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Editorial: Our strategic change in Iraq

In an effort to slow, or even reverse, the alarming expansion by Islamic militants from Syria into Iraq, Washington is directly providing weapons to Kurdish forces in the area.

The Kurds, who proved to be able allies in the U.S. fight against Sunni insurgents during the Iraq War, are again showing themselves to be the only reliable forces in the region — and therefore offer a “boots on the ground” force that could serve to oppose ISIS — or as it is now known, the Islamic State.

It’s a departure for the U.S., which has steadfastly clung to the idea that the only political solution to the region’s problem is a unified Iraq, and, therefore, insisted on only selling arms to the Iraqi government in Baghdad.

In the face of the attack from Syria, however, Iraqi forces have crumbled and their American-supplied equipment is now being used by the militants. So the Obama administration is sending ammunition, heavy weapons and anti-tank rockets to Kurdish peshmerga fighters, who have been sorely pressed in northern Iraq.

It’s no surprise that the administration is downplaying the change in strategy: “The militants have obtained some heavy weaponry, and the Kurds need additional arms and we’re providing those — there’s nothing new here,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

In fact, our long-term strategy to stabilize Iraq is a total failure, mainly due to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s consistent refusal to include Sunni Muslims in an important way in his government. His pro-Shiite policies have infuriated the tribal sheiks who were so important to the U.S. victory over insurgents there.

That’s kept the country divided and weak — a power vacuum that is being capitalized on by ISIS.

In contrast, the Kurds — hill tribes who represent an ethnic group whose history stretches back more than 4,000 years — have actually been able to drive the attackers back, with the assistance of U.S. air strikes, and retake two towns that had fallen.

The Kurds, who occupy the mountainous regions of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran, have long sought an autonomous state, but have been denied that goal by political decisions made elsewhere. Their own bloody internal struggles haven’t helped their cause.

But now that they can play an important strategic role in combatting the ISIS invasion, their stock is climbing in Washington — and perhaps this proud people may yet realize a long-sought dream of an independent Kurdistan.

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