ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—Peshmerga will be operating heavy weapons against Islamic State militants in the besieged city of Kobane following weeks of secret negotiations involving Turkey, the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, and the United States, a senior Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) official told Rudaw.
Fuad Hussein, chief of staff to the KRG’s President Massoud Barzani, said in an interview: “A small group of Peshmerga will be in Kobane within a few days.”
He said: “They are bringing Peshmerga weapons specifically requested by the Democratic Union Party (PYD),” the political wing of the Kurds locked in battle with the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Syrian town bordering Turkey.
“The Peshmerga are not going to join the PYD,” Hussein said. They “will not give heavy weapons to somebody else, they will remain in their hands and bring them back. They are there just to support, to cover the fighters in Kobane.”
They are Peshmerga weapons specifically requested by the Democratic Union Party (PYD),
The Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) fighters have held out against ISIS for more than a month, despite the superiority of the militants’ weapons. ISIS boast cutting edge American and European equipment—including tanks and armored Humvees stolen from Iraqi and Syrian armies—while the Kurds scrape by with little more than Kalashnikovs.
The Peshmerga unit will bring in heavy weapons to reduce this mismatch despite their own shortage of advanced armor-piercing gear on the Iraqi front.
“In our discussion with the Kurds from Syria about which kind of force they need, PYD told us they don’t need manpower, they need firepower,” Hussein said. “So as a result, we reached an agreement with Turkey and the United States to send a small unit from Kurdish Peshmerga here with some heavy weapons so that they can cover the [Syrian Kurdish] fight.”
Aside from US and allied air strikes, this will be the second case of foreign support after Americans airlifted weapons to the beleaguered forces on Monday. The Turkish military has watched the conflict rage on with tanks stationed along its border.
According to Hussein, the KRG Presidency proposed the idea of a corridor for Peshmerga to move from Iraqi Kurdistan through Turkey to Kobane two weeks ago during a series of negotiations between the Americans, the Turks, and the Kurds.
These meetings, most of which were conducted in Ankara and Dohuk, began soon after ISIS first laid siege to Kobane and intensified as the Americans began airstrikes in the area.
But all parties finally agreed on the strategy only days ago.
Before publicly acknowledging the plan on Monday, Turkish leaders repeatedly rejected the possibility of assisting the PYD because of its association with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which waged a bloody guerilla campaign against the government for three decades.
The Turkish government bombed PKK positions in southeast Turkey only last week, and the fledgling peace process was widely considered to have fallen apart due to Turkish inaction in Kobane.
This corridor is important for Turkey, for our relationship with Turkey, for the internal politics of Turkey,
“Officially Turkey is talking about it in a different way. But Turkey wants to help—because Kobane became an international symbol of the fight against ISIS. So Turkey decided to help the population there through us,” Hussein said.
“This corridor is important for Turkey, for our relationship with Turkey, for the internal politics of Turkey,” he continued. “It is also important for Turkish international relations,” which have suffered since journalists arrived at the border to film Turkish tanks standing idly by as ISIS bombarded the city.
The Kurdistan region is offering support despite historic differences with the PYD and its own shortage of heavy weapons, desperately needed on several fronts along its 1050km border with ISIS.
“When you are a society of principle and when you believe in solidarity, you will cut your bread in two. Even when it’s not enough for you, you will give it to your brother,” Hussein said.
“There must be a good relationship between Kurds everywhere,” he continued, “especially because we are facing the same enemy, which moves from Mosul to Kobane to Kirkuk to Jalawla. And we are facing the same future, so we must stay together.”
Beyond its importance to pan-Kurdish sentiment, Kobane is of strategic interest to the KRG.
“The fall of Kobane would mean victory for ISIS, but also a threat to Qamishli and Hasakah—both Kurdish majority areas—and bring ISIS directly onto the border with Kurdistan. It would also lead to the flight of half a million or a million Kurds from these areas into Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.”
If they have tribes supporting them, then it makes our task even more difficult.
“The second target would be Afrin,” another Kurdish enclave west of Kobane, “and perhaps they would reach the sea. The population of Afrin would face a massacre.”
The loan of heavy weapons and fighters to Syrian Kurds comes as their Iraqi counterparts are asking Baghdad for tanks and American government for Apache helicopters.
“The KRG has talked about that and requested it, but until now we didn’t receive any. We can coordinate about who operates them, it’s not a problem. But one thing is obvious: we need tanks, helicopters, artillery, some kind of anti-tank rockets, otherwise it will be difficult,” Hussein said.
ISIS has suffered unusually high casualties on several of these fronts and frequently employs suicide tactics.
“I don’t know exactly what’s behind it, but one thing I know is that despite defeats on the front, but still they come back, but in the form of terrorist acts—not controlling the area” Hussein said. “That leads to casualties, of course casualties on both sides because it’s difficult to control it.”
Hussein says that a key question is whether the Peshmerga can enlist the support of Sunni Arab tribes, which analysts see as the key to the victory against ISIS.
“If they stay as a terrorist group, then they can act here and there. Terrorist will always try to hit you somewhere. That’s true anywhere in the world. But if they have tribes supporting them, then it makes our task even more difficult.”
But to inspire resistance, Peshmerga need more weapons, coalition airstrikes, and cooperation with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
“I know there are airstrikes but on the ground the Kurds are the only forces. You have some support from the Iraqi army here and there—south of Kurdistan there are some Shia militias south of Tuz Khurmatu—but the pressure from outside must be heavier, with help from heavy weapons, more and wider, deeper airstrikes,” Hussein said.