Iraqi And Kurdish Militias Are Making Gains Against ISIS — We Should Help Them

Maxwel D. Terzano Consultant, Middle East Research Center, Ltd.
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As the world fixes its gaze upon Israel and Gaza, atrocities by the Islamic State (IS/ISIS), have faded from the public eye. But ISIS’s truly despicable rampage throughout Iraq and Syria continues undaunted. In a recent video (warning: extremely graphic) released by the jihadists, they are seen killing random motorists for pleasure, and tormenting prisoners with promises of release before summarily executing them. They do so with glee. These videos are a common practice, but are rarely seen in mainstream media due to their disturbing content.

The Islamic State has faced little or no resistance from any major powers, except for the Kurdish Peshmerga Forces in Northern Iraq. However, there is hope. It’s been reported that IS was forced out of three Syrian towns by Sunni Shaitat tribesmen in the oil-rich Dier Ezzor province. The Shiatat tribe of Sunni Muslims had previously promised not to oppose the jihadists, as long as they refrained from attacking and harassing their tribesmen.

This mild request was, unsurprisingly, too much to ask.

A recent photo on one of the numerous IS twitter accounts shows prisoners claimed to be from the Shaitat tribe charged with committing “treachery.” According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the fighting started Wednesday when IS detained three tribesmen. In the face of IS fighters raiding their villages, plundering and kidnapping innocent victims, the tribesmen have begun to fight back.

They’ve successfully pushed IS out of Abu Hamam, Kashkiyeh and Ghranij, and are continuing action against the militants in al-Bukamal, al-Tayyana and al-Mayadeen. During the fighting the Sunni tribe has been tweeting about their “uprising,” stating “Shaitat rises up against the Islamic State.”

It appears the resistance is growing.

After all, the Shaitat are not the only ones fighting IS. In the past two weeks alone, 800 Kurdish fighters have streamed into Syria from Turkey in order to protect Kurdish cities from extremist occupation. Last Wednesday, members of the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) fought fierce battles in Ain al-Arab (Kobane) that left nearly 50 fighters dead, 14 Kurds and 35 jihadists. The Kurds managed to drive IS out of fortified hills in the surrounding area and set up their own fortifications.

This defeat has forced the Islamic State to call for reinforcements.

The Islamic State’s Iraq front is also in trouble. Kurdish Peshmerga Forces continue to defend Iraqi civilians by preventing, for example, an IS attack on the town of Zumar. The attack was thwarted as the Peshmerga managed to retake the town and wrest control of a number of oil facilities back from the jihadists.

Notwithstanding, the militants are ruthless and driven by a religious zeal that makes them unpredictable and exceedingly dangerous. Over the weekend, the Islamist militants have managed to take control of Iraq’s largest dam and three towns, dealing the Kurdish forces their first major defeat since IS’s first sweep through Northern Iraq.

These developments (despite recent setbacks) all speak to a positive, albeit slowly developing trend. Alongside Sunni “uprisings” in Syria, the Kurdish YPG and Peshmerga forces are proving a handful for the Islamic State. Until now, IS had been fighting poorly equipped rebels in Syria who were taken by surprise after IS’s lightning quick rise to prominence in Iraq. Fighting well-equipped and well trained forces is proving a very different story.

But in Washington, we shouldn’t just be watching with our fingers crossed.

The Kurds are pressing the U.S. to send arms to aid them in their fight against terror. Embracing their successes, we’d be foolish to ignore the plea of such a reliable ally. With the sophisticated weaponry we could provide, the Kurds would have the means to protect cities like Sinjar from jihadist takeover and prevent the ensuing humanitarian crises that inevitably follow.

The semiautonomous Kurds are the best hope for Iraq, as well as the strongest forces opposing IS in Syria and Iraq despite all of the chaos in the region. A supply of arms from Washington would be a significant gesture from a country that has left the Kurdish people high and dry in the past. The United States has been searching for an answer to this crisis without committing troops to Iraq. The Kurds look like the answer.

Unfortunately, however, as America’s friends fight to secure their cities and towns from terrorists, Congress is now enjoying a month long recess.

Maxwel D. Terzano is a freelance journalist with Middle East interest. He has studied International Relations at American University, and served in the United States Air Force. He is a Research Assistant at the Middle East Research Center, Ltd. and resides in Washington D.C