Leave Erbil and take the southern road toward Mosul.
There, in a landscape of hills green but bare, is the front line where General Barzani’s Peshmerga fighters are arrayed against the the Islamic State.
« We lack everything, » the young general tells me, standing with his men in the last little dry-stone fort overlooking the valley of the Tigris. « Our soldiers are brave and experienced. A lot of Peshmerga veterans reenlisted to fight this new war. »
The average age along the earthen ramparts where men are stationed three meters apart indeed appears to be over 40. Some, like « Mike, » the Jewish Kurd who, back in camp, later mentions his family’s thousand-year history in this land, are over 60.
« Our men are brave, yes, » Barzani continues. « But they have nothing. No long-range arms, no night-vision goggles, no mine-clearing equipment. Look at this Milan, for example, that Germany sent us. »
I look at the barrel of the wire-guided missile that sits on the rubble. That, the general tells me, has already repelled two attacks.
« I have two of them in my sector. And the seven other commanders who, along with me, cover the thousand kilometers of the front, don’t have more than that. »
He breaks off to give an order to a man in his seventies, a survivor of Saddam Hussein’s gas attack 20 years ago and still one of the best riflemen in the company. Then he resumes.
« The enemy we face is heavily armed. They captured the arsenals abandoned by the Iraqi army last summer in the retreat from Mosul. Whereas all we’ve got, essentially, are small arms and Dushkas. What is the West doing? What are our friends waiting for? We’re fighting for them and they send us a trickle of weapons. »
How many times have I heard that same speech?
The line that « our fight is your fight; in defending our country we’re also defending yours »–is it not a classic refrain of all of the wars of resistance and liberation that I have covered for 40 years?
Except here there’s a difference, or rather two differences.
First, it is truer than ever before. It is literally, concretely, and technically true. Those behind the execution of the Charlie Hebdo staff, the backers of the killings in Brussels and at the kosher market in Paris, those who inspired the twin shootings in Copenhagen, the beheaders of the Egyptian Copts in Libya, it is here that they are being confronted and contained; it is here that the Kurds could begin to bring them down if they had the means.
Most of all, it is here that we have allies with whom–and this is so rarely the case–we share not only war aims but also values. Secularism. Respect for women. Political and religious pluralism. Christians and Yazidis fighting alongside their Muslim comrades. An Arab minority, some of whom are not afraid to admit that they are not believers. I think back to the Afghans who were armed to fight the Soviet Union and became the Taliban. I think back to those African dictators whose armies we equipped because of Boko Haram. I hear myself advocating for the chebabs of Benghazi while imagining that they could one day make bad use of their equipment. Is this not the first time in this region that we are being called to the rescue of people whom we know to have a vision of the world and of society, as well as an idea of war, that in all respects resembles ours? Is this not the first case in a very long time where our military interests coincide with the defense of our ideals?
The West is temporizing, as usual, so as not to pile war upon war.
NATO keeps its Kurdish friends at a distance for fear of offending its Turkish ally.
The administration in the United States is obsessed with the idea that once the Peshmerga has finished with the Islamic State they will turn on Baghdad and finish dismembering Iraq.
Geopolitics in the manner of Norpois, Proust’s small-minded diplomat.
For my part, I believe that there is no better choice than to help the Kurds help us to vanquish the unparalleled barbarity of the beheaders of the Islamic State.
So, yes, weapons.
An alliance without reservations or hidden agendas.
Perhaps even a major « Erbil conference, » the idea of which I proposed to Nechervan Barzani, the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, the day after my visit to the front, a conference to weigh all of the challenges posed to the collective security of the region and the world by the rise to power of these new barbarians.
Kurdistan is the shield.
But it is also the sword.
It is even the magnet to which forces concerned with the advance of the Islamic State can and should adhere.
There lies the heart of the counteroffensive.
Theirs is the brain needed by a world that lacks imagination and vision in the face of this terrible threat.
The Kurds are the only ones who are not only determination but who also have a clear assessment of the threat.
Not only the courage, but also the capacity to conceive a strategy and, provided only that they receive the necessary means, to apply it.
From this situation we must not delay in drawing the obvious conclusions.
Translated by Steven B. Kennedy