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?