US blocks Arab allies from arming Kurds to fight Isil
Published 03/07/2015 | 02:30
The United States has blocked attempts by its Middle East allies to fly heavy weapons directly to the Kurds fighting Isil jihadists in Iraq.
Some of America's closest allies say President Barack Obama and other Western leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, are failing to show strategic leadership over the world's gravest security crisis for decades.
They now say they are willing to "go it alone" in supplying heavy weapons to the Kurds, even if means defying the Iraqi authorities and their American backers, who demand all weapons be channelled through Baghdad.
High-level officials from Gulf and other states have said that all attempts have failed to persuade Mr Obama of the need to arm the Kurds directly as part of more vigorous plans to take on Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
The US Senate voted down one attempt by supporters of the Kurdish cause last month.
The officials say they are looking at new ways to take the fight to Isil without seeking US approval. "If the Americans and the West are not prepared to do anything serious about defeating Isil, then we will have to find new ways of dealing with the threat," said a senior Arab government official. "With Isil making ground all the time, we simply cannot afford to wait for Washington to wake up to the enormity of the threat we face."
The Kurdish Peshmerga have been successfully fighting Isil, driving them back from the gates of Erbil and, with the support of Kurds from neighbouring Syria, re-establishing control over parts of Iraq's north-west.
But they are doing so with a makeshift armoury. Millions of euro worth of weapons have been bought by a number of European countries to arm the Kurds, but American commanders, who are overseeing all military operations against Isil, are blocking the arms transfers.
One of the core complaints of the Kurds is that the Iraqi army has abandoned so many weapons in the face of Isil attack, the Peshmerga are fighting modern American weaponry with out-of-date Soviet equipment.
At least one Arab state is understood to be considering arming the Peshmerga directly, despite US opposition.
The US has also infuriated its allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states, by what they perceive to be a lack of clear purpose and vacillation in how they conduct the bombing campaign. Other members of the coalition say they have identified clear Isil targets but then been blocked by US veto from firing at them.
"There is simply no strategic approach," one senior Gulf official said. "There is a lack of coordination in selecting targets, and there is no overall plan for defeating Isil."
Britain is moving closer to expanding its role in the war. The government on Wednesday gave its strongest indication yet that MPs will be given a new vote on whether to bomb Isil in Syria.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said it was "illogical" that British planes were able to hit extremists in Iraq but not across the border.
Any decision to bomb in Syria would have to be approved by MPs. In 2013, the prime minister lost a vote for British military action in Syria.
However, Mr Fallon said: "It is a new parliament and I think new members of parliament will want to think very carefully about how we best deal with Isil, and the illogicality of Isil not respecting the borderlines."
Mr Fallon suggested that a bombing campaign could be mounted in revenge for the terror attacks in Tunisia if a link could be proved between the killer and Isil in Libya.
Britain would take military action in Libya only "where we think there is an imminent threat, a very direct threat to British lives", he said.
Isil militants are looting ancient sites across Iraq and Syria on an industrial scale and selling on treasures to middlemen to raise cash, Irina Bokova, the head of the UN cultural agency Unesco said yesterday.
One fifth of Iraq's about 10,000 official world-renowned sites were under Isil control and heavily looted, and it was unclear what was happening in "thousands more" areas, Bokova said.
Some sites in Syria had been ransacked so badly they no longer had any value for historians and archaeologists, and Unesco was also increasingly worried about Libya, she said.
Isil's self-declared caliphate contains some of the richest archaeological treasures on earth in a region where ancient Assyrian empires built their capitals, Graeco-Roman civilisation flourished, and Muslim and Christian sects co-existed for centuries. (©Daily Telegraph London)