Peshmerga gesture during a training course with the coalition in October 2017. Photo: Sgt. Tracy McKithern/US Army
An Iraqi MP from the State of Law Coalition has claimed that US funding of the Peshmerga is sowing sedition and constitutes a threat to Iraq's unity. His comments, coming ahead of the election in Iraq, are both unfounded and irresponsible when one takes into account the Peshmerga's record.
"Delivering financial aid for the Peshmerga from a bank account in the US shows disrespect to the sovereignty of Iraq and is an encouragement for the Peshmerga to rebel against the Iraqi government," claimed
Firdaws al-Awadi, referring to the $365 million the US has allocated for the Peshmerga this year.
Awadi did not mention nor even protest the far more substantive aid Washington continues to provide the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The $365 million is part of approximately $1.3 billion in provisions for Iraq.
Him and his ilk also had little to say when Iran armed, funded and trained groups within the Shiite-majority Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary forces from the ground up in recent years – a parallel army which a 2015 Reuters investigation concluded could have potentially outgunned the regular ISF forces and challenged the very foundations of the Iraqi government and state.
"The US is trying to build an armed force as strong as that of Iraq or even stronger in order to use it to confront the crises that might arise in the future," al-Awadi went on to claim. "I think the US doesn't want good for Iraq, and is to this day trying to divide the country. The financial aid is just one of the plans to divide the country."
Most financial aid provided by the US to the Peshmerga is for their salaries and basically to sustain the battle-hardened force. The US-led coalition against ISIS announced last year that it would retain trainers in the Kurdistan Region for the next decade as part of their efforts to both unify and professionalize the Kurdish force.
None of the training or weapons provided to date indicate that the US, or any other coalition member, have any plans to make the Peshmerga a force that could battle the Iraqi Army. On the contrary, all the coalition have been helping the Peshmerga establish are light infantry brigades which can hold their own against non-state actors like ISIS but not a modern army equipped with advanced armoured forces, helicopter gunships and F-16 warplanes such as Iraq's.
Aside from the delivery of MILAN anti-tank missiles, which were needed to penetrate the thick armour ISIS outfitted their vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) with, the coalition did not provide the Peshmerga with any serious advanced, nor heavy, weaponry.
As Peter W. Galbraith pointed out in The New York Review of Books late last year, Baghdad "successfully blocked the US from supplying the Peshmerga with sophisticated weapons like the Abrams tank, even when the Kurds were the only ground force stopping ISIS from taking the entire north of Iraq."
Furthermore, it was Baghdad that used their US-supplied Abrams tanks against the Peshmerga and not the Peshmerga that used such weapons against the Iraqi state. The Peshmerga only briefly fought back against Baghdad and its paramilitaries' advances along their own constitutionally-recognized borders last fall, most notably at Pirde (Altun Kupri), and not in the disputed Kurdistani territories of Kirkuk and Shingal, which Iraq used military force to seize.
The Peshmerga prevented Kirkuk from falling to ISIS for over three years while not a single Iraqi soldier was in that region. The Iraqi military is slowly learning just how difficult it is to secure and stabilize the province following their takeover last October. They also secured Makhmour and other key routes to Mosul that enabled the Iraqi Army to mass their forces and remove ISIS from its second-city.
It's mostly out of gratitude for this from the US-led coalition countries that they are retaining advisors to continue training these troops.
Such efforts to unify and professionalize the Peshmerga are not a threat to Baghdad. Washington is in some ways even saving Baghdad money and resources by investing in this dedicated army that safeguards the Kurdistan Region, which has proven itself ready at any moment to defend the autonomous region from common enemies like ISIS which Baghdad and Erbil share.
Kurdistan's former president Masoud Barzani stressed in his interview with Foreign Policy magazine last June that even if Kurdistan becomes a full-fledged independent country, it will preserve the historic cooperative arrangement the Peshmerga made with the ISF in the lead-up to the battle for Mosul, which Baghdad seriously undermined in October by pouncing on Kirkuk.
Awadi's fallacious statements are simply another example of a lame attempt to make out that the Kurds possessing a military force that has successfully protected their region and kept it stable is the real problem. Since 2003 Kurdistan has stood out compared to Iraq because of this.
Furthermore, this would not have been the case if proponents of disbanding the Peshmerga over the years had gotten their way. The US Coalition Provision Authority's (CPA) president Paul Bremer's attempt to disband it back in 2003, in order to placate Iraqi militia groups who did not want to lay down their arms and become incorporated into the ISF, would likely have seen the region swamped by the chaos and violence that surrounded it had it succeeded.
Similarly, had former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gotten his way back in late 2012 – when he sent tanks to the autonomous region's frontiers and said the ISF had the right to enter anywhere it wanted in Kurdistan – and successfully subjugated the Kurdish troops under Baghdad's command they could well have failed to defend Kurdistan and Kirkuk against ISIS like his army did in the fateful month of June 2014.
Consequently, helping to bolster the Peshmerga is a positive step that will help augment the security of Kurdistan and maintain that important region's stability, something that Baghdad should always welcome since it ultimately contributes to its stability also.