The Wall Street Journal reports: The Obama administration is trying to preserve the fragile alliance between the Kurdish fighters and Iraq’s military that has made significant battlefield gains against Islamic State in Mosul but is now threatened by a budget battle in Parliament and uncertainty over the policies of the incoming Trump administration.
Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama’s top envoy for the U.S.-led international coalition fighting Islamic State, on Monday made a rare visit to a military checkpoint near Mosul, the militants’ last major stronghold in Iraq. There he assured Kurdish fighters, called the Peshmerga, that the U.S. would continue to stand by them as long as they remain united with the Iraqi government against Islamic State.
“Without the cooperation of the Peshmerga [and] the Iraqi military…Daesh would be in Mosul forever,” Mr. McGurk told Kurdish officers, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Mr. McGurk, a key official in the 68-nation alliance fighting Islamic State in Iraq and neighboring Syria, has been meeting with political and military leaders for several days. The visit comes as Mr. Obama’s presidency winds down and the fight grinds on to oust the Sunni Muslim extremist group from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
Despite rapid gains since the operation was launched in October, fighting in the densely populated eastern portion of Mosul has become a bloody street-to-street undertaking, with the military and civilian death toll rising. Official casualty figures aren’t available, but Iraqi army commanders acknowledge that they are unusually high compared with previous battles to take Ramadi and Fallujah, which didn’t involve the same magnitude of urban warfare. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: The sand berms and trenches that snake across northern Iraq stretch toward Syria, some accompanied by newly paved roads lit by street lamps and sprawling checkpoints decked with Kurdish flags. The fighters here insist it isn’t the border of a newly independent state — but in the chaos of Iraq that could change.
Construction began in 2014, when this marked the front line between U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga, and the Islamic State group, which had swept across northern Iraq that summer, routing the army and threatening the Kurdish autonomous region.
Since then, a more permanent boundary has taken shape as Kurdish aspirations for outright independence have grown. The frontier could mark the fault-line of a new conflict in Iraq once the extremists are defeated. A similar process is underway in Syria, where Syrian Kurdish forces have seized large swathes of land from IS.
“It was our front line, now it’s our border, and we will stay forever,” said peshmerga commander and business magnate Sirwan Barzani. He’s among a growing number of Kurdish leaders, including his uncle, the Kurdish region’s President Massoud Barzani, who say that lands taken from IS will remain in Kurdish hands. [Continue reading…]