The Fight of Their Lives : Dexter Filkins ( The New Yorker )

24 Sep

I saw a CNN news report of 200,000 syrian  kurds fleeing scourge of ISIS to Turkey. I was struck by the sheer enormity  and scale of  human sufferring and wondered why we are so ill equipped to fight and eradicate the threat posed by ISIS. I read about a encouraging news of a new  national government taking shape in Iraq with representation of  warring factions and  thought it might be first step in presenting a uniform front to scare of ISIS. I wondered why UN security council can’t take coercive actions? Why is the world is so unipolar? Why the solution always points to America? Can US alone solve the world’s problems? Is it equipped to do so ?  Why burden America with every scare ?

Lee Kuan Yew in a interview (Fareed Zakaria, CNN) once alluded America cannot impose its governance structures in other nations. I have a feeling that is right. I also feel US under Barack Obama is better than previous governments in terms of measured responses to interventions. It is seeking to empower local forces in its fight against ISIS and recent round of air strikes on Raqqa had the support of a coalition of countries. I still wonder if it is enough, drone strikes have collateral damages and how much rebels can fight ISIS.

I also have a child like wonder, is this because the world is no more a bi polar order, did the soviets help keep the world order sane, like in my childhood. I never heard of a terrorist organization growing up, may be there was not much media and no internet. May be religion was not a state subject. I don’t know. Leonard cohen wrote in ” The Future” ” I’ve seen the future, brother: it is murder..” he later recounted in a interview ( NRK) he was feeling this acutely after collapse of Berlin Wall. May be the master is right. Is Geo politics now more complex than ever…

Dexter filkins highlights the kurdish piece of this struggle agnaist ISIS, autonomy and freedom. Its a complex kitsch. Please do read this exhuastive reporting ( almost like a docudrama) for Kurdish vantage point. Please see “The Fight of Their Lives (The White House wants the Kurds to help save Iraq from ISIS. The Kurds may be more interested in breaking away.) ” by Dexter filkins for “The New Yorker “.

Dexter filkins writes ” The fighting between ISIS and the Kurds stretches along a six-hundred-and-fifty-mile front in northeastern Iraq—a jagged line that roughly traces one border of Iraqi Kurdistan, the territory that the Kurds have been fighting for decades to establish as an independent state. With as many as thirty million people spread across the Middle East, the Kurds claim to be the world’s largest ethnic group without a country. ”

” The incursion of ISIS presents the Kurds with both opportunity and risk. In June, the ISIS army swept out of the Syrian desert and into Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. As the Islamist forces took control, Iraqi Army soldiers fled, setting off a military collapse through the region. The Kurds, taking advantage of the chaos, seized huge tracts of territory that had been claimed by both Kurdistan and the government in Baghdad. With the newly acquired land, the political climate for independence seemed promising. The region was also finding new economic strength; vast reserves of oil have been discovered there in the past decade. In July, President Barzani asked the Kurdish parliament to begin preparations for a vote on self-rule. “The time has come to decide our fate, and we should not wait for other people to decide it for us,” Barzani said.”

” Since 2003, when the U.S. destroyed the Iraqi state and began spending billions of dollars trying to build a new one, the Kurds have been their most steadfast ally. When American forces departed, in 2011, not a single U.S. soldier had lost his life in Kurdish territory. As the rest of Iraq imploded, only the Kurdish region realized the dream that President George W. Bush had set forth when he ordered the attack: it is pro-Western, largely democratic, largely secular, and economically prosperous. President Obama recently told the Times that the Kurdish government is “functional the way we would like to see.”

” Still, the Administration, bound to a policy it calls One Iraq, is quietly working to thwart the Kurds’ aspirations. American officials are warning companies that buying Kurdish oil may have dire legal consequences, and the warnings have been effective: the Kurdish regional government is nearly bankrupt. And yet, as the peshmerga work to force ISIS out of Kurdish territory, they have been supported by American jets and drones, and by American Special Forces on the ground. In August, President Obama ordered covert shipments of arms to the Kurds. By the end of the month, Kurdish forces had taken back much of the territory that they had lost to ISIS, and were preparing operations to reclaim the rest.”

It is this complex sub texts : US supporting a unified Iraq and Kurds aiming liberation. America needing kurdish forces in its fight agnaist ISIS.  This is just part of struggle in Iraq, it perhaps gets more complex and clueless in Syria…

More from the article ” Obama has spoken carefully in public, but it is plain that the Administration wants the Kurds to do two potentially incompatible things. The first is to serve as a crucial ally in the campaign to destroy ISIS, with all the military funding and equipment that such a role entails. The second is to resist seceding from the Iraqi state. Around Washington, the understanding is clear: if the long-sought country of Kurdistan becomes real, America’s twelve-year project of nation building in Iraq will be sundered. Kurdish leaders acknowledge that the emergence of ISIS and the implosion of Syria are changing the region in unpredictable ways. But the Kurds’ history with the state of Iraq is one of persistent enmity and bloodshed, and they see little benefit in joining up with their old antagonists. “Iraq exists only in the minds of people in the White House,” Masrour Barzani, the Kurdish intelligence chief and Masoud’s son, told me. “We need our own laws, our own rules, our own country, and we are going to get them.”

” Throughout the war in Iraq, the Kurds were the Americans’ most loyal partners, offering up the peshmerga to form the nucleus of the new Iraqi Army and one of their own leaders, Jalal Talabani, to be the President of Iraq. Kurdish politicians won seats in the new parliament. But, as the U.S. tried to build a unified and democratic Iraq, the Kurds developed a parallel state, fostering separate democratic institutions, preserving their army, and preparing for the Americans’ eventual departure. If it wasn’t exactly a double game, it allowed the Kurds to be ready for the day when the Iraqi state disintegrated.”

“The ISIS that swept into northwestern Iraq this June is remarkably different from its predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq. The earlier organization operated mostly in secret, and its leaders were uninterested in acquiring territory, believing that a fixed location creates unacceptable risks. ISIS is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who holds a Ph.D. in Islamic studies from Baghdad University and spent time in an American military prison in Iraq. At forty-three, he is said to be a flamboyant figure, a self-styled successor to Osama bin Laden. Baghdadi’s goal is to re-create the era of the caliphate, when an Islamic regime ruled from Constantinople to Morocco and the Arabian Peninsula. ”

” Al Qaeda in Iraq was run largely by foreigners; ISIS is run by a council of former Iraqi generals, according to Hisham Alhashimi, an adviser to the Iraqi government and an expert on ISIS. Many are members of Saddam Hussein’s secular Baath Party who converted to radical Islam in American prisons. Baghdadi has divided his conquered Iraqi lands into seven “vilayets,” the name given to provinces in the caliphate. Each vilayet has a governor, who answers directly to Baghdadi, but who is free to launch attacks as he sees fit. “No permission is needed,” Alhashimi said. ”

”  Alhashimi estimated that Baghdadi has about ten thousand fighters under his command in Iraq and twelve thousand in Syria, with tens of thousands of active supporters in both countries. In Iraq, the advance force, called the House of Islam, is dominated by foreigners, including several hundred Europeans, Australians, and Americans. Many of them are suicide bombers. Alhashimi says that the group is increasingly well funded; he estimated that it takes in ten million dollars a month from kidnapping, and more than a hundred and fifty million dollars a month from smuggling oil into Turkey and other neighboring countries, often selling it at the bargain price of about a dollar a gallon. As of early this year, ISIS had an estimated nine hundred and fifty million dollars in cash, Alhashimi said, an amount that has grown as the group has taken more territory and imposed taxes on local Iraqis. ”

” One of the hallmarks of ISIS’s military strategy has been to launch several attacks simultaneously, distracting opponents from its real target. The group is fighting on many fronts in Iraq and Syria, Alhashimi said, and he believes that it may be planning a major attack somewhere else—in the Gulf or in Europe. “I don’t think it’s far away,” Alhashimi said. ”

” The initial air strikes ordered by President Obama—more than a hundred and fifty—were intended solely to aid the Kurdish forces and the government in Baghdad, and to rescue the Yazidis, a religious minority that fled en masse to Mt. Sinjar when ISIS’s fighters threatened a large-scale massacre. The air strikes, the U.S. official said, were coördinated by teams of American Special Forces, which conducted thermal scans to locate ISIS fighters and then targeted them with bombs.”

“But the next wave of strikes, which Obama outlined in a nationally broadcast speech in early September, will go much deeper. “Unless you degrade [ISIS’s] war-fighting capacity—that means its command and control, its leadership, its armored vehicles, its ability to mass and maneuver and conduct war—there is no local force on the ground in this entire swath of territory that can stand up to it right now,” he said. Obama is assembling a coalition of states that are willing to contribute training and airpower. But, as ISIS fighters integrate themselves into local populations, the coalition needs fighters who will go from door to door. In Iraq, there are only two standing fighting forces: the peshmerga ( Kurdish forces) and the Iraqi Army. ”

Please do read ” The Fight of Their Lives  ” by Dexter filkins for “The New Yorker “.

We are living in complex times and  ISIS  has presented biggest challenge to world order. Its ambitions are that of a government.  It must be stopped. I hope US and coalition succeeds but the answer is not a unipolar order. America for all its expertise and stature in comity of nations need not be the answer for world problems, its unrealistic to seek its intervention all the time and everywhere…for now there seems to be no other option.

Right now human sufferring is unparalleled and very very sad, hope some improvement is made…

Thank you!






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