Iraq and Kurdistan Flags
Iraq and Kurdistan Flags

A recent bill forwarded to the United States Congress proposes that the United States should start distributing a percentage, about one-quarter, of its allotted funds to Iraq – to assist it in its struggle against the Islamic State (Daesh) terror gang – directly to Kurdish paramilitary and Sunni Arab forces.

PM Al-Abadi meets a delegation from Anbar including Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha and members of the provincial council
PM Al-Abadi meets a delegation from Anbar including Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha and members of the provincial council

The Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga paramilitary has been engaging Daesh since that time. After the Iraqi Army collapsed last June and Daesh blitzed across Northern Iraq the Peshmerga were the only competent force able to resist their murderous rampages. Even though they were poorly equipped in contrast to the Iraqi Army having only been provided with some lightly armoured vehicles and artillery. Nevertheless they fought, and have been fighting, Daesh with shoestring resources and have sacrificed their young men in the process while Baghdad scrambled about trying to get its act together.

Similarly in Anbar, Iraq’s largest rather sparsely-populated Sunni-majority province, Daesh have been able to slaughter Sunni tribesmen who attempted to resist their imposition of their so-called caliphate there. This was partially because they were not armed and had not been integrated into the security forces under former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after they had cooperated with Baghdad and the Americans in uprooting the Al-Qaeda in Iraq group from that region. Hundreds of those tribesmen have paid with their lives over the course of the past year, partly due to this failure on the part of the Iraqi government.

Kurdish fighters fighting DaeshSo you see it’s not a pretty picture. Sunni tribesmen and Kurdish paramilitary forces alike are wary of Baghdad since it completely failed to protect them and their communities (members of other minority groups in Northern Iraq, such as the Yazidi’s, and the Assyrian Christians, are losing all hope of having a continued existence and presence in Iraq, having witnessed in horror their largely defenseless communities devastated by Daesh they feel there is no future left for them on their kindred soil — it would be a greatly demoralizing defeat if Daesh’s attempt at destroying them does actually see to those communities disappearing for good) and are only now working on a military and political solution with Baghdad which will see them work together in order to effectively destroy Daesh. Disparate sectors of Iraqi society will have to cooperate for this to work and for Iraq as a whole to endure and weather this awful storm.

As they are working on this lawmakers in Washington – House Republicans who perceive Iran to be maneuvering to dominant Iraq through Shi’ite militias presently fighting Daesh and disapprove of the central governments relatively cordial relations with its Iranian neighbour – are seeking to directly transfer funds for training and equipment directly to the Sunnis and Kurds fighting Daesh. If this proposed bill is passed Iraq and the central government will still get aid and assistance, but the funds allotted for payment to the Peshmerga and Sunni Arabs fighting Daesh will not be distributed through Baghdad.

The reasoning, one assumes, is that the U.S. can be guaranteed the money reaches their intended recipients more quickly and directly, effectively cutting out the middle-man. Given the enemy they are fighting one can understand the logic behind such a move. However at the same time it’s important that in this fight Iraq prevails over this tyranny by pulling together and fighting Daesh as a single unified country. As distant a prospect that may seem given the sombre and depressing reality of the present this battle does broadly constitute a litmus test (forgive the cliched term) for the durability of Iraq’s future as a federal polity. If the Iraqi state has any hope of survival this battle has to be won by a concerted effort on the part of Baghdad to be an effective federal authority whose primary responsibility is the security of the state and its inhabitants, foreign affairs and other such macro state-level responsibilities.

Directly funding the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds fighting Daesh today may have positive short-term tactical effects. But in the long-term it may serve to negate that fundamental thing which needs to happen for Iraq to retain any hope of remaining intact. That being the confrontation of Daesh being organized by Baghdad in close coordination with the Sunni Arabs of Anbar and the Kurds of the north (in a joint-operation to liberate Mosul). Having a bill which deposits funds in a way which gives the impression that Iraq is now three separate polities sends the wrong message. While one recognizes the urgency of ensuring all groups are sufficiently armed and have the means to combat Daesh, as well as the failure of Baghdad to do so in recent months, as mentioned, one nevertheless feels this bill is highly inappropriate and accordingly hopes it is not passed.

One doesn’t find Muqtada al-Sadr’s ready threats to resort to an armed campaign against American interests in Iraq helpful – after all that will make it appear to some in Washington that people who oppose this bill oppose it on the grounds that they are afraid Sadr will live up to this threat. As par usual the line taken by Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s stance was much more moderate and sensible, he too is directly opposed the bill on the correct grounds that it will further undermine Iraq’s national sovereignty.

While one would indeed like to see the Sunni Arabs of the east and northeast and the Kurds of the north get considerable autonomy and a say in their regional affairs one nevertheless hopes they do not draw lines in the dirt and break away from the rest of Iraq. Autonomy is one thing, partition is quite another. Further autonomy could be good for Iraq while a heavily centralized Iraq will be bad for everyone. A more federal Iraq with substantial regional autonomy in places might well work, and may enable Iraq to succeed as a multi-denominational federal democracy. That would be the ultimate slap in the face to the likes of Daesh and other barbaric, sectarian and violent reactionaries.