Mine-resistant MRAP vehicles are among US weapons supplied to the Peshmerga. AFP file photo.
WASHINGTON DC - A new bill introduced in the US Congress calls on the White House to directly arm and assist the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in its war with Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL).
The proposed legislation by Republican congressmen Ed Royce of California, who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Eliot Engel of New York, calls on Washington to tender Iraqi Kurds as a “reliable and stable partner of the United States.”
So far, Washington has refused to directly arm the Kurds, instead sending weapons through the central government in Baghdad, resulting in continuous complaints by Kurdish officials of delays and non-delivery.
According to the text of the legislation, the aim of the bill is “to authorize the direct provision of defense articles, defense services and related training to the Kurdistan Regional Government.”
The most striking feature of the bill, which is similar to the failed H.R.5747 proposal introduced last year, is its recognition of “Iraqi Kurds” as a partner of the US.
This is something that Kurdish officials have been demanding, with the aim of turning political relations with Washington into an institutional one. It is their way of trying to mitigate the risks of what the Kurds call “American betrayal” of their national movement in the past.
“Our critical partner in the fight against ISIL is in great need of heavy weapons and armored vehicles,” the proposed bill says. “We haven’t gotten Iraqi Kurdish ‘Peshmerga’ forces what they need. Even so, they have proven to be the most effective ground force currently fighting ISIL,” Royce was quoted as saying by the website of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
“It is critical that the Administration provide Peshmerga forces with the weapons they need. This legislation streamlines the process to better aid this reliable U.S. partner as it continues its fight against ISIL,” he added.
Kurdish forces have been widely recognized as the most effective ground force in countering ISIS. They have been receiving weapons, ammunition and other defense articles for the war with ISIS, which is fighting with massive loads of US weapons it seized from a crumbling Iraqi army last summer.
“The Peshmerga forces are ‘boots on the ground’ in the fight against ISIL. They are fierce, capable, and determined, but they need the right tools to get the job done,” Royce said. “We should be doing everything in our power to get weapons and equipment to Kurdish fighters.”
President Barack Obama’s Administration has refused to bypass Baghdad for weapons deliveries to the Peshmerga, arguing it is prohibited by law from doing so. Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry called on Congress to “fix” the legality aspect of direct arming of the Kurds.”
“We have to send it to the government (in Baghdad) because that’s the U.S. law. If you want to change it, fix it,” said Kerry.
The Kurdish cause, which includes aspirations of independence by Iraq’s Kurds, has been getting more traction since the Peshmerga rose as a bulwark to ISIS expansion last summer. The Kurds have been working as a team with coalition forces, which have been coordinating the fight by pounding ISIS from the air.
Earlier this month, US senator and possible 2016 presidential candidate Rand Paul called for direct arms supplies to Iraq’s Kurds, and said the Kurds should have their own homeland.
“The arms are going through Baghdad to get to the Kurds and they’re being siphoned off and they’re not getting what they need,” Paul said. “I think any arms coming from us or coming from any European countries ought to go directly to the Kurds.”
Suggesting a change in US policy, which has been staunchly opposed to Kurdish independence, he said: “I would draw new lines for Kurdistan and I would promise them a country.”
Meanwhile, if the newly-proposed legislation is passed, it will allow the US government to provide anti-tank and anti- armor weapons, armored vehicles, long-range artillery, secure command and communications equipment, body armor, helmets, logistics equipment, excess defense articles and other military assistance.
The military aid would remain confined to the Ministry of Peshmerga and troops that are officially under the KRG, not the political parties.
The bill notes that the US “will not provide any such defense article, defense service, or related training to anyone who is not an officer, employee, or agent of the Kurdistan Regional Government.”