Iraq offers air support to Kurdish forces

Order first overt effort by Iraqis and Kurds to work together militarily

Displaced families from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjarl west of Mosul, take refuge at Dohuk province. Photograph: Ari Jala

Displaced families from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjarl west of Mosul, take refuge at Dohuk province. Photograph: Ari Jala

 

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki yesterday ordered Iraq’s air force to support Kurdish forces fighting Sunni extremists in the north, a move that represented a thaw, out of military necessity, in the fraught relations between the central government and Kurdish leaders.

The order was the first overt effort by Iraqis and Kurds to work together militarily since Iraq was thrust into the crisis in June when militants with the Islamic State (formerly known as Isis) captured Mosul.

However, there was no sign that it signaled any broader reconciliation between the Shiite-dominated government and the Kurds, who are pushing for independence from Iraq and have been at odds with Baghdad for some time over distribution of the country’s oil revenue.

Instead, the deployment of the Iraqi air force to help the Kurds fight the Islamic State seemed only to reflect the dire situation on the ground, and came just after Kurdish forces were routed by militants from three towns in northern Iraq over the weekend.

Front lines

Yesterday, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant Kurdish separatist group in Turkey that for decades has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state, issued a statement calling for its fighters to go to Sinjar, one of three Iraqi towns where the Kurds were pushed out Sunday. “The treacherous Isis attacks have been humiliating for the Kurds,” the statement said. “Until the Kurds develop a strong resistance, they will not be able to take back their honor.” After losing Sinjar, which is dominated by members of the minority Yazidi sect, and two other towns, Kurdish officials vowed to mount a major counteroffensive against the Islamic State. But it was unlikely that Iraqi air support for the Kurds would prove decisive against Islamic State.

For months, al-Maliki has waged a failed air campaign against Islamic State militants in Anbar province, where at the end of 2013 militants took control of Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi.

‘Uneasy distance’

The dynamic changed in recent days, as the militants advanced north into Kurdish-controlled territory, sending the pesh merga into retreat and forcing tens of thousands more refugees to flee north to more secure Kurdish areas.

The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian disaster unfolding for the Yazidi community, and reports emerged yesterday that the Islamic State, as it had done to the Christian community in Mosul, had ordered Yazidis to convert to Islam or be killed.

– (New York Times)