to believe.  When the peaceful people of Homs in Syria held a mass demonstration over three years ago, it was almost all regular citizens who wanted to get more freedom from the abusive and corrupt Assad regime.  Obama just winked his support and did nothing.  Soon the Homs demonstrators were being shelled and picked off by snipers.  But in that case, Homs was not in any way an independent region, not one with its own army or independent government.  Obama's reluctance then can be justified or rationalized if not admired by many because of that.

Today, there is no excuse for his administration's refusal to come to the aid of the autonomous and self-governed Kurds.  The Kurds are not looking for American soldiers, just military equipment and related support for surveillance and humanitarian needs if necessary.

Obama's timidity and lack of leadership in foreign policy is more than embarrassing in this particular situation.  It is shameful.   


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