The Kurds have beat them back:
Kurdish forces in northern Iraq celebrated their biggest victory yet over ISIS on Friday after breaking, with U.S. air support, the lengthy jihadi siege of Mount Sinjar and freeing hundreds of trapped members of the Yazidi religious sect. The Kurds claimed at least 100 Islamic militants were killed in the two-day battle to lift the siege. The victory by about 8,000 Peshmerga fighters will boost the Kurds’ confidence in their efforts to roll back the territorial gains made in northern Iraq by the fighters for the so-called Islamic State.
But the fighting isn’t over:
While Kurdish fighters in Iraq have pushed deeper into the town of Sinjar, held by ISIS group, they are facing stiff resistance from the Sunni militants who captured it in August, the Associated Press reported. One of the fighters, Bakhil Elias, described the overnight clashes which continued till Monday as “fierce” and that ISIS militants are using snipers.
Dexter Filkins puts the news in context:
For the Kurds, regaining control of Sinjar would restore most of the territories they lost to the ISIS summer offensive. And while that would place them in control of the highway that runs into western Mosul, it’s unclear whether the Kurds would send troops there. Western Mosul, like the rest of the areas under ISIS control, are overwhelmingly Arab; the Kurds, who ultimately have independence on their minds, may be reluctant to try to take control of non-Kurdish lands.
Eli Lake observes that “the question of a Kurdish state is getting harder to avoid”:
The peshmerga own some tanks, some rifles and have in the past worked very closely with American special-operations forces in Iraq. But they are still organized like a militia, with various commanders more loyal to local Kurdish political leaders than to the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG. Between 1994 and 1997, forces loyal to the two major Kurdish parties fought one another in a civil war.
On a visit to Washington last month, Fuad Hussein, Barzani’s chief of staff, told reporters that his government was now beginning the process of creating a centralized Kurdish army. And this is where U.S. training of three Kurdish brigades could make a major difference. If the peshmerga transforms from a localized guerilla militia into a modern army, then one of the remaining pieces necessary for Kurdish independence will fall into place.
And Walter Russell Mead recommends that, “for now at least, keep our gloating in check”:
ISIS has so far demonstrated a knack for repeatedly solving problems that others assumed were insoluble. It has conquered much more territory much more quickly than anyone expected, it has established a global presence and a successful brand, it has attracted and organized huge numbers of foreign fighters and has made inroads among rival Sunni tribes in both Syria and Iraq. We can hope that the stresses under which it now labors will cause it to fragment and fail, but we should certainly not count on it. This is an extremely dangerous organization, and the problems it now faces are, we should not forget, the results of its startling successes.
(Photo: Fighters of Kurdish Peshmerga forces get ready for an operation in the town of Sinjar on December 20, 2014 at Mount Sinjar, west of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. By Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)