In 2003 the US-led invasion of Iraq Kurdish Peshmerga forces fought alongside US troops against the former regime, and afterwards against insurgent groups. The US troops enjoyed their best moments in Iraq while staying in Kurdish cities, sometimes unarmed.
The Kurds called US troops liberators, building monuments for US soldiers who helped Kurdish security forces. In fact, they were regarded so highly that even streets and schools are named after them. Consequently, Kurdish cities became sister cities with those of United States. Despite all this, the United States does not consider Kurds as strategic partners — the United States does not recognise Peshmerga as an official army of Kurdistan. Moreover, United States still categorises “Peshmerga” as members of a terrorist organisation.
The U.S. army has not provided military equipment or training to Peshmerga so far. Although is it noteworthy to point out that Peshmerga forces are still recognised by the Iraqi constitution as an official army of Kurdistan Region, and is considered as part of Iraq’s defines system. Nevertheless, there is still ongoing disputes between Baghdad and Erbil regarding the status of Peshmerga, as well as their funding.
Whether intentionally or not, the United States is still taking sides in the dispute — the U.S. government has spent 25 billion to equip and train the Iraqi army from 2003 to 2011. Moreover, the US army has handed over all equipment, arms, vehicles and facilities of U.S bases in Iraq to the Iraqi army — none to the Kurds.
United States is providing military support to a defeated, sectarian-divided army of Iraq to fight against ISIS. The Peshmerga forces are fighting the most dangerous front in the world with outdated Russian arms. Despite this, Peshmerga have proved to be effective against ISIS, and Kurdish officials continue to urge U.S and the international community to equip Peshmerga with modern arms since ISIS has seized US arms and equipment. They effectively have the upper hand over Peshmerga because their equipment is far more advanced.
Peshmerga forces are Iraq’s only hope to prevent a bloodbath. Both the Iraqi army and Sunni fighters, alongside ISIS are divided on the basis of sect — both sides are responsible for mass-killings of civilians, as well as detainees in the past couple weeks. The Amnesty International reported human rights violations conducted by ISIS and Iraqi army.
Unlike the above mentioned groups, Peshmerga have fought and abided by international warfare law and have transferred detainees to prisons under the protection of Ministry of Justice. Although, the majority of Peshmerga are Kurdish, they have offered protection to non-Kurdish minorities.
Peshmerga are the only force that United States can reliably trust in Iraq. They protect the US consulates and compounds in Kurdistan, while in Baghdad and Basra United States depends on foreign contractors to protection the embassy and consulates. The Kurdish Peshmerga forces are responsible for protections institutions such as Parliament, Presidential Palace, Ministry of Foreign affairs, Ministry of Justice and the Anti-terrorism division in Baghdad. These places are considered to be the safest in Baghdad. This is because Peshmerga are not biased, and are not divided on the basis of sect.
Regardless of whether the Kurds choose to stay within a united Iraq or push towards independence, they need the international community to support them in the fight against ISIS. There are different scenarios for Kurds in Iraq to deal with the new realities. To maintain stability and protect its borders, Kurds need arms and military support, without which ISIS could expand beyond the international community’s expectations.
Kurdistan Regional Government must make sufficient conditional demands to secure Kurdistan’s security in the future, should they choose to stay within a united Iraq, and if Peshmerga forces are requested to actively fight ISIS, they must be provided with drones, military training and advanced weaponry. However, if the United States continues to embargo Peshmerga, the Kurds inevitably have two options at their discretion. In both scenarios, United States will lose Kurds as a strategic partners in Middle east.
The Iranian government has offered support to Peshmerga to fight ISIS. Ali Shamkhani, head of National Security of Iran called on Kurdish leaders to fight ISIS, stressing that Iran is ready to equip the. KRG’s representative to Iran told Rudaw TV that Iran has offered full support for Peshmerga to fight ISIS, and help Baghdad maintain control. It is clear that Iran’s strategy in the current crisis is to involve Kurdish forces to fight against Sunni rebels, and back the Shiite dominated government.
The other option for Kurds is to cooperate with ISIS and Sunni fighters, share oil wealth with them to maintain stability. This would have a disastrous consequence in the region. The Kurds are still waiting for U.S. military support. Masoud Barzani, President of Kurdistan Region has told US secretary of state John Kerry that Peshmerga must be armed. The response from U.S: Kurds must work directly with Baghdad.
It is necessary for Peshmerga forces to be armed with the most advanced equipment possible. The U.S. might not be offering military training or equipment, but this does not mean KRG should only consider them or Iran as having the potential to equip Peshmerga forces.