A member of the Kurdish Peshmerga pictured in 2015 in Makhmur front, southwest of Erbil. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Washington will send Erbil $365 million in monthly installments starting from Sunday to pay the salaries of Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Jabar Yawar, the Secretary General of the Peshmerga Ministry, has confirmed.
The Department of Defense budget was agreed by US lawmakers last October, but has not until now been paid.
“This year, the US will assist the Peshmerga with $365 million contribution. It’s expected these funds will be delivered phase by phase from Sunday onwards. These funds will be dedicated to pay salaries of 14 brigades of the Peshmerga ministry and training centers, which consist of nearly 36,000 Peshmerga,” Yawar told Rudaw.
“The assistance which the US has dedicated to the Peshmerga for 2018 will not be delivered to the Kurdistan Region all together. The funds, $365 million, will be dedicated to monthly salaries of nearly 36,000 Peshmerga. The funds will be deposited to the Kurdistan Region’s finance ministry monthly, which is 26 billion Iraqi dinars,” he added.
Concerns were raised in mid-February when the Trump administration’s budget proposal
for the 2019 fiscal year made no mention of Peshmerga salaries. Instead it focused on bolstering overall funding for the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
With Baghdad’s marginalization of Erbil following Kurdistan’s independence referendum and Kirkuk events, and the anticipated drawdown of US involvement in the anti-ISIS mission, the budget proposal indicates the Pentagon’s resources could be spent exclusively on bolstering Iraqi forces, again leaving the payment of Peshmerga forces to the discretion of the Iraqi government.
The proposed 2019 budget is seeking $850 million to train and equip Iraqi troops and to create Ranger brigades to secure international borders. The Peshmerga could still be eligible for up to $290 million of that amount in so-called operational sustainment funds, but may ultimately be considered a component of the ISF.
The $716 billion Pentagon request is yet to be rubberstamped by US lawmakers, and is therefore open to revision.
Yawar’s confirmation that the 2018 contribution will be paid will no doubt prompt sighs of relief in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which has been forced to delay payment of public sector salaries amid the ongoing financial crisis and budget squeeze
The KRG will be taking note, however, of the steadily shrinking amount contributed by Washington to Peshmerga coffers, as US involvement in Iraq is downgraded.
In the 2017 fiscal year, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) received $415 million from the United States, sent directly to Erbil in monthly installments to pay the Peshmerga during the war against ISIS in Mosul.
More recently, the 2018 budget request was $365 million. It is likely the budget for 2019 therefore will be cut further.
US-led forces trained 26,000 Peshmerga troops since the anti-ISIS mission began in 2014. The Peshmerga — initially armed by Iran and then with the assistance of the US military and later the coalition — halted the ISIS advance in northern Iraq and helped facilitate the ISF’s advance and eventual liberation of Mosul in 2017.
The Peshmerga are enshrined in the 2005 Iraqi constitution. Kurdish leaders have requested more training from coalition members in an attempt to further professionalize their forces.