GOP Sen. John McCain is pushing for the U.S. to take the side of the Kurds in the ongoing Iraqi-Kurdish conflict that recently culminated in the Iraqi seizure of Kirkuk.
In a Tuesday op-ed in The New York Times, McCain reiterated the importance of the U.S.’s friendship with the Kurds and how disturbed he was at the brief and recent firefight between Kurdish and Iraqi forces, which led to Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed militias taking control of Kirkuk.
For McCain, the recent takeover is a noxious combination of undue Iranian influence in Iraq and also Iraqi forces reportedly using U.S.-provided arms in the fight. CIA Director Mike Pompeo said at a recent event that he was aware that Qassim Soleimani, a senior commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, was present in Kirkuk during the attack.
This led McCain to issue a veiled warning to the Iraqi government.
“Let me be clear: If Baghdad cannot guarantee the Kurdish people in Iraq the security, freedom and opportunities they desire, and if the United States is forced to choose between Iranian-backed militias and our longstanding Kurdish partners, I choose the Kurds,” McCain wrote.
Part of the reason for the clash, according to McCain, is because of the gradual end of American power and influence in the region, which is creating a vacuum in the Middle East slowly being filled by Iran and Russia. McCain argued that reversing the trend starts with backing the Kurds to push back against creeping Iranian influence in Iraq.
“If we keep sleepwalking on our current trajectory, we could wake up in the near future and find that American influence has been pushed out of one of the most important parts of the world,” McCain wrote. “That is why Americans need to care about what is going on in the Middle East right now. That is why we need to stick with our true friends, like the Kurds. And that is why, now more than ever, we need a strategy that lifts our sights above the tactical level and separates the urgent from the truly important.”
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