U.S. lawmakers in the House of Representatives are considering legislation to increase direct funding to Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni forces fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq.
Under the proposal, the combined forces could receive 25 percent (or $179 million) of the $715 million authorized to train and equip Iraqi forces fighting IS. They would also be eligible to receive an additional 60 percent of the remaining $536 million if the Iraqi government does not meet certain conditions for political reconciliation, including more outreach to Kurdish and Sunni Iraqis.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Thursday the current draft does not reflect the policy of the U.S. administration, which she said is "that all arms transfers must be coordinated via the central government of Iraq." She argued a centralized approach was the best way to combat IS and promote a "unified, federal, pluralistic and democratic" Iraq.
Iraqi Parliament Foreign Relations Committee member Renas Jano Mohammad expressed support for the congressional proposal, saying, "the legislation is to keep the power balance inside the country in the fight against ISIS and it is not for dividing Iraq."
But Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened to attack U.S. interests in Iraq if the provision is approved.
"In the event of approving this bill by the U.S. Congress, we will find ourselves obliged to unfreeze the military wing and start targeting the American interest in Iraq — even abroad, which is doable," he said in a statement posted to his website.
The recommendations by the House Armed Services Committee come as part of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, a law that covers defense spending for the upcoming year.
Any spending authorized by the act will then need to be appropriated through multiple other bills in a process that will continue for several months.