A UN protection force, not arms shipments

If the threat of genocide in northern Iraq is to be averted and the advance of IS militias stopped, an international protection force must be dispatched to the region, says security expert Andreas Zumach

By Andreas Zumach

Following on the heels of France and Britain, Germany now plans to send weapons to the Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq to enable them to protect the civilian population against further displacement and murder at the hands of Islamic State (IS) terror militias. But is the supply of arms the appropriate way to achieve this goal?

While there are no examples in the history of international conflicts since the end of World War II that indicate that it is, there are numerous cases where supplied weapons were used by their immediate or indirect recipients to wage wars and commit genocide and for the displacement and violent repression of people and other serious human rights violations.

To reliably protect those people whose lives are threatened by IS militias and to facilitate the safe return of more than 500,000 refugees already displaced by the violence, the Kurdish Peshmerga would have to recapture towns and regions now controlled by IS. To do this, they would require weapons and military logistics superior to the ultra-modern weapons held by IS, most of which were manufactured in the US. This, however, is not on government agendas in Berlin, Paris or London.

Members of the Kurdish Peshmerga at Mosul Dam in Iraq (photo: picture-alliance/AP)
Members of the Kurdish Peshmerga at Mosul Dam, which they and Iraqi troops retook from IS militias in mid August. According to security expert Andreas Zumach, in order to protect civilians under threat from IS, the Peshmerga would need weapons superior to those held by the militant jihadists

The prospect of a static war of attrition

IS militias have long held the kinds of weapons the Peshmerga have already received from France and Britain, and which Germany now plans to send to the Kurds. Their arsenal also includes Milan missiles, which the German government is also considering supplying to the Kurds to attack IS tanks. The risk now is that this situation could descend into a static war of attrition with many dead and injured on both sides (whereby the IS militias can probably draw on a larger pool of resolute fighters) as well as continued attacks on civilians by IS.

Effective protection of those civilians can only be guaranteed by a robustly-equipped UN force with a robust mandate – ideally involving soldiers from all five Security Council veto powers (USA, Russia, China, France and the UK).

Thus far, however, not only are those within the German government who support arms shipments shying away from this demand, so too are (former) pacifists – like Cap Anamur founder Rupert Neudeck – who are now speaking out in favour of arming the Kurds. And this despite the fact that advocates of this approach know only too well that no other nation and no other region in the world has been as devastated and destabilised by arms shipments in the past 50 years as Iraq and its border areas.

After 1979, West Germany, other NATO states and the Soviet Union all armed the dictator Saddam Hussein for his eight-year Gulf War against Islamic Iran. At the time, Germany supplied Baghdad with production facilities, technical expertise and the basic elements for the manufacture of chemical weapons, which were then used to devastating effect, not only against Iran (with logistical support from the US), but also later in 1988 against the Kurds in northern Iraq.

Members of IS terror militias marching down a street in Iraq (photo: picture-alliance/AP)
Members of IS terror militias in Iraq: Andreas Zumach is convinced that supplying weapons to the Kurds is not enough to halt the advance of IS: "Anyone seeking to weaken IS and drive it out of Iraq and Syria in the long-term must halt the financial and military support that it receives from abroad, and dry up the political, social and ideological breeding grounds from which IS draws its new recruits"

Policy of destabilisation

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait with the help of weapons supplied by both East and West. The process of arming Kurdish groups in northern Iraq – which are still at loggerheads with each other to this day – began after the second Gulf War in 1991. The third Gulf War in 2003 was initially followed by the alternate arming of Sunni and Shia militias by the US occupiers aimed at the reciprocal destruction of "terrorists" and finally, the arming of the Iraqi army. IS then helped itself to this arsenal, which was full of hi-tech US weapons. Many millions of people have already fallen victim to this policy of destabilisation through arms shipments.

It is to be feared that the weapons now being supplied to the Iraqi Kurds for the fight against IS will also soon be utilised in other contexts, for example, in the simmering disputes between the Kurdistan Regional Government  and the central administration in Baghdad. Moreover, the Milan missile system is not only suitable for engagement with IS tanks, which is justified as "defensive" action by the German government, but also for the destruction of other targets as part of military acts of aggression.

Protecting the Iraqi civilian population from IS militias using a UN force is only the immediate priority. Anyone seeking to weaken IS and drive it out of Iraq and Syria in the long-term must halt the financial and military support that it receives from abroad and dry up the political, social and ideological breeding grounds from which IS draws its new recruits.

Thus far, the greatest financial support for IS and other Islamist militias in the Middle East and North Africa, some of which are affiliated to the al-Qaida network, has come from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both of which are western allies.

NATO partner Turkey allows and has allowed IS weapons and fighters to be transported over its territory with a view to enabling IS to fight the Kurds on both sides of Turkey's borders with Syria and Iraq.

As long as the West does not move to persuade these allies to halt all direct and indirect support for IS and other Islamist militias, these groups will remain a threat.

Andreas Zumach

© Qantara.de 2014

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de