On the Front Line Against Islamic State
The Kurdish intelligence chief in Iraq says Islamic State can be beaten, but U.S. troops and more weapons will be necessary.By Sohrab Ahmari, WSJ
Dec. 4, 2015 6:52 p.m.
Dohuk Province, Iraq
Kurdish intelligence chief Masrour Barzani’s forward base on the Iraqi-Syrian border isn’t easy to reach. On a bright Sunday morning, two members of his staff drive me there from Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. We race four hours around Kurdistan’s barren hills, passing numerous checkpoints, a circuitous route that avoids the tentacular territory that Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has carved out of Iraq and Syria.
It is late November, and the Kurds have just severed one of those ISIS tentacles by capturing Sinjar, 15 months after the jihadist army overran the Iraqi city and forced Kurdish Peshmerga forces to beat a hasty retreat. The Kurds’ comeback at Sinjar means the main highway linking ISIS-controlled Mosul, Iraq, and the so-called caliphate’s capital in Raqqa, Syria, is now cut off.
Security is tight at the base. Mr. Barzani, who heads the Security Council of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, is dressed in fatigues, with a pistol at his waist. We sit in a trailer that serves as a conference room. A portrait of Kurdish-nationalist hero Mustafa Barzani—Mr. Barzani’s grandfather; his father is KRG President Masoud Barzani—hangs above opulent furniture with golden, rococo details that look oddly out of place. Liberated Sinjar lies 40 miles southwest. A little beyond it is an ISIS front that stretches for 650 miles.
“The Kurds have broken the myth of ISIS,” says Mr. Barzani, who speaks English fluently. Including Sinjar, Peshmerga forces have retaken 7,700 square miles of territory and nearly double that if you count the successes of Syrian Kurds across the border. The Kurds’ front-line efforts combined with coalition airstrikes, Mr. Barzani says, have removed about 20,000 ISIS fighters from the battlefield.