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International

Published on November 21st, 2014 | by Ross Garner
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America must learn from Western mistakes in the Middle East to successfully defeat ISIS

Western intervention in the Middle East has often come with a catch for the Governments and Peoples the actions were ‘intended’ to help. The years 1916 and 1979 are synonymous with Western actions that helped to create some of the wider issues at play in contemporary Middle Eastern politics. In 1916 the world was at war. Yet in the midst of all that bloodshed Britain and France still found the time to discuss what Arab lands they would take control of and map out their respective ‘spheres of influence’. The resulting agreement, The Sykes-Picot Agreement or the Asia Minor Agreement, mapped out how Arab lands beyond the Arabian peninsular would be controlled. The agreement concocted by two quintessentially colonials has had huge ramifications across the modern-day Arab world, but perhaps its greatest flaw was that it was secret. Britain had promised the Arabs that should they revolt against the Ottoman Empire in allegiance with them, it would mean the end of Empire and Arab independence. It did not. Instead when independence failed to materialise after The War and the colonial powers continued to exert such influence over the Arab world it only served to throw up such distrust of Western powers and resulted in fervent nationalist movements across the Middle East. 1979. The height of The Cold War. The defining characteristic of The Cold War was the escalation of war by proxy. Both The United States and The USSR were frivolous in their funding and support of opposition groups. Operation Cyclone began in 1979 in response to Russian sponsorship of an Afghan soviet regime. At its height the programme consisted of annual funding to the total of $630 million. The problem with the programme was that it depended largely on Pakistan to act as an intermediary, which as a consequence, meant that funding and weapons went to the more militant Islamic groups rather than the less ideologically inclined groups that had been fighting the soviet regime. Inadvertently this meant that the Taliban was essentially formed with a large amount of CIA money and weaponry. So what do these two tales tell of the problems currently faced by The States with its decision-making towards ISIS? Firstly, always follow the money. Immediately before the ISIS crisis reared its head in Iraq there was somewhat of a civil war taking place in Syria (to put it mildly). As ISIS has swept through Northern Iraq and into Syria however, they have become the de facto problem in the eyes of the world. This evolution on the ground has changed the nature of the funding and support problem that was previously discussed with regards to the Syrian Civil War. Whereas previously there were too many opposition militant groups fighting President Assad’s regime to truly know who were the most radical or not, now there is no denying that in making the Kurdish forces the sole beneficiary of US funding and support that The States should not be handing money to radicals. The Kurdish Peshmerga have existed since the early 20th Century since the advent of Kurdish independence. They are not a radical Islamic Force. Yet this casts light on what the main problem with funding Kurdish forces truly is. They may not be a radical movement, and they may be unlikely to form a terrorist group with US money and weaponry, but they are political. Kurdistan as a notion has existed for hundreds of years and as recently as 2005 the area in Northern Iraq had its semi-autonomous status re-confirmed. Geographically ‘Kurdistan’ transcends Iraq, Iran and Syria and for most, the idea of an independent Kurdistan remains the ultimate ambition. In fact drumming up international support for an independent Kurdistan has been a major policy of the semi-autonomous region – the simple factor of having a High Representative in London has been part of this strategy. The other, and more prevalent, has been conducting joint operations with the US military. Kurdish forces represent the major Middle Eastern force against ISIS; should they be successful, a big if, would the demand made be for an independent Kurdistan? Would the US be willing to offer support for an independent Kurdistan in order to maintain motivation and add extra incentive to Kurdish forces that have sustained heavy losses? The Middle East is a very different place compared to the early 20th Century when Mark Sykes and François-Georges Picot drew the lines on their map. Offering a promise of support for an independent Kurdistan would be a very bold step; one they would not necessarily be able to keep. Should monetary financing and weaponry to Kurdish forces fail to stop the ISIS advance, let us hope America does not make promises it can’t keep in dispelling this enemy. Otherwise it faces losing an ideologically moderate and effective fighting force right in the heart of the Iran-Syria-Iraq trouble zone. Instead The US should continue to fund the Kurdish forces, but remain politically neutral. In the event that The Kurds are successful in their fight against ISIS any demands made by them for greater autonomy or independence would then become an issue to be resolved by Iraqi-Kurdish negotiations.

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