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article imageA Stalingrad-esque showdown coming to Iraqi Kurdistan's capital?

By Paul Iddon     Aug 7, 2014 in Politics
After displacing tens-of-thousands of Iraqi Christians and Yazidis the Islamic State group appears poised to strike Iraqi Kurdistan's autonomous capital Erbil.
Given the fact that the Kurds have been the most formidable force when it comes to fighting the Islamic State and disrupting their advances one wonders if an attempt by Islamic State to overrun Erbil will constitute their Stalingrad.
Islamic State fighters have displaced by some estimates 250,000 Iraqi Yazidi's and 100,000 Iraqi Christians, a horrific humanitarian crisis in that part of the country. The Kurdish Peshmerga are doing their utmost to confront Islamic State and hamper its advances. Last month the Iraqi Army fled the city of Kirkuk (a city of immense cultural importance to Kurdish nationalists) as Islamic State advanced towards it, the Peshmerga dispatched forces into the city and held the line against those Islamists who consequently halted their advance.
In recent days we've seen the Peshmerga, who are opting to keep up an offensive against the Islamic State to stop that group from consolidating its recent gains and use them in order to mount more advances, clash with Islamic State forces who have been scarily close to the autonomous Kurdish capital Erbil.
But why make an analogy with Stalingrad of all places?
As you know the Battle of Stalingrad historically constituted a that very important turning point in the Second World War when Nazi Germany's massive invasion of the Soviet Union began to suffer major setbacks and the Soviets began to mount their massive counter offensive which eventually saw the Red Army overrun eastern Germany.
In a similar vein to that state-of-affairs any Islamic State attempt to overrun or occupy Erbil will likely have the same affect. The Kurds have had a genocidal campaign leveled against them in the past and we've also seen how callous the Islamic State has been with civilian lives. They will be ruthless in any attempt to overrun the city and probably wouldn't hesitate in leveling it. However the Kurds will doubtlessly be ferocious when it comes to defending their autonomous capital since they are on home turf and will, as the Soviets did in Stalingrad all those years ago, engage the invaders in a street-by-street battle until either they are all killed by the attackers, or their attackers are defeated or repelled.
And they are already preparing for this possible eventuality. In a must read report recently published on McClatchy DC one important Kurdish military commander was quoted explaining that,
“Daash [the Arab term for IS] is testing our defenses. And if we don't show them we are strong here, then we have lost Erbil.”
Peshmerga fighters in their hundreds are readying to hold the line against Islamic State fighters establishing berms to slow any potential offensive Islamic State launch. This would be another blow to Iraq by Islamic State given the fact that the Peshmerga have been the only troops out combating these guys from the get-go while Baghdad struggles to establish and implement a coherent strategy to combat this threat.
The present administration in Washington believes that this needs to be solved politically. While the Iraqi government needs serious reform in order to function, and command the military, effectively the overall solution to Islamic State is largely a military one. Letting a group more dangerous than al-Qaeda overrun steadfast allies like the Kurds wouldn't be an appropriate way of neglecting to help the present government in Baghdad as punishment for its unproductive governance. But instead would constitute acquiescence to an extremely violent terrorist threat that will only worsen as long as this group has continued success in their Northern Iraq campaigns.
Merely "considering" (which is all the Obama administration is indeed doing at this time) helping allies like the Iraqi Kurds is not enough given the threat they are facing. After helping incubate a successful Kurdish region in Iraq by shielding them from the genocidal regime of Saddam Hussein from 1991 until the 2003 intervention it would be quite deplorable for the Obama administration to now sit on the sidelines and only consider helping them – and indeed only consider providing humanitarian aid to those thousands of aforementioned displaced and endangered minorities – in a defensive fight against these reactionary forces. Especially given the clear reality that this isn't just a provincial issue which affects only Northern Iraq and its inhabitants. Every Islamic State success on the battlefield and every community they uproot will only give them more momentum when it comes to launching even more terrorist attacks and campaigns of systematic massacres wherever they can.
More about stalingrad, Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil, Isis, Islamic state
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