Can the Kurds Slap Some Sense into Everyone Else?

Neither Ankara nor Washington nor Tehran can figure out a logical strategic response to the increasingly consolidated and powerful IS. It would be ironic indeed if the long mistreated and repressed Kurdish people turned out to be the ones who slapped some sense into all the self-important politicians of Washington, Ankara, Riyadh, Baghdad, and Tehran.

The Kurds–the one group with a relatively clear, logical, consistent strategy toward the Islamic State (IS)–have reportedly launched a military attack to free Sinjar, claimed to be key to the unity of the revolutionary extremist entity that now rules from Mosul (in the former state of Iraq) to Raqqa (in the former state of Syria). If all this is true, then the Kurdish attack has numerous implications:

1. its success would make cooperation with the Kurds very important for any state opposing IS and establish the Kurds as a major player;
2. its success would offer Baghdad a major opportunity to regain the initiative, and the response of Iran will say much about the direction that country wants to take now that it is sitting at the negotiating table with world powers to settle the fate of Syria;
3. Kurdish success would force the US to get off the fence and show its hand – either by supporting the Kurds and making a serious effort to defeat IS or by betraying the Kurds and revealing that it really does not care about defeating IS.

The current US policy of tolerating Turkish shelling of Kurds while bombing IS in support of Kurdish attacks will have its internal inconsistency exposed if the Kurds find themselves in control of IS transportation routes between Raqqa and Mosul, and Washington will need to determine its priorities. Will Washington protect the Kurds against Turkey and work with Iran to stabilize Iraq…or continue to waffle between anti-IS strategy and anti-Assad strategy, allowing a golden opportunity to slip away?

The current Turkish policy of attacking the Kurds who are allies of the U.S. is equally frought with internal inconsistencies: what is a NATO member doing attacking the military ally of the U.S. at the same time as the U.S. is supporting that ally’s military offensive against an entity (IS) that is supposed to be the common enemy of all three? And how can Washington tolerate such behavior?

The current Iranian policy of calling the U.S. an enemy even while supposedly working alongside the U.S. to restore Baghdad’s control over Iraq and the current Iranian policy of fighting IS in Iraq while giving IS a pass in Syria in order to focus on protecting Assad are no less contradictory.

Neither Ankara nor Washington nor Tehran can figure out a logical strategic response to the increasingly consolidated and powerful IS. The longer the key players continue to hesitate and trip over their own feet, the more empowered will be the Salafi extremists and the more chaotic will be the core of the Mideast, with predictable consequences for the stability of all the states surrounding the core, from Turkey to Saudi Arabia and for the security of the U.S., West Europe, and Russia. The regional hydrocarbons are precious to be sure, but it would be vastly cheaper simply to establish the priority of defeating IS and then buy the hydrocarbons from whatever non-extremist regime ends up in control. It would be ironic indeed if the long mistreated and repressed Kurdish people turned out to be the ones who slapped some sense into all the self-important politicians of Washington, Ankara, Riyadh, Baghdad, and Tehran.

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