“Republicans assail Trump’s decision to pull troops from Northern Syria as Turkey readies offensive,” according to an October Washington Post headline, as Politico reported that, “Prominent lawmakers in both parties admonished the White House."
Before we all cry foul, let us reflect on historical facts behind what some will inevitably describe as “turning our backs on U.S. allies who fought against ISIS.”
U.S. policymakers largely ignored the Kurds as an ethnic group until the atrocities of March 16, 1988. As part of the Al-Anfal Campaign at the tail end of the Iraq-Iran War, mustard gas and nerve agent were released in the town of Halabja in Iraq, where 3,200-5,000 people were brutally murdered. This was an attack not just on soldiers or revolutionaries, but on women, children, and babies. This horrific event, images of which seared into the minds of those who witnessed it, is where the Kurds came to be known at the United Nations, and the U.S. took notice.
Ten years after the Halabja Massacre, also known as “Bloody Friday,” there were 700 known cases of Kurds being treated for various cancers and illnesses that were directly linked to the event. Prior to this, very little attention had been given to the Kurdish ethnic group.
Under President George H.W. Bush, we invaded Iraq and prevented Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein from retaining control over Kuwait, but little was mentioned as to the events that took place a few years prior.
The Kurdish populace was getting its attention from the United Nations, the Japanese donated approximately $70M (USD), and the U.S. was certainly feeling aggrieved by the chemical warfare violation that was committed by our once ally against Iran, Iraq. Many forget that Iraq was also once our ally, and we sponsored, donated, funded, and even helped train forces to defeat the Iranian regime during the 80’s. As time went on however, we had to “turn our back on an ally,” and see President Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship for what it was.
In 1995, clandestine officers from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) tried to support a coup in northern Iraq by aligning Jalal Talibani and Massoud Barzani’s tribes. Many believe that this coup was doomed well before it started due to the tumultuous relationship and fight for leadership amongst the two senior Kurdish members. While Talibani launched an attack north of Kirkuk on one infantry division, the main battle was to capture Fifth Corp. Instead of launching support as planned, Barzani instead did not send any troops to support the failed plan. Many argue is was due to his pull for power over the Kurdish Region, but many argue it was the over exaggeration by Gen. Samaraii regarding the Republican Guard and other troops willing to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Having spent nearly seven years in Iraq, with nearly three of those years in the north, I’ve heard President Barzani’s rallying speeches regarding the strength of Peshmerga and his special security and intelligence forces (Asayish). Even the U.S. military, our intelligence agencies, and special branch of the Department of State’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) has worked on the training of the Peshmerga and Asayish units. President Barzani has said on numerous occasions that the force and strength of the security forces would prevent anyone from entering the Kurdish Region. Additionally, Barzani shared major dislike for the people of Sinjar and the Yazidi people. He claimed the Zoroastrians were not Kurdish and that they pray to a fire god.
Sinjar is approximately three-hour drive from the Kurdish claimed capital of Erbil (Arbil). It’s not a secret that President Barzani has benefited significantly with power and finance from the west as a result of the Halabja incident. It’s also not a secret that President Barzani desires independence for Iraqi Kurdistan.
So how did dozens of trucks flying the ISIS flag and hundreds of soldiers of the caliphate make it all the way from Raqqa to Sinjar (6-hour drive) without any interference from the Kurdish Peshmerga and Asayish? Why did the Peshmerga that were stationed in Sinjar disappear prior to Daesh arriving to kill the men, enslave the women and children, and take control of the Sinjar Mountain area? Could this be a way for President Barzani and the Kurdish people to get the attention of the U.S. and the west to promote their agenda for sovereignty? Why did the representatives from the Nineveh Plains Unit (NPU) state directly to me that the Peshmerga “disarmed them prior to Daesh entering Sinjar”? These are coincidences many overlook. We also overlook how oil taken from Kirkuk was shipped through Turkey while the Kurdish PKK and Turkish troops call a cease fire. The same time that nearly $1M USD a day in oil revenue was going to ISIS to fund its campaign for the caliphate. Interestingly never attacking the capital or the oil routes. Once the price per barrel collapsed from over $100 per barrel, to less than $40 per barrel, the PKK/Turkish cease fire collapsed as well.
Even after the Iraq Forces, primarily led by the Ministry of Interior’s Federal Police, and the Ministry of Defense’s Iraqi Army, the Kurds continued to claim victim due to the massacre and enslaved Yazidi. The events that took place in Mosul and Fallujah were far worst and had significant casualties for the people of Iraq. Even before the defeat of Daesh and the fighting was over, President Barzani was announcing U.S. support for a referendum for independence. In September of 2017 President Barzani and the Kurdish people had a vote for independence.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi troops, Kurdish volunteers, U.S. forces, and other coalition were pushing back assaults to regain security in Iraq. Iraq Prime Minister Ebadi issued arrest warrant for Barzani for his actions prior to and during the referendum. This was supported by the Iraq National Security Council and an arrest warrant was issued for Kurdish Vice President Kosrat Rasul for claiming that Kurdish forces in Kirkuk will not leave and will be “occupying forces.”
So, during the war against ISIS, Kurdish leaders took control over oil revenue and illegal trade, held a referendum for independence, and stated all ground taken by Peshmerga forces would not be turned over and that Vice President Kosrat Rasul stated they are the occupying forces.
While I don’t feel the Turkish Forces and their dictator President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are any more reliable as they climb closer to Russia, it’s still currently a NATO member and independent nation that can be held accountable and penalized financially through sanctions. Lastly, President Trump has continued to support Iraq and all fighting Daesh through funding, training, and defense materials. President Trump is not willing to have the U.S. engage in another decade long war, nor drain our economy fighting another country’s enemy. He has decided to remove our ground troops from harm’s way and support the fight against terrorism through a more helpful and strategic manner. We will support through SOF teams, CT training, and through supply of technology/weaponry.
I support President Trump’s decision, and see a broader strategy to how we help defeat terrorism in the region, while building a stronger Middle Eastern coalition.
Cory Mills is a highly decorated combat veteran with experience in multiple theaters of operation. He is Founder and CEO of PACEM Solutions International and PACEM Defense LLC, which acquired AMTEC Less Lethal Systems, Inc., in 2018. For most of his adult life, Cory Mills has honorably served U.S. military, diplomatic, and USAID missions. After Mr. Mills was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, he served as a subcontractor for the U.S. State Department from 2005-2010. During this time, he worked with thousands of diplomatic missions in the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and the U.S. Consul in Erbil. In 2016, the Republic of Iraq credited PACEM with assisting operations which led to the raising of Iraq’s flag at the Fallujah Governor’s Office for the first time in nearly three years. Prior to this, ISIS was flying the flag of the Caliph in Fallujah. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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