The Kurds and the Kurdistan Regional Government have been a strong U.S. ally and friend since long before ISIL emerged. The Kurdish Peshmerga is a leading force in fighting ISIL and holds a thousand-mile border with the terrorist group. Fighting such a brutal enemy, which disregards the rules of military engagement and commits atrocity after atrocity, with outdated AK47 rifles is unacceptable. They need heavy arms. They need more firepower. Military aid is reaching the Kurdistan region, but problems in coordination are still present. There are still some political forces in the federal government in Baghdad trying to hamper the progress made in December, when negotiations between the Baghdad government and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil over the 2015 budget and oil export issues were successful.
Recent visits to Erbil by U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Senate Committee, and Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jack Reed (D-RI), chair and ranking member of the Armed Service Committee, will hopefully help U.S. lawmakers to push this resolution forward.
Out of 220 Armored Vehicles the U.S. Recently Sent to Iraq, the Peshmerga Received Only 13
As an example, recently the United States sent 220 armored vehicles to Iraq, out of which only 13 reached Kurdistan’s Peshmerga units on the front lines. That is why the U.S. Congress’s initiative to allow the U.S. to directly arm the Peshmerga is vital. Such an act will also help political processes in Iraq, sending a clear and strong message to all parties that genuine inclusion, compromise and effective implementation of the steps agreed to create a just future for every ethnic group in this war-torn country must be honored. One should admire the spirit of the people in the Kurdistan Regional Government. They understand but too well what is at stake here. Their civil servants have not received salaries for several months. Payments to Peshmerga fighters are very late as well. International companies engaged in a number of major projects in the Kurdistan region could not receive payments for their work, and thus could not pay their various subcontractors. Some corrupt factions in Baghdad are simply preventing the flow of money to Kurdistan, trying to halt their progress. But by suppressing the cash flow to Erbil, Baghdad is also trying to turn away international investors, companies and service providers that are operating well in that region. Haider al-Abadi, the new Iraqi prime minister, and his cabinet will have to be very effective in combatting these efforts.
Battle for Mosul Means More Refugees
Mosul, Iraq’s second city with a population of two million, is under ISIL’s control now. The battle to liberate Mosul is planned, and for various and complicated PR reasons, in a general scope, has already been announced. A new refugee crisis is on the horizon. At the moment, Kurdistan is host to two million refugees, both internally displaced persons from inside the country and also from Syria. The entire Christian and Yezidi refugee communities have found a safe haven in Kurdistan. It is clear that the battle for Mosul will produce yet another wave of refugees that will no doubt come to the Kurdistan region. A number of international NGOs are present in Kurdistan and are working hard to help absorb the growing needs of the population there.
The Syrian Kurdish city of Kobane, bordering Turkey, stands now as an inspirational symbol of resistance to ISIL. After months of fighting, the city was liberated on January 26 this year. Kurdish women formed Peshmerga military units and fought shoulder to shoulder with Kurdish men, and emotional pictures of women with bombs, rifles and anti-tank launchers confronting ISIL flooded the world. The Barzani Charity Foundation, a leading Kurdish non-governmental organization, is making plans to help rebuild Kobane and restore life in that devastated city.
Barzani Charity Foundation to Open U.S. Office
The Barzani Charity Foundation was founded in 2005 and operates without governmental or political party financial support, financed entirely through private donations. The Foundation’s role model, inspiring the involvement of a number of local community volunteers to contribute to the effort, is the legacy of Mullah Mustafa Barzani, a towering political figure in modern Kurdish politics and a leader of the Kurdish liberation movement. It will open an office in Washington D.C. seeking more support for the refugees.
Mullah Mustafa Barzani was born in 1903 and passed away in 1979. He was the father of the current president of Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani. The Barzani Charity Foundation provides food and shelter for refugees both domestic and international (about 95 percent of Syrian refugees in Kurdistan — roughly 220,000 people — have been placed in the Dohuk governorate in Kurdistan). It has six communal food kitchens preparing daily meals for over 150,000 refugees from the Shangal area. The foundation also provides scholarships in support of youth education and also has an Orphan Sponsorship Program for children who have lost their parents.
Kobane is a symbol of the threat ISIL poses not just to Kurdistan, but the whole democratic world. We owe it to the people of that city, and the courageous efforts of the Kurdish Peshmerga who freed it and the Barzani Charity Foundation to rebuild it, to ensure that they are receiving as much support as we can offer.
Written by: Dr. Sasha Toperich, Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations SAIS at Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C. Co-written by Awat Mustafa, Director of Operations and Projects, Barzani charity foundation