Small Wars Journal

Kurdistan: The Permanent Solution to Daesh

Sun, 12/27/2015 - 11:57pm

Kurdistan: The Permanent Solution to Daesh

Joshua A. Perkins


History has taught us that when an armed conflict arises between two belligerents, countries with interests in the outcome of that conflict either need to pick a winner, a loser, or stay out of the conflict.  If containment or maintaining the status quo is chosen it naturally results in perpetual conflicts, e.g., Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) /Hezbollah.  In this scenario, the weaker belligerent is never defeated through armed conflict or forced to recognize that eventuality.  They are allowed to carry on in the conflict.  The weaker belligerent never has reason to seek peace terms as a part of their surrender, and is free to continue to harass its opponent because a state or non-state actor, like the United Nations, maintains the status quo regardless of how chaotic that is for regional or international stability.  The best choice a state can make is to decide which side it supports and give war a chance, in order to remove the other belligerent so that true stability can be achieved.[1]

The United States (U.S.) is currently seeking a solution to the problem ‘ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyah fi ‘I-‘Iraq wa-sh-Sham’ (Daesh; aka ISIS, ISIL, the Islamic State) poses to U.S. security, its allies, and civilization in general.  The answer: recognize and support the state of ‘Kurdistan’.  Pick a winner, Kurdistan, and a loser, Daesh, and give war a chance.  This decision has two affects.  In the short-term, this solution halts Daesh’s growth and freedom of movement in the region, thus ending their threat to regional stability.  In the long-term, it thwarts Russia’s influence in the region. In the absence of this support for Kurdistan, Russia will be the victor.  Russia will expand its sphere of influence over the entire Middle East because they have chosen a winner in Syria.  It is clear that Putin’s final goal is not just to save the Assad regime, but “He [Putin] also means to forge a counter-alliance [against the U.S] consisting of Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanese Hezbollah and demonstrate that his coalition is more effective than the West’s.”[2]

Why Kurdistan?

As political commentator David Webb noted, “If we [the U.S.] take out ISIS, we have Assad.  If we take out Assad, we have ISIS. If we take out both, we have a vacuum.”[3]  It’s clear from U.S. leaders, whether they be executive, congressional, or presidential hopefuls, that U.S. troops on the ground are not the solution the U.S. is seeking.  Senator Rand Paul speaking more broadly on terrorism said, “If we want to defeat terrorism…the boots on the ground need to be Arab boots on the ground.”[4]  NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg revealed to Reuters that NATO will not send any ground troops to combat Daesh.[5]  As a result, if the U.S. wants to defeat Daesh, the boots on the ground need to be Kurdish boots, a viable ally for the U.S. to support.  There is no need for the U.S. to roll the dice on supporting “moderate” jihadist groups when it has a known partner it has been working with for over a decade in Iraq.  This paper discusses Kurdistan’s demographics, economy, and, most importantly, its military capabilities which will demonstrate Kurdistan’s viability as a permanent regional partner.  It also examines the effects recognizing Kurdistan as an independent state to defeat Daesh will have on Turkey, Iraq, other regional allies, and Russia’s burgeoning Shia alliance.



What will this new Kurdistan look like? ‘Kurdistan’ when referred to in this article is Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region that is part of Iraq’s federal system.[6]  It also refers to what Kurdistan could be if it was an independent state that absorbed the Syrian territory that Syria is unable to govern and is currently controlled by Daesh.

Kurdistan has existed in a similar condition to its current state since 1991.[7]  In terms of landmass, Kurdistan currently occupies 30,400 square miles. That’s equivalent to the size of the Czech Republic.[8] Estimates of the landmass Daesh controls varies depending on the definition used, e.g., controlling versus influencing, but estimates on the low end put it at 13,000 square miles and estimates on the high end have it at 35,000 square miles.[9]  If Kurdistan absorbed the landmass controlled by Daesh that would put Kurdistan on par with Honduras on the low end and Cambodia on the high end.[10]

Kurdistan’s population is currently 5.2 million.[11]  For terms of comparison, that would be equivalent to Norway’s population.[12]  Kurdistan has three primary religious groups: Islam, Christianity, and Yazdanism and has a democratic parliament to represent their respective interests. Kurdistan’s Parliament has several parties that participate in governing, but there are two ruling parties in Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), a social democratic party, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a moderate conservative party.[13]

Kurdistan is in a unique and key position in the region because, if its military were armed with modern armament, it has a central government capable of administering the Daesh territory that comes under its control.


Kurdistan’s current economy has a gross domestic product (GDP) of $23.6 billion.[14]   The energy industry comprises the largest share of Kurdistan’s GDP at 22%.[15] The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) signed an oil-sales agreement with Iraq’s central government in Baghdad that mandates the KRG provide 570,000 barrels per day, 15% of Iraq’s 3.8 million barrel daily output, to Iraq’s state-owned Oil Marketing Company (SOMO).[16]  In exchange, the KRG receives 17% of Iraq’s federal expenditure budget.[17]

If Kurdistan annexes the territory controlled by Daesh it would add an additional $40 million per month ($500 million/year) to its national treasury via energy resources.[18] The Omar oil field alone, which is under Daesh control, produces up to $5 million per month in income.[19] In addition to the Omar field there are seven other oil fields controlled by Daesh: the Tanak, El Isbah, Sijan, Jafra, Azraq, Barghooth, and Abu Hardan oil fields.[20]

Prior to the November Paris attack, the U.S. was hesitant to attack Daesh’s fleet of fuel tanker trucks because of civilian casualties and environmental damage.[21]  Daesh has a fleet estimated to be at least 1,000 vehicles strong.[22]  Following the Paris attack, Daesh’s distribution network was targeted by the U.S. resulting in 116 trucks being destroyed by the U.S.[23] With the U.S., France, and Russia all targeting Daesh’s fuel tanker fleet it’s hard to say how many vehicles remain, but if Kurdistan is recognized and afforded the opportunity and support to secure the region, there are enough vehicles to still add to Kurdistan’s own fuel tanker vehicle infrastructure in order to boost its energy sector. 

Oil is not Kurdistan’s only natural resource.  If stability were achieved to allow foreign corporations to invest in the region, there are also gold, iron, uranium, and magnesium deposits all waiting to be explored.[24]


Kurdistan’s military force is the Peshmerga, which means “those who face death”.[25]  Last year the KRG’s parliament passed reform to bring the Peshmerga forces under KRG President Massoud Barzani’s actual control versus his previously nominal control.[26]  Prior to this reform the two ruling political parties controlled their Peshmerga forces.  The KDP has between 30,000 and 40,000 Peshmerga soldiers and the PUK has 25,000 Peshmerga soldiers.[27]  The KRG’s own estimates have each party controlling 50,000 soldiers each and having another 50,000 soldiers each as part of their reserve forces.[28]

Those numbers will have fluctuated over the past year with recruitment as their war with Daesh ramps up and with casualties suffered; but with a force of 165,000 soldiers versus Daesh’s CIA estimated 31,500 fighters or Baghdad’s estimated 100,000 fighters the question has to be asked, “why isn’t Kurdistan more successful?”[29]

The reason is because the armament the Peshmerga have to combat Daesh are from the Iran-Iraq war.[30]  Kurdish Major General Sirwan Barzani believes that Daesh has up to 10 times the number of weapons available to Peshmerga forces.[31]  The weaponry Daesh has includes mines, C4, sniper rifles, mortars, etc.,[32] whereas the weaponry Peshmerga forces use are a hodgepodge of AK-47s, M16s, and DshKs that the fighters bring themselves from home.[33]

Another reason Kurdistan is having limited success combating Daesh is because the U.S. will not arm Peshmerga forces directly and has even blocked other Middle East countries from doing so as well.[34]  European countries have banned together to purchase weapons to supply to the Peshmerga, however, the U.S. has blocked the transfer of those munitions too.[35]  Any military aid the Peshmerga receive from the U.S. is indirect.  The U.S. gives military aid to Baghdad and it is then Baghdad’s responsibility to distribute that aid to the KRG.[36]  What priority does Shia controlled Baghdad place on transferring that aid to the KRG when Baghdad is still trying to retake areas controlled by Daesh in Iraq, like Mosul?  Baghdad is blocking military aid to Peshmerga forces and refusing to transfer money to the KRG to pay Peshmerga salaries in an effort to reduce the size of Kurdistan’s forces.[37]  How likely is it that the KRG receives those U.S. arms considering Baghdad’s current posture towards Kurdish strength?  This problem is compounded in light of the arms Baghdad lost abandoning weapons caches to Daesh in previous ‘battles’.

Even with the Peshmerga’s limited resources they are still having success combating Daesh.  In November, the Peshmerga retook Sinjar, located in Kurdistan’s Nineveh Province, in an attempt to cut off a key supply route between Mosul and Raqqa.[38]  However, without direct military aid the Peshmerga are not able to extend their gains in Sinjar.  Daesh located an unimproved route to the south of Sinjar and brought in gravel to reinforce the route to continue its resupply mission between Raqqa and Mosul.[39]


It is a real possibility that oil may be the issue that unravels Iraq’s federal system without any U.S. involvement. What was agreed to between Baghdad and the KRG and what has actually materialized from the SOMO agreement is that the KRG has started to sell their oil directly to Turkey through the port of Ceyhan.[40]  This is due partly because Baghdad has paid the KRG less than half of what was owed to them under the oil-sale agreement.[41]  Add to that, Iraq’s Ministry of Oil expects revenue to decrease by 27% in 2015 that will affect the 17% of Iraq’s budget that the KRG would receive from Baghdad.[42] The KRG is also selling their oil directly to the open market, rather than using SOMO, because they are under a budget crunch from fighting Daesh and because they were paid upfront by oil traders, whom the KRG must repay, in an effort to support their fight.[43]  At the same time, Kurdistan’s budget deficit has been amplified because the conflict with Daesh has led to the KRG handling 2 million displaced refugees that has cost the KRG $1.4 billion thus far.[44]

It’s time to treat allies as allies and quasi-allies and non-allies as such.  All of this leads to the inevitable conclusion that it is time for the U.S. to aid a new ally Kurdistan and decrease or stop funding a quasi-ally, Baghdad.  Is Baghdad allied with Iran or the U.S?  If the U.S. recognizes Kurdistan, Baghdad will object to its lost revenue, but Iraq’s federal system is precarious at best. It’s hard to imagine Baghdad is an ally on par with England and France considering their close ties with Iran, a fellow Shia government, whose official position is “Death to America.”[45]

Also of concern to the U.S. is Iraq’s growing relationship with Iran through its ties with Russia.  Iraqi Brigadier General Tahseen Ibrahim speaking about Russia using Iraqi airspace said, “If Russia needs to participate in aircraft reconnaissance flights, it can make a formal request to the Iraqi government and there will be no objection in my opinion.”[46]  One month after Brigadier General Ibrahim’s comments, the U.S. and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding about the use of airspace over Syria and Iraq.[47]  The language of the memorandum has remained secret, but one result of the agreement is that after an ultimatum was delivered by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Iraq will not request Russia aircraft into its airspace or risk losing U.S. support.[48]

Should the U.S. be concerned with Iraqi objections over Kurdish independence when Kurdistan will be a stronger ally for the U.S. in the region and Iraq’s interests only align with the U.S.’s after an ultimatum is delivered by the most senior military officer in the U.S. Armed Forces?


Perception in the U.S. is that the biggest obstacle to recognizing Kurdistan as an independent state is Turkey, but is that true?  Recent evidence suggests that might not be the case.  On December 4, 2015, Turkey sent Turkish troops to the Nineveh Province to train Peshmerga soldiers against the express demands of Iraq’s central government that Turkey removes its forces from Iraqi territory.[49]

The misconception about Turkish obstinacy to Kurdish independence is focused around the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).  The PKK is listed by the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a terrorist organization.  The PKK is a Kurdish ethnic organization focused on greater political rights within Turkey’s border not with Kurdistan’s independence from Iraq.[50]  The PKK formerly carried out attacks in Turkey, but recently declared a cease-fire since their leader has been captured.  The reality, as one Middle East analyst notes, is that “relations between Turkey and the Kurdish administration are good, neither side sees the other as a threat.”[51]  Turkey has a vested interest in seeing Daesh destroyed because Daesh has started crossing into Turkey and killing its citizens.[52]

If the U.S. is in favor of recognizing Kurdistan’s sovereignty as a state it is hard to imagine that Turkey would oppose that decision in light of Russia’s violation of Turkish air space on November 24, 2015 that forced Turkey to shoot down a Russian Su-24.[53]  The U.S. has significant leverage via NATO and Turkey’s right to invoke Article V for its mutual defense within that organization.  Turkey does not want to jeopardize its U.S. support when Russia now occupies an air base in Latakia, Syria.

The air base in Latakia is only 31 miles from the Turkish border and is oriented north-south, meaning the Russian Su-24 can be in Turkish airspace in the span of minutes.[54]  “It could be almost impossible to tell if such a fighter intended to cross into Turkey or turn east to operate against rebels until the very last moment.”[55]  This prediction was accurate and evidence shows that after Russia’s Su-24 was shot it took a 90-degree turn east in an attempt to leave Turkish airspace.[56]


The greatest misstep made in the fight against Daesh has been delaying to act forcefully.  In delaying, the U.S. created an opportunity for Russia to move troops into the region.  According to Frederick and Kimberly Kagan:

“The Russian deployment severely constrains Western options within Syria and may come to challenge America’s ability to continue to operate in Iraq as well.  Russian aircraft flying around Syria give Moscow absolute veto power over any attempt to establish any sort of no-fly zone or ISIS-free zone, unless the U.S. and its partners are prepared to risk aerial combat with the Russian Air Force.  Russian planes can escort Syrian Air Force (SAF) aircraft on missions, fly combat air patrols (CAP) to protect Syrian helicopters engaged in barrel-bombing, and harass U.S. or NATO aircraft or drones attempting to enforce ISIS-free zones.”[57]

Russian use of the Syrian air base in Latakia is an even bigger risk to U.S. national security because it allows Russia to stalk the U.S. 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea.[58] It also allows Russia to control airspace in the Middle East indirectly because the U.S. and its allies want to avoid putting their aerial assets at risk and they will need to reach out to Russia to de-conflict airspace.[59]  In effect, this allows Russia to control airspace because they will have visibility on any U.S. or NATO air missions.

Other Regional Actors


Iran stands to lose, in terms of the regional balance of power, if Kurdistan is recognized and supported as an independent state.  Its ally, Shia controlled Baghdad, will lose a large share of its revenues from oil rich Kurdish territory.  Kurdistan has the potential to serve as a bulwark against Iran’s objectives in the region similar to the way Saddam Hussein’s Iraq did in the 1980s and 1990s.  Kurdistan and Iran will become a regional microcosm of the Cold War bipolar balance of power that existed between the U.S.S.R and the U.S. if the U.S. provides Kurdistan with direct and substantial military aid.

Saudi Arabia

Similar to how the U.S. wanted to surround Iran with democracies to pressure a change in that state it could be Russia’s true objective to surround Saudi Arabia with Shia allies to pressure an economic change in Saudi Arabia’s energy policies, which will affect the U.S. economy.  With global oil prices reaching new lows, $36 per barrel, it is Russia and Iran who is affected the most because both their economies are heavily dependent on energy prices.[60] Saudi Arabia would likely support Kurdish independence because it diminishes the strength of the Shia regimes in the region.


If Kurdistan is supported as an independent state and absorbs the Syrian territory controlled by Deash, it stands to reason that Syria’s strength would be cut in half and potentially end their influence over Lebanon.  Syria would then be between the vise of Israel and Kurdistan and there is evidence that Israel and Kurdistan could become strong allies in the Middle East.  Supporting Syrian rebel groups does not permanently solve the problem of Daesh or Assad.  The U.S. has provided direct military aid to Syrian rebels[61], but evidence shows that the rebels fighting in Syria don’t necessarily disagree with Daesh; they would just rather be the group in Daesh’s position of power.[62]


It is important to remember that Kurds are not Arab.  Kurdistan has been selling oil directly to Israel, which is in Kurdistan’s interest to keep quite considering the influence Baghdad has over their finances and the influence Iran has over Baghdad.[63]  The loss of Syrian influence over Lebanon would decrease the support Hezbollah receives in Lebanon. Thus, decreasing the threat Israel faces against Hezbollah’s terrorism.  It is no wonder Israel wants to strengthen its relationship with Kurdistan.[64]


Failing to take action against Daesh is a decision to cede influence in the Middle East to Russia.  Abdicating U.S. leadership and support in the Middle East will lead to two outcomes: 1) our partners will fall under the Russian sphere of influence, or; 2) Sunni states will turn to Daesh, or other Sunni groups, in an attempt to balance against Russia and its Shia alliance.

In fighting Daesh there is a chain of support that threatens U.S. security.  The U.S. continuing to support Iraq, through Baghdad, only increases the power of Iran.  Helping Iran aids Syria.  Aiding Syria is Russia’s goal to keep Assad in power.  The U.S. is weakening itself with its current strategy to contain/defeat Daesh. 

The choice to break that cycle of self-defeat is to recognize Kurdistan as an independent state and immediately support them with direct military aid.  It is military aid that they can afford to finance through their oil revenues and other natural resources.  Kurdistan has the will and the ground forces to fight Daesh.  Kurdistan needs the modern jets, tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces, and small arms to be effective.  Supporting Kurdistan also strengthens the position of U.S. allies in the region, e.g., Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

History has shown the U.S. must pick a winner, and in this case it is Kurdistan. This will allow the U.S. to give war a chance and to show U.S. allies that they have a committed partner in the Middle East and that tepid partners will not receive benefits their actions have not warranted.

End Notes

[1] Luttwak, Edward N. “Give War a Chance.” Foreign Affairs. July/August 1999.

[2] Kagan, Frederick W. and Kimberly Kagan. “Putin Ushers in a New Era of Global Geopolitics.” Institute for the Study of War. September 27, 2015.  Web. Accessed December 5, 2015.

[3] Kasich, John. “Gov. John Kasich’s Plan for destroying ISIS.” Fox News. November 20, 2015. Web video. Accessed November 20, 2015.

[4] Team Fix. “5th Republican Debate Transcript, Annotated: Who Said What and What It Meant.” The Washington Post. December 15, 2015. Web. Accessed December 16, 2015.

[5] Shields, Michael. “NATO Says Won’t Send Ground Troops to Fight IS: Report.” Yahoo News. December 7, 2015. Web. Accessed December 7, 2015.

[6] “Iraqi Constitution.” October 15, 2005. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[7] “Iraqi Kurdistan Profile – Timeline”, BBC. August 1, 2015. Web. Accessed December 9, 2015.

[8] “Geography>Land Area>Square Miles: Countries Compared.” Nation Master. Web. Accessed December 25, 2015.

[9] Wing, Nick and Carina Kolodny, “15 Shocking Numbers That Will Make You Pay Attention To What ISIS is Doing In Iraq”, The World Post, August 11, 2014. Web. Accessed December 16, 2015.

[10] “Geography>Land Area>Square Miles: Countries Compared.ff” Nation Master. Web. Accessed December 25, 2015.

[11] “The People of the Kurdistan Region”, Kurdistan Regional Government, December 16, 2015. Web. Accessed December 16, 2015.

[12] “Countries In the World (ranked by 2014 population).” Worldometers. Web. Accessed December 25, 2015.

[13] Gorzewski, Andreas, “Arms for Kurdish Peshmerga to Affect Military Balance”, DW: Made for Minds, August 13, 2014. Web. Accessed December 9, 2015.

[14] “Investment Factsheet Kurdistan Region – Iraq.” Japan Cooperation Center for the Middle East. Accessed December 16, 2015.

[15] “Kurdistan’s Economy.” Kurdistan Board of Investment. Accessed December 10, 2015.

[16] Bradley, Matt. “Iraq, Kurdistan Oil Deal Close to Collapse.” The Wall Street Journal. July 3, 2015. Web. Accessed December 16, 2015.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Gordon, Michael and Eric Schmitt. “U.S. Steps Up Its Attacks on ISIS-Controlled Oil Fields in Syria.” The New York Times. Novermber 12, 2015. Web. Accessed December 2, 2015.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Najib, Fazil. “By All Yardsticks of Development, Kurdistan Beats Iraq.” RUDAW. March 18, 2014. Web. Accessed December 15, 2015.

[25] Gorzewski, Andreas. “Arms for Kurdish Peshmerga to Affect Military Balance.” DW: Made for Minds. August 13, 2014. Web. Accessed December 9, 2015.

[26] Mahmoud, Nawzad. “Barazani Orders Peshmerga Forces Reformed.” RUDAW. August 25, 2014. Web. Accessed December 10, 2015.

[27] Gorzewski, Andreas. “Arms for Kurdish Peshmerga to Affect Military Balance.” DW: Made for Minds. August 13, 2014. Web. Accessed December 9, 2015.

[28] Chivers, C.J. and David Rhode. “In Iraq’s Kurdish Zone, Anti-Hussein Forces Wait for U.S.” The New York Times. March 21, 2003. Web. Accessed December 10, 2015.

[29] Gartenstein-Ross, Daveed, “How Many Fighters Does the Islamic State Really Have?” War on the Rocks. February 9, 2015. Web. Accessed December 17, 2015.

[30] John, Gavin and Crystal Schick, “Converted Tank Seized from ISIS Part of Kurds’ Makeshift Arsenal Against Terrorists.” Fox News. June 16, 2015. Web. Accessed December 11, 2015.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] McKay, Hollie. “Iraq’s Peshmerga Desparate for US Arms in Fight Against ISIS.” Fox News. January 3, 2015. Web. Accessed December 9, 2015.

[34] Coughlin, Con. “US Blocks Attempts by Arab Allies to Fly Heavy Weapons Directly to Kurds to Fight Islamic State.” The Telegraph. July 2, 2015. Web. Accessed December 11, 2015.

[35]  Ibid.

[36] John, Gavin and Crystal Schick, “Converted Tank Seized from ISIS Part of Kurds’ Makeshift Arsenal Against Terrorists.” Fox News. June 16, 2015. Web. Accessed December 11, 2015.

[37] Gorzewski, Andreas. “Arms for Kurdish Peshmerga to Affect Military Balance.” DW: Made for Minds. August 13, 2014. Web. Accessed December 9, 2015.

[38] Gordon, Michael R. and Rukmini Callimachi. “Kurds Retake Strategic Highway in Iraq’s North From ISIS.” November 12, 2015. The New York Times. Web. Accessed December 9, 2015.

[39] Kalin, Stephen. “Sinjar Aftermath Highlights Islamic State Resilience in Iraq.” Reuters. December 7, 2015. Web. Accessed December 7, 2015.

[40] Bradley, Matt. “Iraq, Kurdistan Oil Deal Close to Collapse.” The Wall Street Journal. July 3, 2015. Web. Accessed December 16, 2015.

[41] Salih, Mohammed A. “Kurdish Government Seeks $5 Billion Lifeline.” U.S. News and World Report. June 24, 2015. Web. Accessed December 15, 2015.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Bradley, Matt. “Iraq, Kurdistan Oil Deal Close to Collapse.” The Wall Street Journal. July 3, 2015. Web. Accessed December 16, 2015.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Melvin, Don. “Iranian Leader: ‘Death to America’ Refers to Policies, Not Nation.” CNN. November 5, 2015. Web. Accessed December 16, 2015.

[46] Bradley, Matt, Gordon Lubold, and Nathan Hodge. “Deepening Russian Involvement in Iraq Complicates U.S. Airstrikes on Islamic State.” The Wall Street Journal. September 30, 2015. Web. Accessed December 17, 2015.

[47] Burns, Robert and Lolita C. Baldor. “Russia, US Sign Deal to Minimize Risks in Syria; Iraqis Vow not to Seek Russian Strikes.” October 20, 2015. Star Tribune. Web. Accessed December 17, 2015

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ditz, Jason. “Turkey Refuses to Withdraw Troops From Northern Iraq.” Anti War. December 7, 2015. Web. Accessed December 7, 2015.

[50] Phillips, David L. “Remove the PKK From the Terror List.” Huffington Post. July 21, 2013. Web. Accessed December 10, 2015.

[51] Gorzewski, Andreas. “Arms for Kurdish Peshmerga to Affect Military Balance.” DW: Made for Minds. August 13, 2014. Web. Accessed December 9, 2015.

[52] Ibid.

[53] “Turkey Downing of Russian Warplane – What We Know.” BBC. December 1, 2015. Web. Accessed December 20, 2015.

[54] Kagan, Frederick W. and Kimberly Kagan, “Putin Ushers in a New Era of Global Geopolitics”, Institute for the Study of War, September 27, 2015. Web. Accessed December 5, 2015.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Andrews, Robin. “Physicists Show Both Russia and Turkey Were Lying About the Downed Russian Plane.” IFLSCIENCE!. December 1, 2015. Web. Accessed December 21, 2015.

[57] Kagan, Frederick W. and Kimberly Kagan, “Putin Ushers in a New Era of Global Geopolitics”, Institute for the Study of War, September 27, 2015. Web. Accessed December 5, 2015.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Mooney, Chris. “Oil Prices Keep Falling – The Reason Why.” The Washington Post. December 21, 2015. Web. Accessed December 21, 2015.

[61] Starr, Barbara. “U.S. Delivers 50 Tons of Ammunition to Syria Rebel Groups.” CNN. October 12, 2015. Web. Accessed December 26, 2015.

[62] “Syria War: Third of Rebels Share IS Aims, Report Claims.” BBC. December 20, 2015. Web. Accessed December 23, 2015.

[63] Solomon, Ariel Ben. “Israel ‘Very Interested’ in Strengthening Relations with Kurds.” The Jerusalem Post. August 24, 2015. Web. Accessed December 23, 2015.

[64] Ibid.


About the Author(s)

Joshua A. Perkins is an Armor officer serving with the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armor Brigade Combat Team at Fort Carson, Colorado.  He earned his master’s degree in political science, with a specialization in national security and diplomacy, from the University of West Florida. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not reflect those of the Department of Defense or United States Army.


J Harlan

Tue, 12/29/2015 - 10:56am

The Kurds can be counted on to protect what they have. What possible reason would they have to take the casualties an offensive to capture and hold large swathes of Arab territory would entail?

I expect the Kurdish leadership is quite happy to see Shia and Sunni Arabs smashing each other while the Peshmerga "train" and are willing to stay on the defensive for years if necessary.


Tue, 12/29/2015 - 9:53am

David: it is true that my text should be more clear on what I mean by a «non-Muslim» new state.
It is also true that according to PEW and other researches, a vast majority of Iraqi Kurds identify themselves as «Muslims» (as do the Iranian ones, and part of the Syrian and Turkish ones, although the same is not always true across the diaspora).
But there are several factors that should be taken into consideration:

*Being more «ethnically» diverse than religious different, Kurds are even so a special branch inside Islam, close to old schools of interpretation (that do not rely heavily on human jurisprudence), like the Shafi'i, who were dominant before Ottomans reinterpreted Islam.

*They also contain huge minorities of non-Muslim beliefs, from Christians of several extractions, Yazidis and Zoroastrans, and also many secular, non practising Muslims, and also Sufis and agnostics.

*Even the Muslim Kurds do not favour the installation of hard Sharia Law regimes, and tend to favour more secularized ones, in the political sphere.

*So a Kurdish nation would have a clear ethnic, political and religious autonomous identity in the Middle East, and that is why it is so feared by many vested powers and interests.

*As for numbers: I insist that a total return of worldwide Kurds (including from Iran, Syria and Turkey) to a «homeland» would put the population at around 37 million, up from the current 8.3 million.

*Is this feasible? Well, that's another issue.




Tue, 12/29/2015 - 10:28am

A brief note: when I speak of 8.2 or 8.3 million Kurds I mean the approximate population (2014 figures) of the Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region, aka Herêmî Kurdistan.
A final remark on «feasibility» of an all Kurds «homeland»: until 1992, even small autonomy was a dream, and now...



Mon, 12/28/2015 - 6:21pm

In reply to by nrogeiro


In Point 2a cited in part 'a non-Muslim sizeable and populous nation would be formed'. That is WRONG, the current Iraqi Kurdistan, citing a 2014 Pwe report: QUOTE Nearly all Iraqi Kurds consider themselves Sunni Muslims. In our survey, 98% of Kurds in Iraq identified themselves as Sunnis and only 2% identified as Shias. (A small minority of Iraqi Kurds, including Yazidis, are not Muslims.) QUOTE ENDS.

Even if the minorities were to grow, from returnees, a future enlarged Kurdistan would remain overwhelmingly Muslim, albeit following as I understand it their own distinctive approach.


Mon, 12/28/2015 - 11:41am

1. The real strategic game plan, with regional and even global consequences, would be to create Kurdistan as a homeland for the Kurdish diaspora, that probably numbers 37 million around the world. it would be something as significant as the creation of Israel as a modern Jewish State, or the always announced Palestinian independent and unified nation state.
But where would this «homeland» stand? IN Iraq, along the lines of the present KRG territory, or in a stretch of land joining parts of Syria and Iraq? And where would Turkish and Iranian Syrians live? Would they be granted a right of return to the «homeland»? And would they want to go? Would there be resources enough for dozens of million of new citizens?

2. If this dream could be crafted beyond utopian considerations, of course it would be a major player, with a firm identity and potential defense and security forces that could rank among the best in the region.

2a. The impact of this transformation would be enormous also in religious and ideological terms - a non-Muslim sizeable and populous nation would be formed as a sort of enclave in major Muslim countries. It would be the local Lebanon of sorts.

3. For now Turkey, through its special operations command, is the only force really training Peshmerga: in Kurdish Iraq, in Erbil and Suleimanya, in refugee camps in Turkey, like Dyana and Berseve (Camp Zarkho) and in the controversial Iraqi base of Camp Zilkan. This one stands only 15 kms from Daesh occupied Mosul, in Bashiqa, Nineve province. More than 2.300 Peshmerga - but also Sunni members of the Al Hashid al Watam militia - were trained there since it opened, in March this year. The base is protected by a Turkish SF ready deployable contingent of 600 men, and maybe 25 M60 MBT's.

4. When Kurdish leader Masood Barzani visited the MIT HQ in Ankara, December 9, to talk with intelligence director Hakan Fidan, he was greeted like an head of state. Turkey believes the Kurdish Autonomous Region is becoming its main ally in an Iraq surely choosing the Iranian camp (after the Russian cloud disappears). Curiously enough, Bashiqa also trains Shia Muslims who speak Kurdish and are «ethnically» closer to Kurds. These are the Shabaks.

Nuno Rogeiro
Lisbon, Portugal

During World War II the Western powers and the USSR got together albeit for a limited period to tackle the scourge of Nazism. It is time that USA and Russia forget their 'Great Games' and first tackle the ISIL.If the 'winner' Russia has picked is Syria and the one that America picks is Kurdistan then the combined pincer will see the quickest end of ISIL.

Certainly the Kurds will fight to protect Kurdish territory from Daesh aggression, but do they really have the capacity or the desire to occupy and administer mom-Kurdish territory, and to manage the insurgency that would inevitably result from placing Sunni territory under Kurdish administration?

Also worth noting that the proposed Kurdistan shares land borders with Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, none of whom could be expected to be friendly neighbors. That would render oil exports and merchandise imports a bit problematic.