Baghdad, Tehran, Washington. The peshmerga want to stop taking orders from others and take advantage of this chaotic moment to redraw the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iraqi Kurdistan is a country undergoing a decisive transition. With internal protests pressing the immortal President Masoud Barzani, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) government is using fear of the advancing Islamists to silence critical voices and stifle demonstrations in hot spots: the eastern stronghold of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party and now the Movement for Change party, or Gorran.
To do so, it isn’t hesitating to use the peshmerga as political tool. The military is at the forefront of domestic propaganda, and its long fidelity to Western interests presents a bargaining chip for Barzani to expand the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan. If the world asks them for fighters, the peshmerga ask for something in return.
For now, they want an iron-fisted coalition to sweep out the jihadis.
“The United States overthrew Saddam in a few months. I cannot believe that they are now unable to collapse Daesh,” said Farhang Afandi, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. Afandi is an Iraqi Kurdish-Canadian who has been coordinating operations between the peshmerga forces and special forces from Canada and the United States. He had lived in Canada for many years, pursuing a career in business, but he’s now come to the front lines — where he finds much to criticize.
“The attitude of the coalition is frustrating, trying to tie us to Baghdad,” he told il manifesto. The Kurds “send money there and we do not get anything. We have no money to pay salaries to the peshmerga. The goal of the West is clear: They want direct control of Iraq, removing it from the clutches of Iran. We pay the price.”
But, he adds, Iraq no longer exists (“Let’s be realistic, corruption has destroyed the state institutions”), so they might as well back “the only pro-Western force in the region.”
Iraqi Kurdish Westernism is not new. Relations have always been very tight. Tel Aviv was the first to buy oil from Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Kurdish capital, Erbil, is becoming a mirror of European cities. There are buildings under construction, banks, fashion boutiques; it’s almost unrecognizable as a Middle Eastern city, where even the souk has lost its ancient soul to make room for supermarkets.
Now the peshmerga want to collect on what they believe the West owes them.
“There aren’t many raids. We aren’t the only ones frustrated: The U.S. military advisers know they can do more but aren’t allowed,” Afandi said. We mention the aid given by U.S. allies in the Gulf to ISIS. “The intelligence world knew about Daesh, but couldn’t imagine its potential. They were so blinded by the war on Syrian President Assad that they didn’t notice how al-Nusra Front, ISIS, Jaish al-Fatah were thriving.”
The major returns to his work, securing Sinjar. But first, he imparts a personal vision for the peshmerga in the future Middle East. “Assad is the enemy? Sure. Iran is a terrorist? Yes. That the Shiite militias are anti-Western and anti-Israeli is established. Let us prosper. We are your defense.”