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Why Arming The Kurds Is A Double-Edged Sword

Kurdish peshmerga fighters prepare ammunition for a heavy machine gun at a base in Khanaqin, Iraq.
Kurdish peshmerga fighters prepare ammunition for a heavy machine gun at a base in Khanaqin, Iraq.


PARIS — On the Iraq crisis as well as on the others around the world, the European Union is in disarray, hiding its divisions behind a discreet veil of consensus. At an Aug. 15 emergency meeting called by France and Italy, the 28 foreign ministers congratulated themselves … for each other's stubbornness. Because a common position couldn't be agreed upon, every country is free to arm, or not, Iraq's Kurds in their fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

As usual, France didn't even wait for the meeting to announce it would send "sophisticated weapons" to the leaders of the autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan. The latter have been complaining bitterly that they are under-equipped in armaments capable of facing the American weaponry that Islamist fighters seized from the Iraqi army.

Britain, Italy and the Czech Republic followed in the footsteps of France. Sweden, on the other hand, decided to stick to its neutral, pacifist principles. Finally, Germany appears once again divided between its desire to weigh in on world affairs and its post-World War II non-intervention heritage.

To solve this dilemma, Berlin announced the delivery of non-lethal military equipment to the Kurds. But faced with the insisting appeals of Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani and the threat of extermination of the religious minorities in northern Iraq, the German government finally decided to go to "the limits of what is politically and legally doable," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier explained during his visit to Iraq last weekend.

But this attitude is rooted not only in Germany’s traditional aversion to participate, even indirectly, in any war. Their concern, which Steinmeier crudely summarized, is that the weapons sent to the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters might later be used to fight the Iraqi central government in Baghdad and its troops.

Since the beginning of the ISIS lightning offensive, Kurdish leaders have barely been able to contain their jubilation. The Iraqi state has never been so close to breaking apart, and as a result, Kurdistan has never been so close to independence.

Masoud Barzani has no intention of missing his chance. In early July, he announced a referendum to be held in the next few months, a move that Washington immediately condemned. Similarly, Berlin is opposed to Kurdish independence, as it would destabilize Iraq further — and with it the whole Middle East, paving the way for a war of all against all.

By delivering sophisticated weapons to the Kurds and by buying oil directly from them as the United States is doing, the West might be solving an immediate problem. But it risks creating another, thornier still.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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