Beriwan Khailany visits Peshmerga on the Bashik front. Rudaw photo.
BASHIK – Peshmerga forces defending the frontlines against the Islamic State (ISIS) have been hit hard by the economic crisis affecting the Kurdistan Region. But one Kurdish MP is doing her best to lessen their burden.
Dr. Beriwan M. Khailany is an MP in the Iraqi parliament and a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
Distressed by the plight of ordinary Peshmerga soldiers manning the fronts against ISIS, she decided to see what she could do to make a difference.
“They haven't received their salaries for months and are struggling to meet even their most basic needs. Some don't even have any money to support their families,” Khailany told Rudaw English, while on a visit Tuesday to Peshmerga frontline positions in Bashik, just north of ISIS's main Iraqi stronghold city of Mosul.
Although she is a member of parliament in Baghdad, Khailany and her other Kurdish colleagues have been unable to return to their legislative duties given the political crisis and tumult in Baghdad: twice in less than a month, angry protesters backed by the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have stormed the parliament building.
“I don't have much to do nowadays because in Baghdad, as you know, we haven't been able to go back to parliament. So I thought I'd arrange a visit to our Peshmerga brothers in their bases and see how I can help and assure them we are with them,” Khailany explained.
“While I wouldn't be able to bring them weapons I thought I'd help them another way,” she added.
Khailany began helping out by donating livestock and vegetables to the Peshmerga. Rudaw English joined her on a visit to more than a dozen Peshmerga outposts along the Bashik front, where a truckload of goats and several boxes of tomatoes and cucumbers were given to the Peshmerga forces.
Peshmerga means “those who face death.” So Khailany’s mission amounts to feeding and helping those staring death in the face every day.
“Today we are distributing about sixty to sixty-five animals,” the MP said. “Each of them weighs about ten kilos, meaning the Peshmerga will have enough meat for about three weeks.”
Khailany made clear that what she is doing isn't the least bit altruistic: "They are sacrificing themselves for us, for us to live happily and safely in the cities. That's why whatever we do for them is not enough,” she reasoned.
The first outpost Khailany visited was manned by 120 Peshmerga soldiers.
“Some of them even had to borrow money to make the trip out here to fight in the first place,” said Khailany. “I'm going to get their names and visit them one by one in their houses and distribute some money to help them out.”
At the base, Khailany also gave cash to help soldiers make ends meet for the time being. She hopes to organize more permanent and reliable sources of income for them through the Peshmerga Ministry and other sources.
At each outpost Khailany received very warm welcomes from the Peshmerga forces, who shook hands with her and posed for photographs and discussed their situations.
Peshmerga soldiers who spoke to Rudaw English throughout the course of the trip explained they haven't yet undertaken offensive operations against ISIS forces in the nearby hills, since ISIS has planted sophisticated explosives and booby-traps aimed at slowing down any assault.
“Once we're able to clear these explosives, we will advance against ISIS and finish them off,” Rebaz Ibrahim, a Peshmerga Lieutenant, told Rudaw English.
ISIS are infamous, among other things, for devising various types of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have killed and maimed Peshmerga soldiers who often do not have the adequate equipment to detect and disarm the bombs.
The Peshmerga also spoke of their need for more weapons and logistical support in their fight.
The United States pledged $415 million in financial aid to the Peshmerga in April after the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) urged Washington for help.
There are fears that, given the financial strain on the Peshmerga, in the long term this could affect morale and possibly undermine their very ability to fight in defense of their homeland.