While it has been reported that the United States will provide the Kurdish army – commonly known as the Peshmerga – with small arms and ammunition, there have been repeated calls to more substantially arm the paramilitary force. On the August 12 edition of CNN Newsroom, host Carol Costello discussed the subject with Haras Rafiq, an outreach officer for the Quilliam Foundation, a think tank that challenges Islamic extremism.
Costello was skeptical that doing anything to assist the Kurds against ISIS in northern Iraq would help the cause. Rafiq argued that “heavy artillery” and “heavy ammunition,” along with possible training of Kurdish forces, would be necessary to repel ISIS. Costello doubted that these options would be effective: [MP3 audio here; video below]
I think the problem with further arming the Kurds is like you said. ISIS, you know, they got the weapons from the Kurdish army and from the Iraqi military so – and we can't go in and train the Kurdish army right now. It's too late for that, isn't it?
Rafiq rejected the CNN host’s assumption, asserting that “it's not too late. Because at the moment, as has been reported, ISIS are being just held where they are at the moment. I think we need to go in there and certainly give them the ammunition and give them better training.”
Earlier in the segment, the foreign policy expert argued that building a coalition which includes Arab nations – as opposed to only America and Western Europe – would give the operation credibility. He suggested it would reduce the worry that “we can get accused by the group known as ISIS that this is a crusade.”
Costello did not believe this could work: “Is that possible? Because we haven’t been successful at doing that in the past.” Rafiq carefully pointed out that Costello was wrong, citing the Gulf War: “Well, we did it certainly when we liberated Kuwait against Saddam. And I think we can do it again."
Costello seems to have aligned herself to the left of Hillary Clinton and a significant portion of the Democratic Party, many of whom support arming the Peshmerga in the struggle against ISIS.
The relevant portion of the transcript is below.
August 12, 2014
9:54 a.m. Eastern
CAROL COSTELLO, host: So the air strikes seemed to be working for a time. They at least slowed ISIS down. What's the next step for ISIS now that they have sort of figured things out?
HARAS RAFIQ, outreach officer, Quilliam Foundation: You are absolutely right, that the air strikes have actually slowed ISIS down but it's not stopped them. ISIS now are regrouping and they are actually considering whether to go south or whether to go in towards Jordan. What we're actually dealing with here is a terrorist negotiation that you can't negotiate with. They actually have to be taken out. They actually have to be reduced to no men standing I guess, without anybody left. And the only way to do is arming the Kurds to a greater extent, arming the Iraqis and forcing Baghdad to go north, creating a bit of a pincer movement and then actually providing air strikes both from the U.S. and I think from an international coalition. Because one of the things that we can get accused by the group known as ISIS that this is a crusade, this is the Americans interfering in the region again. I think to combat that, alleviate that, if we can get some form of coalition with other Arab states in the region, that's one way that certainly we can actually make this into everybody else versus ISIS rather than just the U.S. and Britain and the other Western countries.
COSTELLO: Is that possible? Because we haven’t been successful at doing that in the past.
RAFIQ: Well, we did it certainly when we liberated Kuwait against Saddam. And I think we can do it again. The problem we have in the region is that there are still some states like Qatar which are actually still supporting the Islamists. They may not be directly funding, but they are certainly providing assistance and finance to Islamist organizations. And of course Turkey certainly has some sort of leaning toward them and certainly doesn't want to work with the Kurds because they have got their own problems. Iran is another factor in this. But I think, certainly, ISIS is a threat to every single country in the region and I think that that's something that can actually bring people together.
COSTELLO: When you say we should arm the Kurds, what kind of weapons are you talking about? What kind of ammunition?
RAFIQ: We're certainly talking about heavy ammunition. We're talking about giving them more expertise. At the moment they are – they are actually facing an ISIS group that actually has heavier ammunition that they have taken off the Iraqi army. So without intervention, without air strikes that we've certainly seen from the U.S. at the moment, they were – I guess they were in danger of being pushed back themselves. They need more heavy artillery, more heavy ammunition. They actually need better training as well. Because in the past, there has been some reluctance to arm them – to the extent that we needed to see them armed – because obviously Turkey has their own problems with them on the border. Heavy artillery, heavy ammunition and get Baghdad to actually go north as well and motivate them to actually take ISIS on. Because at the moment, all Baghdad seems to be doing is consolidating its own city in its own position. And, you know, ISIS are getting stronger. They are recruiting heavily from around the world for foreign fighters.
COSTELLO: I think the problem with further arming the Kurds is like you said. ISIS, you know, they got the weapons from the Kurdish army and from the Iraqi military so – and we can't go in and train the Kurdish army right now. It's too late for that, isn't it?
RAFIQ: Well, it's not too late. Because at the moment, as has been reported, ISIS are being just held where they are at the moment. I think we need to go in there and certainly give them the ammunition and give them better training. But certainly we have to actually provide more air strikes. We have to realize that at the moment all we're doing is we're working on a humanitarian basis. We're working on actually helping free the innocent people that are stuck on the mountain and stop some form of ethnic cleansing. But we actually have to provide more air assistance, we actually have to provide more drone attacks, we actually have to start bombing ISIS strongholds, but this has to be a coalition. This has to be a concerted effort by many rather than just one.