NEW ORLEANS — Almost a fifth of the population in Iraq lives below the national poverty line. High rates of poverty correlate to the rise of ISIL, the Islamic State. This Islamic extremist group aims to institute an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria through a violent jihad, or struggle against nonbelievers.
As Corinne Graff of the Brookings Institute argues, “Violent extremism take refuge and gain support among the poor.” Turning from state institutions, some impoverished people will turn toward extremist groups to escape the desperation inherent to poverty.
Iraqi Kurdistan, one of the more economically successful and increasingly independent regions in Iraq, has rapidly become a target of ISIL. Since 1990, Iraqi Kurdistan has been largely operated by a regional government. Though militarily separate, Iraq mostly controls economic operations and international relations of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Recently, the extremist group tried to capture Kurdistan’s regional capital, Irbil, but was pushed back by U.S. airstrikes. In facing ISIL, Kurdistan troops, peshmerga, faced weaponry far more advanced than their own.
Peshmerga lacked protective gear or the technology to combat the Humvees of the militants. The small amount of American military aid the peshmerga do have comes from the Iraqi soldier, similar to the militants’ weapon supply. Lack of faith in peshmerga has led many in Irbil to abandon their homes and move to safer locations.
According to the White House, the primary intention of these air strikes was to protect American diplomatic and military personnel serving in the city of Erbil. The White House still maintains that U.S. military action will not be the solution to the unrest in Iraq, and no combat forces will go to Iraq. However, the U.S. has sent forces to aid the Iraqi and Kurdish military fighting “on the front lines” with ISIL.
Aid has also come from the European Union, Iran and the Iraqi government in Baghdad. Military aid from Baghdad comes for the first time in two years. Iran, alongside the U.S., has sent military personnel to advise the pershmerga on how to protect Kurdish borders. The EU supports plans to provide military supplies to Kurdish fighters. So far, Germany, France and the United Kingdom plan to provide arms to the peshmerga.
President Obama noted that he “will continue air strikes to protect our people in facilities in Iraq,” and also hopes the new prime minister, Abadi, will forge a unification of combatting groups in Iraq.
The widespread support for arming the Kurds indicates a growing concern in the ability to defeat the militant forces in Iraq.
The U.S. government’s role in protecting the Kurds from ISIL forces could indicate growing support for and independent Kurdistan should Iraq dissolve as a nation. However, a former Obama appointee stated to the Washington Post, “There is reluctance among U.S. policymakers to do things that might exacerbate an already difficult situation. We are in a crisis right now, and Kurdish independence is a much longer-term question.”
For now, Iraqi Kurdistan and the U.S. remained focus on ensuring that ISIL does not continue its attacks against Kurdistan.
– Tara Wilson
Sources: The Guardian, World Bank, Brookings Institue, Associate Press, White House, White House 2, Washington Post