- - Friday, October 17, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The people of Kurdistan and the United States have much in common - most importantly, the shared values of freedom, liberty, pluralism, and tolerance. Together, we have tackled great threats. At critical moments in our history, the United States has come to our aid. But the challenges today are immense and the need for partnership between the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and the United States is more urgent than ever.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) poses a significant threat to Kurdistan, Iraq, the Middle East and beyond. It is a direct threat to U.S. assets and interests in our part of the world.

We are grateful that the United States’ advisers and air strikes against ISIL terrorists have supported our army, known as the peshmerga, in re-taking towns, villages and the Mosul Dam. We appreciate the United States’ role in leading an international coalition against ISIL. The Kurdish people are – and always will be – friends of the United States.

But, while the United States and coalition forces have stopped the militants’ offensive into the Kurdistan Region, they have not destroyed ISIL and the group continues to threaten the region, from Raqqa in Syria to the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

ISIL cannot be defeated without an effective ground component. There is a force on the ground today that is fighting ISIL yet it has not been given sufficient support to turn its advances against ISIL into irreversible successes.

From our capital in Erbil, we see the United States working to reassemble the Iraqi Army and bring together a loose confederation of Syrian resistance fighters. This will take many months, maybe even years. The Kurdish security forces, the peshmerga, are “boots on the ground” today and, with U.S. support and training, could become the permanent driving force against ISIL by forming a coalition with other elements of the Iraqi Army and regional militaries. The peshmerga are already fighting ISIL, defending a 600-mile frontier against the militants. The peshmerga are loyal, committed and crucially have the will to fight. They did not fold against Saddam Hussein and will not do so against ISIL.

The Kurdistan Regional Government is ready to increase our contribution to this fight and strengthen our role as a full regional security partner. We have already pushed ISIL beyond our boundary but we will not be able to advance much further unless we can match their weaponry on the battlefield.

ISIL remains armed with an arsenal largely composed of American-made weapons picked up from the Iraqi Army. To destroy ISIL tanks, armored personnel carriers, and American-made mine-resistant vehicles and Humvees, we will need anti-tank weapons. To clear bombs and mines from roads on the approach to cities captured by ISIL, we will need equipment to counter improvised explosive devices. To win this battle, we will need artillery. To communicate with coalition airpower, we will need radio equipment. To effectively combat ISIL alongside coalition forces, we will need equipment that is inter-operable with theirs. We are confident that, together as partners, we can win this fight.

In November, the U.S. Congress will consider authorizing and funding elements of President Obama’s Counterterrorism Partnership Fund (CTPF). The President has asked Congress to support this program to train and equip international partners to combat ISIS. As Congress considers funding CTPF, it should also mandate funds to directly train and equip the peshmerga.

But ISIL is not the only challenge the Kurdistan Region is tackling. As a result of the Syrian civil war and Iraq’s security challenges, the numbers of displaced people in Kurdistan has grown steadily and rapidly. Our population of 5 million is taking care of about 1.5 million people – including Christians and Yezidis – who have fled the violence in Iraq and Syria and who are totally reliant on us for food, shelter and healthcare.

Our schools have become temporary homes, delaying the academic year for thousands of our children. We need to construct 26 camps before the end of the year, but face financial, security, and logistical challenges. As Baghdad continues to block the sale of Kurdish oil and withhold Erbil’s constitutionally mandated share of federal revenues, we remain limited in our ability to directly address these challenges. The refugees will soon be facing the harsh winter of Kurdistan, adding pressure to the urgent need to help them while the weather is on our side.

The Kurds have long suffered at the expense of dictators and tyrants. We will never do so again. We believe in a bright future, free from extremism and with full political inclusion and economic prosperity. Together, with the United States, we are confident that we can build a stable region, and enjoy the promise of our shared future.

Falah Mustafa Bakir is Minister for the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Kurdistan Regional Government In Iraq.


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