State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki. Photo: AP
WASHINGTON DC – US arms to Kurdish Peshmerga forces will continue to be routed through the central government in Baghdad, the State Department said.
“Our policy remains that all arms transfers must be coordinated via the sovereign central Government of Iraq,” State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters in a daily briefing on Monday.
“This is a legal requirement under US law,” she explained.
Psaki said that most of the 1,000 US airstrikes in Iraq have been in support of the Kurdish forces and that Washington has equipped them with the necessary arms.
However, several Republican senators have criticized the Obama administration for refusing to directly send military hardware to the Kurdish forces that have been a bulwark in Iraq against insurgents fighting under the Islamic State (ISIS) banner.
Kurdish officials have repeatedly complained about Baghdad’s reluctance to send arms sent by coalition forces for the Peshmerga. The central government fears that any strengthening of the Peshmerga would fuel ambitions of independence among the Kurds.
Psaki said more than 3 million pounds of equipment in over 60 cargo flights had been sent for the Kurds. They included more than 15,000 hand grenades, nearly 40 million rounds of light and heavy machine gun ammunition, 18,000 assault rifles and 45,000 mortar rounds Psaki said.
“We have coordinated a coalition effort, including the Germans, to provide weapons,” Psaki explained. “This includes heavy weapons and other equipment, including mortars, T-62 tank rounds for their over 100 existing tanks, vehicles and counter-IED equipment,” she said.
But Germany, a coalition partner, has shown no hesitation in direct arms supplies to the Kurds.
“I myself am one of the few in Germany who, even in the face of public criticism, advocated providing military equipment and weapons to support the Peshmerga in northern Iraq,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at the Munich Security Conference.
Just before insurgents launched multiple attacks on Kirkuk recently, a video posted on Facebook showed senior Peshmerga commanders in the city complaining about the lack of armored vehicles and tanks.
Weapon shortages have been blamed for Peshmerga battlefield losses, which include more than 1,000 Kurdish troops killed in the fight against ISIS.