The reluctance of the West in dealing directly with Kurds for their defense has ebbed as the crisis has peaked in northern Iraq. This week, the US began shipping arms semi-covertly to the Kurds, and now France has pledged publicly to arm the Peshmerga in their fight to stave off ISIS — although the French nominally went through Baghdad with the deal:
France will send arms to Kurdish forces in Iraq to support their fight against radicals of the Islamic State group, the presidency announced Wednesday.
A statement said the arms shipment will be delivered “in the coming hours” and has been agreed with authorities in Baghdad.
Citing the “catastrophic” situation in Iraqi Kurdistan, it added that “mobilization in support of Kurdistan and of all Iraq must continue.” It did not specify what weapons it was sending.
The surprise announcement comes as the United States has also increased its role in fighting back Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group that is threatening the autonomous Kurdish region in the north of Iraq. Senior American officials say U.S. intelligence agencies are directly arming the Kurds who are battling the militants, which would be a shift in Washington’s policy of only working through the central government in Baghdad.
“Agreed in Baghdad”? The new Iraqi government, which has yet to see the previous Iraqi government leave, has little choice but to agree with arming the Kurds. Their own forces are in disarray, and the Peshmerga is the only effective fighting force arrayed against ISIS. The Western partners of Baghdad certainly see that, and that’s why getting the approval of Baghdad was little more than a diplomatic nicety. Unless they want to start sending their own troops into northern Iraq, the West needs the Kurdish fighters at full capacity, and they will make sure that they have everything they need — even if that means a huge headache for Baghdad if and when ISIS is defeated. Haider al-Abadi must be thinking that he’d like to have that headache now rather than the ones he has at the moment.
Besides, there is little time left to act. The US airstrikes have not had the desired effect, and ISIS still threatens to commit genocide on Yazidis:
Time was running out for thousands of Iraqis trapped by jihadists, with the US saying on Wednesday it was assessing rescue options and the UN warning of “potential genocide”.
The United States has carried out air strikes against members of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in the area of Mount Sinjar, where the UN refugee agency says up 20,000-30,000 people, many of them members of the Yazidi minority, are besieged.
Thousands more poured across a bridge into Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region on Wednesday after trekking into Syria to escape, most with nothing but the clothes they wore.
Some women carried exhausted children, weeping as they arrived to the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan.
But there are still large numbers on the mountain, said 45-year-old Mahmud Bakr.
The Christians arrived earlier, and are still working through their displacement. Most of them want to emigrate officially to the Kurdish autonomous zone, or beyond:
British Parliamentarians have begun to demand that the UK join the US in airstrikes to relieve the Yazidis:
A growing number of MPs have told Sky News it is time for the UK to join US airstrikes in Iraq to stop the advance of Islamic State fighters.
David Cameron returned from Portugal today, cutting short his holiday by a day, and will this afternoon chair a Cobra meeting to discuss the Iraq situation amid growing pressure for the UK to act further.
The UK has stepped up its aid drops in northern Iraq and is sending a “small number” of RAF Chinook helicopters to the region. It has also already sent RAF Tornado jets equipped with sophisticated surveillance equipment to gather intelligence.
Britain is also transporting weapons for the Kurdish forces, who have been outgunned by the jihadists.
However, Downing Street has so far resisted calls for UK forces to join the US in taking military action against IS. It has also rejected demands for Parliament to be recalled to debate the crisis.
The momentum seems to be shifting toward intervention, but by the time the debate occurs, it may be too late for the Yazidis. It was already far too late for the Christians.
Update: The US has increased its military posture too:
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has announced that the United States has sent a new 130 member military assessment team to Erbil in northern Iraq to determine what further assistance the U.S. can provide in easing the humanitarian crisis of thousands of Yazidis trapped at Mount Sinjar. For now, the United States has provided five airdrops of food and water to the Yazidis and conducted 18 airstrikes targeting ISIS fighters surrounding the mountain or who were approaching Erbil.
Addressing a group of Marines during a visit to Camp Pendleton in California, Hagel said the team had arrived in northern Iraq “to take a closer look and give a more in-depth assessment of where we can continue to help the Iraqis with what they’re doing and the threats that they are now dealing with.”
The new team is in addition to the 40 U.S. military personnel already in Erbil who for several weeks have been manning a Joint Operations Center with Kurdish military forces.
Don’t expect too much from the move, though:
It is similar in scope to the assessment teams sent to Baghdad in June to determine potential U.S. assistance to Iraqi Security forces in the wake of the surprising ISIS advance in northern Iraq that led to the capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.
At the time Pentagon officials stressed that the teams would provide useful intelligence to help determine whether U.S. military advisors should be sent to work with the Iraqi military. The assessments were completed weeks ago, but a decision on whether to proceed to that step has yet to be made by the White House.
So we’re tripling our capability to produce recommendations that the White House can ignore at its normal rate? Got it.