It’s time to really arm the Kurds

TODAY’S MESOP COMMENTARY : Benny Avni – New York Post  

By Benny AvniAugust 13, 2014 | 5:57am – Never mind Baghdad. If we want to make a dent in the battle against the jihadis that are about to swallow Iraq, America must fully back the Kurds. President Obama has started moving in the right direction, but he’s still too busy with the long game: As he plays Baghdad politics, we risk losing Iraq altogether. And the Islamic State, a group that hates America and that could soon establish a base from which to plot attacks against us, will take the spoils.

To Obama’s credit, he’s finally paying attention to the group also known as Daesh and ISIS. The Islamic State is eating through Iraq like Pac-Man, killing, maiming and beheading along the way.

The plight of thousands of Yazidis, besieged on top of a northern Iraqi mountain, finally forced Obama, against every instinct in his body, to intervene.

The Air Force is dropping supplies, evacuating as many Yazidis as possible and attacking ISIS fighters from the air.

So far, so good — but not enough.

Air power alone won’t defeat the raving jihadis. To even begin reversing their spectacular successes, we must have — ouch — boots on the ground.

The good news: They’re already deployed, at least in northern Iraq. And they’re not American.

The Kurdish peshmerga, a well-organized army that has long cooperated with the CIA, has already taken some territory back from ISIS — with help from the USAF — after initial defeats. And they’ll keep fighting, since the jihadis threaten all the progress the Kurds have made since the first Gulf War in 1991.More good news: Obama has reportedly started to provide the Kurdish fighters with rifles and ammunition in a clandestine CIA operation.

Now he needs to take it up a notch. As the deputy prime minister of the Kurdish regional government, Qubad Talabani, told CNN Monday, the peshmerga have yet to receive more US arms, such as armor-piercing weapons.Yet their need is desperate. As ISIS swept through eastern Iraq since June, it confiscated many of the armored vehicles — from Humvees to Abrams tanks — that Washington had given to the Iraqi army.

So the jihadis have better US-made weapons than our allies. We need to fix that, pronto, by delivering serious arms directly to the Kurds. And no more hush-hush-through-the-CIA methods. Better for Obama to announce it publicly at his next vacation-interrupting press conference. It’s time to come out of the closet: The Kurds have established a well-governed statelet, a rare ray of Mideast hope that’s eager to ally with us.

And its patriotic, disciplined soldiers are now America’s best bet in the war against the ISIS. But Obama is worried about the precarious political situation in Baghdad, where former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is refusing to step aside for his duly named successor, Haider al-Abadi. Our president wants Baghdad to form an “inclusive government” before we start sending heavier arms to the Baghdad-controlled Iraqi army.By openly arming the Kurds, goes the argument, Washington would tacitly support Kurdish independence — and help break up Iraq.That’s a legitimate worry — for later. The Kurds may indeed split the country, or not — depending on how they see their interests after the war against ISIS.But for now, only the peshmerga can beat back the jihadis. ISIS’s aura of invincibility helps it grow, drawing recruits from Chechnya to Canberra.Which makes it urgent to inflict multiple defeats on the Islamic State. The longer we wait, the more we risk losing Iraq altogether. Linking peshmerga military aid to progress in Baghdad politics is like insisting on washing the dirty dishes in the sink before we help put out a blaze in the garage that could burn down the house. Obama’s past neglect of Syria and his haphazard withdrawal from Iraq have contributed to the growth of the ISIS menace. It’s time to stop hesitating, and help anyone who can stop it.