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 Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.