Every week, The WorldPost asks an expert to shed light on a topic driving headlines around the world. Today, we speak with Peter W. Galbraith on the role of Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
As the fight of the U.S.-led coalition against militants of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq continues, the group's brutal assault on the town of Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border has turned the world's attention to the plight of the Kurds.
The battle for Kobani has been emblematic of much of the fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where outgunned Kurdish forces find themselves as the frontline defense against militant advances. The WorldPost spoke with author, academic and former adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government Peter W. Galbraith about the role of the Kurds in the region.
Kobani is currently in dire threat of falling to Islamic State militants. What would that mean for the Kurds?
For the Kurds in Kobani it means massacres, torture and great cruelty. The Kurds are saying ISIS has declared them to be infidels, and they kill infidels, so it really is a life and death battle for people there. It certainly would also be a major blow to President Obama's strategy, and one that is still preventable by using intensive airstrikes.
Do you foresee any Turkish aid or involvement in Kobani?
Well time is running out. I would hope that the Turkish government would see the opportunity that exists helping defend Kobani. It would keep ISIS off the border, and if Kobani is defended it means 200,000 refugees will return home.
It would also promise to open a new chapter between the Turkish government and the PYD [The Kurd's Democratic Union Party] and its ally the PKK [Kurdish Worker's Party, a militant group]. Erdogan has already established a very close and good relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq and this is an opportunity to radically change things in Turkey.
What level of unity is there between the Kurdish groups?
In regards to political parties, the PKK in Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq have been fierce opponents. The PKK attacked the Iraqi Kurds in the 90s, so there's no love between them. The Syrian Kurds, the PYD, are aligned with the PKK.
That said, there is a greater sense of shared Kurdish identity that has led both Kurdistan Regional Government President Barzani and Salih Muslim, the leader of the Syrian Kurds, to call for these differences to be set aside.
What is the longterm goal of the Kurds?
There are different aims in different places. The Kurds in Turkey want to be full and equal citizens and have the right to use their own language, to have education in their own language, to be full participants in Turkish life.
The PYD in Syria speaks of a federal democratic Syria, but the Kurdish population would like to have a separate region with de facto independence the way the Iraqi Kurds have.
The Iraqi Kurds have de facto independence and they would like to have legal independence. I do think an independent Kurdistan in Iraq is likely, but not in Turkey and who knows what's going to happen in Syria.
How do you assess the level of support that Kurds are receiving?
There have been some airstrikes, but not enough. The trouble for the defenders of Kobani is that they have Kalahsnikovs and bullets but they're up against American Humvees and American guns, artillery and tanks. So, it's very hard to defend in those circumstances. Also, we're allies with Turkey and we should really be insisting that they permit arms to go the defenders of Kobani.
In regards to Iraq, the United States and other countries have done a good job of flying in weapons, but there need to be more sophisticated weapons. The Kurds specifically need armored helicopters and mine resistant armored personnel carriers.
What are Kurdish leaders saying about the situation?
They're determined to defend Kurdistan but they need help. They need airstrikes. They need weapons. They are proud to be what America hoped all of Iraq would be, but what it isn't.
This interview took place on Tuesday, Oct. 7. It has been edited and condensed for clarity. In addition to being a former adviser to the KRG, Peter W. Galbraith has previously had business and financial interests in Kurdistan.