The fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city to the black flags of Islamic State put the militant organisation on the map, as well as in the crosshairs. Despite worldwide condemnation and pledges of assistance the reclamation of Iraq was going painfully slow, in fact Islamic State had gained further ground in the Anbar province, west of Baghdad. The conquest of Mount Sinjar by the Kurdish Peshmerga that allowed the besieged Yazidi minority to find safe passage to refugee camps is the biggest victory in the war against the militants so far. More importantly, it represents that the US strategy, heavily criticised as inadequate and makeshift, can yield results.
The war-weary western forces’ decision to provide air cover and support while local forces waged the ground war was an ambitious plan, considering how local resistance had previously melted away in the face of the Islamic State’s advance. Over the course of the conflict the Kurds have emerged as the most effective bulwark against the rampaging Islamic state forces. The antiquated struggle for self-determination fought by the Kurds fashioned them with the motivation, mobilisation, infrastructure and discipline to hold off the militants. Germany and the US have initiated rearmament plans to further bolster the forces. Yet, this measure of cohesion is hard to find in other parts of Iraq, which has been torn apart by sectarian violence. Sunni and Shia militias operate independently, as do scores of tribal and splinter factions. This explains why the Kurds have gained ground while the rest of Iraq has lost it.
The victory at Mount Sinjar is an important one; it relived thousands of Yazidis from starvation and death, and marks the re-conquest of north-east Iraq. Yet, how this strategy could be extended to other parts is a long protracted question. The only way the splintered Iraqis could achieve enough mobilisation, coordination, skill and discipline to fight the Islamic State is by enlisting in the under-construction Iraqi Security Forces; a process that could take well over 6 months, till then the black flags will still fly high.