To save Iraq, arm the Kurds

If American policy wants to be truly effective, it should do more than just give a few weapons and limited training. Instead, the United States must help Kurdistan to organize, train and equip a nonpolitical Kurdish army. The United States can do this by greatly increasing its support to the Ministry of Pesh Merga Affairs’ program dedicated to building nonpartisan units. The program requires that new recruits join the nonpolitical units as individuals, not party members. The ministry has managed to raise one nonparty brigade, and needs additional support to increase the number of units.

The United States can turn these nonparty brigades into the nucleus of a new Kurdish army by providing the necessary weapons and training to make them effective, which will in turn encourage further recruitment. An American-assisted Kurdish army could make Kurdistan more stable by depriving politicians of control over military units. And a politically independent army reduces the risk of the K.D.P. and P.U.K. turning their guns against each other again. Furthermore, American involvement in the Kurdish army would keep the Kurds focused on the Islamic State rather than any domestic agenda.

Turkey should not be a problem. Although it is currently fighting its own Kurdish population, it has close relations with the Iraqi Kurds. And though Turkey would have much to gain from a stable Kurdistan — indeed, Turkey has strong commercial and security ties with the Iraqi Kurds — the United States should make support for an Iraqi Kurdish army conditional on no bid for independence.