While Iraqi Kurds may regard their territorial push as a necessary security measure, it is aggravating tensions with some Sunni Arab communities. In a recent news conference in Baghdad, Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and member of the Iraqi parliament Ahmed al-Jabouri accused the Kurdish peshmerga forces of destroying 700 homes in Jalawla after a battle with IS and "denying the return of Arab residents in localities where IS has been expelled.”
Sunni Arab parliamentarians from Ninevah province have publicly criticized the Kurdish peshmerga for their “scorched-earth policies that have caused the displacement of Arab villagers under the pretext of fighting IS.” Sunni Arab groups are also resentful of what they perceive as preferential coalition protection and support of Kurdish regions in the anti-IS campaign.
These trends have implications for the coalition’s anti-IS strategy and regional stability. Arming and training the Kurdish peshmerga in cooperation with the Iraqi government certainly supports the effort to counter IS; however, reinvigorating the deep-rooted conflict over disputed territories does not.
By providing weapons to the KRG unconditionally and without corresponding support to Sunni Arab groups that oppose IS, the coalition is unintentionally shifting the balance of power in northern Iraq. Left unchecked, these measures will encourage a Sunni Arab backlash in the territories and the Kurdistan Region. The current strategy also risks alienating Sunni Arabs, whose support is essential to the anti-IS campaign.
Redrawing the Iraqi map with guns is a recipe for future disaster. If US policymakers and military planners want to rely on local partners to degrade and ultimately destroy IS, then they should also understand the complicated local dynamics tied to these alliances and the secondary consequences for strategic objectives. Given the significant political shifts underway, disabling IS and stabilizing the region will demand preparations for a post-IS Iraq that will regrettably be marked by subnational battles over borders, territories and resources, with or without Baghdad.
(Peshmerga image via Shutterstock)