WASHINGTON – Iraqi Kurdistan must receive emergency funding from its allies to take back the city of Mosul and defeat and destroy ISIS, the territory’s top foreign relations adviser said.
Hemin Hawrami, head of the Kurdish Democratic Party’s foreign relations office, said his people’s dire economic situation is impeding the fight against ISIS. The Peshmerga forces have made great progress in thwarting and pushing back ISIS, he said, but will not be able to take back Mosul without more economic aid from the United States and other coalition partners.
“We are going through very, very problematic economic challenges,” Hawrami said during a panel hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Peshmerga forces, they have not been paid since September. And now it is not a question of salary but a question of the cost of the war.”
These costs include not only ammunition, but transportation, logistics and taking care of wounded soldiers, refugees and internally displaced people.
The Kurds–based within 100 miles of Mosul–have been key allies in the international coalition against ISIS, Hawrami said, helping with intelligence gathering, coordination for airstrikes and counterterrorism. They need boots on the ground in Mosul–the claimed-capital of the Caliphate and also its largest city with the most resources and training grounds–if the coalition hopes to defeat ISIS.
But an economic crisis in Kurdistan makes that difficult, said Hawrami, a former journalist and author.
“The drop in oil prices has made Kurdistan unable, simply put, to pay its bills, and this is something that requires urgent attention,” said David Pollock, Kaufman Fellow at the non-profit Washington Institute, a think tank.
Hawrami also said it’s time for Iraqi Kurdistan to become an independent state, adding the time is right for manufactured Middle East borders to be redrawn. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, negotiated by the British and French 100 years ago, divided the Ottoman Empire and established many of the border lines that exist today.
A referendum calling for Kurdish independence had been planned for 2014, but it was postponed to focus on the fight against ISIS.
Last week, Massud Barzani, the president of Kurdistan, said, “The time has come and the conditions are now suitable for the people to make a decision through a referendum on their future.”
Both Hawrami and Pollock emphasized that the struggle for sovereignty is not a pan-Kurdish endeavor, but an Iraqi Kurdish one. While Iraqi Kurds sympathize with their Kurdish neighbors in Turkey, Syria and Iran, they want their own independence from the Iraqi government in Baghdad.
But Pollock said he fears the international reaction to a formal referendum calling for independence for Iraq’s Kurds would be negative. Hawrami responded that the Kurds cannot wait indefinitely for the international community to support self-determination.
“If we wait for positive reactions,” Hawrami said, “we will never, ever get independence. Nobody will say ‘This is the Christmas gift of your independence.’ We cannot wait forever as the Kurds.”
Still, Hawrami said the Kurds will not declare independence from Iraq without first consulting the U.S. government.
“Previously we said that Kurdistan had no better friends than the mountains,” he said. “But now we can say that Kurdistan has no better friends than the mountains and the Americans.”