- - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Once the war with ISIS is concluded in Iraq, the Arabs — both Shia and Sunni — will demand our removal; only the Kurds will want us to remain. It is also certain that Iran will exert far more control over Baghdad than they have in the past.

Prior to the invasion by ISIS in 2014, the Iranians had loosely knitted a strong “Shia Arc” extending from Tehran through Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut. Today, with the strong alliance of the Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Russians and the expeditionary arm of the Hezbollah in Syria, and the presence of the Iranian-led Shia militants in Iraq, the arc is being consolidated into a “thoroughfare” that will control the Levant and significantly increase the horrible attacks on the Israeli population. In a recent op-ed, Charles Krauthammer said the Shiite Crescent is “stretching from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean. If consolidated, it gives the Persians a Mediterranean reach they have not had in 2,300 years.”

We have unwittingly accommodated the Iranians by maintaining our “One Iraq” policy, which guarantees that their proxy government in Baghdad will continue to marginalize the Kurds because it allows Bagdad to block aid, material and revenues for the Kurdish Regional Government and prevents direct assistance. If we continue to aid the Iranians with this senseless policy, no matter how much blood or money we waste, we will not be able to change the outcome.

Consequently, we should develop a strategy that will allow us to continue to have leverage in the region. This must start with the abandonment of the “One Iraq” policy, followed by strong support for the Iraqi Kurds and for their impending referendum. The referendum is not a declaration of independence; it is a proclamation of self-determination. This is the only win that we can achieve in the region … but it is a strategic win.

Iraqi Kurdistan provides us with several strategic and economic options. There are significant factors that favor our support of the Iraqi Kurds:

• They are pro-United States and intensely loyal because Operation Provide Comfort in 1991 saved them from starvation and annihilation and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 liberated them from Saddam Hussein.

• They have a freely elected democratic government that willingly receives and protects Christians — in fact, all faiths — throughout the region. (Pictured: Kurdish Peshmerga forces return the cross to a local church that was destroyed by ISIS).

• They occupy one of the most strategic locations in that part of the world: Our enemy Iran is to their east; their puppet Iraq is to their south; our enemy Syria is to their west; and Turkey, a NATO ally, is to their north, which would give us excellent lines of communication.

• They have abundant natural resources in oil and gas, which are among the largest remaining hydrocarbon reserves in the world.

Considering the above, we should, in conjunction with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), develop a policy that embodies support for KRG independence. For all practical purposes, the old boundaries of Iraq have been destroyed and will not return. The Kurds essentially have been semi-independent since 2003 and almost completely independent since 2014.

We should also establish a continuing U.S. military footprint with 90-day to 120-day training rotations though the deployment of an USAF Air Wing, an Army Brigade Combat Team or a USMC Marine Expeditionary Unit. The training rotation removes the specter of occupation. We should analyze the potential of deploying a Navy ground-based Aegis or Army THAAD System to engage Iranian ballistic missiles that would be launched toward Europe or the U.S. This would not only catch the Iranians off guard, it would also serve to counter the Russian footprint that is being established in the region. These rotations serve as a trigger for any incursions into the area. They provide a secure force projection platform that allows rapid deployment of forces into the area. They serve as a signal to both our allies and our enemies that the area is important to us and we will remain involved, and it would signal to our Sunni allies in the Middle East that we are challenging the Iranian domination of the region.

Iraqi Kurdistan not only has large oil reserves, but it also has immense gas reserves — projected to exceed 2 trillion cubic feet. We could, in partnership with the KRG, develop these reserves and pipe gas into Europe; this would, in the future, provide for us tremendous economic leverage to counter Vladimir Putin’s economy.

Finally, such a strategy provides the Kurds who, next to the Israelis, are our most loyal allies in the Middle East, with freedom from the Iranian puppet government in Baghdad and noticeably aligns them with us. It would establish a dominant U.S. military footprint that serves to notify the world that we remain committed to the region. Lastly, it provides hydrocarbon assets that can be used to reduce or eliminate Europe’s economic dependence on Russia … another strategic win.

Retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, former Assistant Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, directed humanitarian efforts in the Kurdish Region after the 1991 Gulf War.

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