We all know that Islamic extremist groups are on the rise. The turmoil caused by civil wars combined with America’s foreign policy has produced the perfect storm for radicalisation.
This has led to the rise of groups such as ISIS, which now controls large parts of Iraq and Syria. The group is an offshoot of Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra; it was founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose tactics were considered to extreme for both these groups. One of their main aims is the implementation of Sharia law. This leads to the persecution of religious minority groups, women and mass executions of Iraqi soldiers. The group is gaining media coverage through its brutal treatment of western hostages, including the recent beheading of Kenji Goto. With western nations unwilling to fight in another Middle Eastern war (especially as Syria is not particularly rich in oil), it seems that ISIS’s advance is unstoppable. Or is it?
Comparatively, Kurdish groups get much less coverage from western media. Commonly associated with Saddam Hussein’s massacre of them in 1988 they are the largest ethnic group in the world not to have their own country (around 35 million people). Their ethnic homeland includes parts of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq; in all of these countries they are minority groups and are often persecuted. However, they are seen as a terrorist group by the West due to their disruptive presence in Turkey since the late 1970’s and are still sanctioned by the US and other countries.
The Kurd’s main fighting force is called the Peshmerga; they hail from a Marxist/ Leninist background and fight for the establishment of a separate Kurdish state. Their name translates to ‘Those who face death’ which summarises their fearless fighting style. One of their most distinctive policies is that they allow female fighters on the front line, completely at odds with the entirely male ISIS fighting force. This demonstrates the equality in Kurdish culture, which much closer to a western style of living than other Arabic cultures. Backed by US air strikes, the Peshmerga has taken vast amounts of land back from ISIS and now controls all Kurdish land in Iraq. They are quickly reclaiming land in war-torn Syria which they claim belongs to them.
Life in a Kurdish nation is distinctly western. They have a very American way of life, including malls, fast food and gated communities. This means that America and the West do have an ally that can fight ISIS and is proven to win. Thus, America can use its interventionist strategies in the Middle East, receive oil from Kurdistan as it takes over the oil rich parts of Iraq, maintain a state of war in the Middle East from which many rich Americans profit and avoid another major conflict. Happy days. So why doesn’t America fully back the Kurds?
The answer lies in the organisation of the Kurdish fighting groups and their different aims. The Kurds do not have a single army. Instead they have a number of guerilla groups. All of these groups have the same ultimate goal (to establish the Kurdish state) but different enemies. These different groups include: PJAC- fights Iran; PKK- fights Turkey; KDP-fights Iraq/Syria; KCK- fights Turkey; KDP- fights Iran; Peshmerga-fights Iraq and Syria.
This means that although the Kurds fight against some of America’s enemies, including ISIS and Iran, it also fights against key allies such as Turkey. Then-President George Bush also pledged to help Turkey to fight the Kurdish rebels in 2007. This leaves America with a choice between its allies. Another potential problem with supporting the Kurds is their socialist tendencies. Even though the capital seems to be westernised, many of the rebel group’s ideology comes from forms of communism, with the leaders using Mao as a role model. A strong Kurdistan may prove to be just as big a problem for the west as ISIS.
Therefore, although the Kurds could defeat ISIS, bring peace to a large part of the Middle East, liberate women from oppression, save thousands from Sharia law and give a large ethnic group a homeland, this will never be fully actualised. Unless political reforms in the US stop the over-representation of large corporations that benefit from conflict, the Middle East will carry on being the West’s battlefield/ oil-well from which profits are drawn. Unfortunately, the Kurds have the ability to stop this pointless ideological war. But it will never happen.
Insanity (noun): doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – maybe the West should consider this when next deciding their foreign policy in the Middle East.