Russia sent arms this week to Iraq’s Kurdish region to be used by Peshmerga forces fighting the Islamic State group, Russian and Kurdish sources said.
The arms were delivered Monday and included five anti-aircraft autocannons and 20,000 shells, Artem Grigoryan, the attache to the Russian consul general in Irbil, told RIA Novotsi.
The delivery came one day after Ilya Morgunov, Russia's ambassador to Iraq, met with Kurdish President Masoud Barzani to discuss closer relations between the two sides and provision of military assistance to the Peshmerga fighters.
“The Russian ambassador reiterated his county’s support to the Kurdistan region and showed Russia’s willingness to provide military assistance to Peshmerga in the fight against terrorism,” a statement from the Kurdistan region’s presidency read.
A pro-Western region and an effective U.S. ally in fighting IS, Iraqi Kurdistan has received military assistance from several countries, including the United States and Germany. The Kurdish attempts to receive heavy weapons have been fiercely opposed by Baghdad, which fears the Kurds may seek independence from Iraq.
FILE - A member of the Peshmerga forces inspects a tunnel used by Islamic State militants in the town of Sinjar, Iraq, Dec. 1, 2015.
Having control over Kurdistan’s airspace, Baghdad has blocked several direct arms shipments to the region, arguing that any military assistance should go through the central government. Kurds, in response, complain that shipping through Baghdad is very slow and inefficient.
Kurdistan’s representative to Russia told VOA that Baghdad approved the Russian arms shipments to the Peshmerga.
“The shipment was carried by a Russian plane which landed in Irbil with the awareness from Baghdad,” Aso Jangi Burhan, the Kurdistan region’s representative to Russia, told VOA.
According to Kurdish officials, this was not the first time Kurds had received arms from Russia.
“Just like anti-IS coalition members, the Russian Federation provides us with military assistance. It has provided us with military assistance about three times in the past,” Jabar Yawar, the chief of staff for the Kurdistan region’s Peshmerga ministry, told VOA.
The conflict in Syria and Iraq and the emergence of IS in the region have allowed for a greater involvement of Russia in the region, analysts say.
“Russia has developed close ties with the Kurds since its intervention in Syria in September 2015,” Brian Glyn Williams, a professor of Islamic history at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, told VOA. “The Russian-supplied anti-aircraft guns will be deployed in an anti-armor/anti-personnel role by the outgunned Kurds.”