To ensure Middle East peace, the Pentagon must provide real support for the Kurds

Kurd24

This opinion piece is published in Monday’s edition of The Hill, a major Washington newspaper focused on Congressional issues.

As tensions flare across the Middle East, one of the most stable and reliable U.S. regional allies — the Kurdistan Region of Iraq — is in peril. Adversarial nations and extremist militias threaten our democratic way of life and the safety of U.S. troops and diplomats in our territory. On their own, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are not properly equipped to handle the onslaught and magnitude of assaults our region regularly faces. That is why the FY 2024 defense budget, also widely known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), required that the Defense Department submit a plan for providing the Kurdistan Region with air defenses, among other provisions, to ensure we can defend ourselves and protect U.S. forces and diplomats.

The law required the plan be submitted by Feb. 1, 2024, and fully implemented by July 1, 2024, including the full installation of air defense systems and training against threats such as missiles, rockets and unmanned systems. Yet, nearly six months after the bill’s passage, no plan has materialized, and the Kurdish people and U.S. personnel continue to face mounting threats with little to defend ourselves. It is vital that the Pentagon finalizes and implements its plan right away.

The Kurdish people are no strangers to joining with the U.S. in defense of freedom in the Middle East. When ISIS first spread its reign of terror across the Fertile Crescent, Kurdish Peshmerga forces fought alongside U.S. troops to defeat them. Since then, we have maintained close coordination with U.S. forces to combat insurgent terrorist cells, collect intelligence and deter aggression from our adversaries. It has long been our shared hope that one day Peshmerga forces could stand on their own and successfully defend against emerging threats. But doing so requires material we simply do not have. And after Oct. 7, the realities on the ground have rapidly shifted in a more concerning direction that we cannot counter on our own.

Just this year alone, Kurdish civilians have been senselessly killed by neighboring states and non-state actors’ missiles, our energy infrastructure and even U.S. bases have been attacked, and extremist groups such as ISIS have continued to sow terror in our communities. ISIS is working feverishly to reconstitute itself in Iraq and Syria. Gen. Michael Kurilla, the commander of U.S. Central Command, recently told a House of Representatives’ committee that ISIS-K, which launched a horrific attack in Moscow earlier this year, “retains the capability and the will to attack U.S. and Western interests abroad in as little as six months with little to no warning.” Kurdish forces are ready and willing to take a lead role in defending the region, but we cannot do it without the air defenses we have been promised.

As the Kurdistan Regional Government Representative in Washington, I am grateful that the American people, Congress and government continue to take steps to further support the Kurdish people as we strive for peace in our homeland. The requirements laid out in last year’s NDAA are crucial for the future of the Kurdistan Region, and we urgently need those requirements to be met as swiftly as possible.

There is no time to waste. The Defense Department must immediately deploy a comprehensive, integrated air defense system that protects the entire Kurdistan Region. The effect of such a deployment would be threefold: to serve as a force protection measure for U.S. troops and their partners, shield innocent civilians from harm, and provide a robust deterrent against continued escalation.

As we have seen countless times around the world, when the U.S. provides its allies with strong defensive capabilities, it ensures that they can protect themselves from hostile forces without sending American troops into harm’s way. The same is true in Iraq. If the U.S. provides the Kurdistan Region with the resources to defend itself, we can ensure that a wider Middle East conflict does not arise and save countless lives.

Installing an air defense system in the Kurdistan Region, a beacon of stability and democracy in a turbulent region, serves the best interests of both the United States and the Kurdistan Region.

 
Treefa Aziz is the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Representative to the United States of America.