Why Have the Kurds Supplied ISIS With Weapons?

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

Iraqi Kurdistan has spent millions of dollars on lobbying to depict itself as a democracy, as an ideological ally of the United States in the region and as committed to the fight against the Islamic State militant group, also known as ISIS. The reality is far more complex.

In the weeks before ISIS seized Mosul, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) apparently supplied some weaponry, like Kornet anti-tank missiles, to ISIS in order to weaken the central government with whom [President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region] Masoud Barzani was locked in a political dispute.

Barzani refused repeated requests by the Yazidi community first to send peshmerga reinforcements to defend them and then to at least provide the Yazidis with weaponry to defend themselves. As ISIS advanced, the peshmerga fled, leaving the Yazidi communities unarmed and undefended. The mass murder of Yazidi men and boys and the enslavement of Yazidi women were direct results.

Last August, shortly before Masoud Barzani’s term in office expired, his security forces convoyed through the streets of the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil weaponry and equipment donated by the international community to fight ISIS. Rather than use the weaponry to fight ISIS, he had apparently stockpiled it to bolster his own political militia relative to rival Kurds.

More recently, Kurdish forces have sold donated German weaponry for personal gain. While the KRG has said it has no money to pay salaries, senior leaders have found millions to buy mega-mansions.

Now, a KRG official has said that it might not be a Kurdish interest to defeat ISIS. Hiwa Afandi, a managing director in the KRG Department of Information Technology, tweeted, “Strategically, it’s a huge mistake to eliminate ISIS before we are done with Hashd militiamen. They represent a much bigger danger to Iraqis.”

So, an up-and-coming official in Barzani’s political party believes that fighting Shiites should trump defeating ISIS? The Obama administration’s response? Give the Kurds an additional $415 million.

Sometimes, throwing money at a problem doesn’t resolve the problem, especially when the Kurds seem more intent on collecting aid than fighting corruption, and when the goal of defeating ISIS remains secondary to playing intra-Iraqi political games.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. A former Pentagon official, his major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy.