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Iraqi Peshmerga Appeal for More Weapons for Anti-IS Fight


Backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, Iraqi Kurdish fighters known as Peshmerga have been at the front lines of the war against Islamic State extremists.

But Peshmerga commanders all along the frontline of northern Iraq have one familiar refrain: they say they their weapons are just not good enough.

"Out of four heavy machine guns on the front line, usually just one of them is working, when one is broken, we fix it, then another one breaks down and we have to fix that, over and over. Even our light weapons are old," said Peshmerga General Saeed Hazhar.

As Kurdistan is part of Iraq, the Peshmerga should technically receive their materiel from the Iraqi government. But the fighters here say Baghdad is not sending them what they need.

They claim a lot of their better weapons have been captured from Islamic State fighters, who took the weapons from the U.S.-supplied Iraqi army when they fled the area in 2014.

The U.S. Defense Department denies there's a problem.

"We continue to work through the government of Iraq and Prime Minister [Haider al-] Abadi, and there's been no problem in getting materiel that has been approved and equipment to the Peshmerga forces through that format. And we think that is the appropriate way to continue," said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook.

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter outside a house recently recaptured from IS extremists on the Mosul frontline.

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter outside a house recently recaptured from IS extremists on the Mosul frontline.

The United States, France, and Germany have provided the Peshmerga with weapons, including 40 MRAP armored vehicles, Milan anti-tank missiles, ammunition and money for salaries.

But as the push intensifies to retake Mosul the Peshmerga want more.

"They need to provide us with more modern equipment, night vision goggles, heavy machine guns, armored cars," Hazhar said.

The general said he had to buy his armored vehicle, which he uses to travel around the bomb-laden area just liberated from Islamic State, with his own money.

But there are concerns that in heavily arming the Peshmerga, what is now the frontline against Islamic State could become the front line of their fight for independence from Baghdad too.

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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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