Utilizing the data published from the United States Central Command, The Guardian has put together a database of targets struck by American aircraft in Iraq since August 9. Particularly important is the spreadsheet that includes the U.S. military’s battle damage assessment (BDA) against Islamic State targets.
Even if you take the BDA at face value (which you should not, because as almost anyone with combat experience will tell you, BDA is almost always inflated or wrong), you will note that most of what the U.S. has bombed in Iraq has not been heavily armored equipment or advanced weaponry, but rather a limited number of makeshift vehicles and roadside barricades. For all the hysteria and urgency over the Islamic State this past summer you would expect the targets struck to be quantitatively and qualitatively superior than the reality: about forty pick-up trucks, what the military calls armed vehicles; less than twenty Humvees; less than ten armored vehicles; and a handful of checkpoints and fighting positions.
This data belies the notion of overwhelming Islamic State superiority in military equipment and puts into doubt the expressed urgency of countering the Islamic State offensive in Iraq. In the American BDA I fail to see evidence of the equipment that would give the Islamic State and the Sunnis an overwhelming military advantage over their Kurdish and Shia rivals.
Similarly, when American forces reached Mount Sinjar earlier this month, the tens of thousands of desperate Yazidis desirous of rescue, as described in breathless media reports from the Kurdish capital of Erbil, were no where to be found. Rather, American soldiers discovered only several thousand Yazidis who make Mount Sinjar their home and who were quite content to remain on the mountain.
Now, thousands of Yazidis did flee their homes, many of them aided by Kurdish forces not associated with the Iraqi Kurdish government. An unknown number of Yazidis have been killed in the past months. However, the shouts of genocide, again hysterical and urgent, do not seem to match the evidence.
Certainly atrocities have occurred in northern Iraq and battles have waged there, but what makes this summer and its dead different than the 500,000 dead, millions wounded and the one in eight Iraqis forcibly chased from their homes since 2003? What is causing the U.S. to get involved, again, and at this time?
The Iraqi Kurds have long aspired to state-hood. This past year they have taken bold steps in realizing their independence. In January, they effectively severed ties with Baghdad and in the spring they started pumping oil, through their own pipelines, north through Turkey, abrogating any need to cooperate with the Iraqi government in oil production and export, or share in revenue. At the same time, the Kurdish government announced plans to hold a referendum on independence.
Shortly thereafter, in June, the U.S. trained, Shia dominated and extremely corrupt Iraqi Army collapsed in Northern Iraq. A land and oil grab immediately commenced between Kurdish and Sunni forces (the Sunni land grab has been headlined by the Islamic State, with its accompanying terrors, but the bulk of its manpower and momentum comes from the Sunni population who see themselves in an existential fight with the Kurdish and Shia populations in Iraq). The Kurds captured Iraq’s fourth largest city, and the oil capital of the North, Kirkuk, and expanded Kurdish territory by 40%, seizing the vast majority of the oil fields and production facilities in the North that had formally been under the control of the Shia dominated Iraqi government in Baghdad. The Kurds, with the oil fields now in their possession, have the resources and revenue they need to sustain their independence. They now need the military might to hold it and the American political support to do so.
The Kurds have had an extremely close relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency for decades. One of the CIA’s largest bases worldwide is located near Erbil, allowing the CIA access to next-door Iran. The Kurds keep a million dollar a year lobbyist payroll in Washington, DC, with daily admittance to members of Congress. Meanwhile Erbil is home to multiple American oil companies, all of them grateful for the opportunity provided by Kurdish control of the northern oil fields. These arrangements have given the Kurds, particularly for a state-less people, quite enormous influence in Washington, DC, on U.S. media, and in American intelligence and business circles. The sort of influence that is useful in prompting U.S. intervention and the protection of the Kurd’s newly won oil fields.
To be clear, I am not saying the Islamic State is not barbarous and should not be defeated, nor am I saying the bloodshed in Iraq is not worthy of our humanitarian and political assistance. I am also not against Kurdish independence, as I believe the political partition of Iraq may ultimately be Iraq’s solution. However, militarily intervening on behalf of one side in a civil war, in particular to ensure gains made by one ethnicity against another, will make achieving a political settlement, which is necessary to bring peace and stability to Iraq and the region, nearly impossible.
In all of our lifetimes we have seen the United States led into war based on inaccurate and false assertions of dangers and horrors, often for the benefit of a few. It should not happen again.