Donald Trump will need to choose between Turkey and the Kurds – The battle to retake Mosul, the northern Iraqi city that Isis seized in a lightning strike in 2014, is well under way. US special forces are operating alongside Iraqi elite units and aligned with Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi Shia militia backed by Iran. The decision now is about how to recapture Raqqa, the Isis stronghold in north-east Syria. That means deciding between two antagonistic US allies: Nato partner Turkey; and Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Defence Units (YPG).
Not just the territorial defeat of Isis in its cross-border jihadi caliphate hangs on Mr Trump’s choice. The future of the Kurds, a stateless people spread over Syria and Iraq, Turkey and Iran, hangs in the balance too.
On the campaign trail last year, Mr Trump praised Kurdish forces, saying they had “proven to be the best fighters” and “the most loyal to us”. This has raised Kurdish hopes. Iraqi Kurds, already self-governing and endowed with oil riches inside their Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), want America eventually to bless their separation from a Shia-dominated Iraq they believe will never share power. The Syrian YPG, to which the US provides air cover, is seeking better weapons and political support for home rule inside Syria.