News / Middle East

Iraqi Kurds, Battling Islamic State, Press US for Weapons

File - Members of the Kurdish security forces gather in an area in Kirkuk, Iraq. In Iraq's chaos, the Kurds are emerging as significant winners, June 14, 2014.
File - Members of the Kurdish security forces gather in an area in Kirkuk, Iraq. In Iraq's chaos, the Kurds are emerging as significant winners, June 14, 2014.
Reuters

The semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq is pressing the Obama administration for sophisticated weapons it says Kurdish fighters need to push back Islamist militants threatening their region, Kurdish and U.S. officials said.

A Kurdish official said the request was discussed during a Kurdish delegation's visit to Washington in early July, and U.S. officials said Washington was considering ways to bolster the Kurdish defenses.

The Kurds said U.S. help is critical to enable the Peshmerga, the Kurds' paramilitary force, to repel fighters from the Islamic State, an al-Qaida spinoff that seized a wide swath of Iraqi territory in a stunning advance in the last few months.

Military supplies

The requested military supplies include tanks, sniper equipment, armored personnel carriers, artillery and ammunition, and also body armor, helmets, fuel trucks and ambulances.

Kurdish officials said the Peshmerga need the weapons to guard the borders of the rugged mountainous region and to protect hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees sheltering there after fleeing the Islamist rebels' onslaught.

U.S. officials said they are considering ways to help the Kurds defend themselves, but direct provision of arms to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), in the way Washington arms  Iraq's central government in Baghdad, appears highly unlikely.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite Arab, has clashed repeatedly with Kurdish leaders over budgets, land and oil. U.S. weapons supplies could set a potentially troublesome precedent for circumventing an allied government to provide U.S. arms to a regional force.

“The provision of security assistance via Foreign Military Sales and Foreign Military Financing must be coordinated with central government authorities, in Iraq and elsewhere,” a State Department official said on condition of anonymity.

“We provided some direct assistance in the past to Kurdish security forces in coordination with the central government,” the official said. “Given the threat that Iraq faces by (the Islamic State), the United States will continue to engage with Baghdad and Arbil (the Kurdish region's capital) to enhance cooperation on the security front and other issues.”

Delicate US position

The U.S. caution reflects Washington's delicate position as it seeks to help Iraq stave off collapse to a rag-tag, extremist army less than three years after the U.S. war there concluded.

In the weeks since the Islamist rebel assault exposed the Iraqi army's weakness and the effects of years of sectarian squabbles, U.S. officials have scrambled to bring Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds together to confront militants.

At the same time, the long-running Iraqi Kurdish ambition for independence has been strengthened by the Peshmerga's stronger showing against militants, by Kurdish territorial gains, and by the fact that Maliki has fallen out of favor in Washington.

The Peshmerga, whose name means 'those who face death,' gained a reputation for toughness during years of fighting former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and, in recent years, occasional standoffs with soldiers loyal to Maliki.

Held Islamists at bay

While Iraq soldiers deserted their posts en masse in northern Iraq before the Islamic State offensive last month, the Peshmerga kept Islamists at bay while also seizing the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which was previously under Iraqi army control.

That new dynamic shaped U.S.-Kurdish talks in early July, when a delegation including President Masoud Barzani's chief of staff and his foreign relations chief visited Washington.

While Iraq's Kurds have long been a reliable U.S. ally, especially since U.S. air power helped them secure self-governance after the 1991 Gulf War, Washington has never thrown its support behind the notion of an independent state. Instead, the United States has urged Kurds to share power with Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs within a federal Iraq.

During the Kurdish officials' visit to Washington, Barzani asked the region's parliament to make preparations for a referendum on independence.

The Obama administration, which sent hundreds of soldiers to Iraq last month to protect diplomats and to analyze Iraq's military capabilities, has said it is considering what military actions it might take against the Islamic State.

As part of its response, U.S. soldiers set up a joint operations center in Arbil, in part to assess the Peshmerga.

Kurdish officials say their weapons request, which they also discussed with members of Congress, was not unprecedented. They pointed to Taiwan, which buys weapons from the United States  but which China regards as a renegade province.

The United States at times provides military assistance through non-military channels. A CIA program has given selected rebel groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad training and weaponry.

While formal military sales to Kurdistan may be deemed impossible, U.S. officials said they are searching for other ways to empower the Kurds militarily - in conjunction with Bagdhad.

But if the United States seeks to supply Kurds weaponry through Baghdad, it will have to overcome deep Kurdish suspicion of the central government. Baghdad and the KRG are embroiled in a dispute over control of oil sales from Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Kurdish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Kurds were told they would receive some of the equipment the U.S. military left behind when it withdrew in 2011 but Maliki never provided it.

The Iraqi military did not respond to requests for comment.

Since 2003, the United States has spent over $25 billion to train and outfit Iraq's national army. Very little U.S. training and equipment, most of which has been non-lethal assistance, went to the Peshmerga.

Acquired military gear

Over the years the Peshmerga have acquired Russian-made weaponry, including some tanks, and a few rescue helicopters. They also captured some weapons last month when they commandeered facilities abandoned by Iraqi soldiers in Kirkuk.

But Kurdish officials said much of what they have is outdated and will be no match for the sophisticated weaponry captured by Islamic State fighters when they swept through northern Iraq.

Retired U.S. Lieutenant General Frank Helmick, who headed the U.S. effort to train Iraqi forces from 2008-2009, said no arms or training were given to the Peshmerga later in the war.

He recalled interacting with Peshmerga fighters early in the Iraq war, when he was a senior officer in northern Iraq.

“They were pretty doggone good fighters,” he said. “They weren't very well armed, but they were fierce fighters.” 

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: YPG from: Nashville
August 04, 2014 6:45 PM
Why is it that the US always makes the wrong decisions..ever since! They always create their own enemies. If they don´t arm the kurds, directly or thru others, like Israel or whoever the heck, the kurds will not be amused. Instead of creating a good, strong ally, they once again seem to miss all chances. Bagdad is weak, Obama has to realize that. the kurds are feared and hated, just like Israel. They are not arabs and altho they are mostly muslims, they are far away from the ism and are living very progressive. Give em a chance!

by: Old Timer
August 01, 2014 12:26 PM
Just another created terror group. Repent, Get Saved, Get Raptured. Jesus Christ is waiting and watching.
In Response

by: YPG from: Nashville
August 04, 2014 6:38 PM
Oh dear, somebody with little knowledge here. Actually, the Kurds respect women and minorities, unlike some of their arab neighbors. Northern Iraq is the most democratic area besides Israel down there. Even more democratic than Turkey.
In Response

by: Young Buck from: USA
August 01, 2014 6:42 PM
No, the Peshmerga are Iraq's best hope of defeating IS. They are exactly as-stated in this article, fierce fighters who do not tolerate oppressive government or militant control. The US would do well to arm them, they have no ill will toward the US or it's people at all, they are good men. Talk to US soldiers who have encountered them, nothing but praise and respect.

by: Not Again from: Canada
August 01, 2014 10:43 AM
If the Kurds can't hold IS, all of Iraq will be gone down the drain. It is very simple, IS will be able to consolidate its geographic hold on Iraq. Pressing for the unification of the Iraqi gvmt, is running the clock out..... It will be like the Syria debacle, too much rationalizing not enough action, or the Kandahar syndrome, that paralized the allies for months!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More