Why does the US want restructuring of South Kurdistan Peshmerga?

The restructuring plans for the Peshmerga are not independent of the regional plans of the USA and serve the goal of breaking the regional influence of Iran.

When the Islamic State (IS) proclaimed the caliphate in 2014, it was equivalent to an invitation to return for the US troops that had officially withdrawn from Iraq at the end of 2011.

In August 2014 - one month before the International Anti-IS Coalition was founded - the US Army carried out its first attack on IS near the southern Kurdish city of Maxmur. The return of US troops to Iraq was thus publicly announced.

At the same time, the US Congress passed a `Train and Equip`-program for Iraq as part of the anti-IS fight. Of the $ 1.6 billion earmarked for the program, $ 353.8 million was earmarked for South Kurdistan. From now on Washington continuously provided military support. In 2017, US support for South Kurdistan - weapons, military training and salaries for the Peshmerga – already accounted for $ 1.4 billion.

The greatest military support came in 2017, when the operation to liberate Mosul from the hands of IS took place. Before this operation, the South Kurdish Peshmerga Ministry received $ 415 million in aid. The annual U.S. aid payments also include a monthly payment of $ 20 million for the payment of Peshmerga salaries.

US aid to Southern Kurdistan continued even after IS rule was broken in 2017. The US Congress approved $ 365 million for 2018 and $ 290 million for 2019. As part of the disbursement of the $ 250 million aid payments planned for 2020, a second handover ceremony took place in the southern Kurdish city of Hewlêr (Erbil) a few days ago. In September and November of this year, military goods were handed over in two tranches, including 150 Humvee vehicles.

Even if the latest deliveries may seem like a continuation of Washington’s six-year military support for South Kurdistan, the framework of the 'Train and Equip'-program developed in the context of the anti-IS struggle has now changed. Because in the areas that, according to the political map, have been controlled by the Kurdish regional government since October 2017, there is practically no IS presence. Also, the Peshmerga have only participated in very few military operations over the past three years. This situation would not actually make it necessary to continue US military aid to South Kurdistan at an almost unchanged level. Assuming we consider the question against the background of the IS threat ...

In any case, Washington no longer provides the aforementioned support in the context of the anti-IS fight. Before the handover ceremony, which took place a few days ago, the commander of the US forces stationed in South Kurdistan met with representatives of the Peshmerga Ministry. During this meeting, he announced that US aid was taking place within the framework of `the restructuring and reorganization of the Peshmerga forces under the supervision of the International Coalition`. So what is the intent behind the US leadership's plan to reorganize the Peshmerga and turn it into a modern army?

The armed forces of South Kurdistan are more under the control of two parties - the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) on the one hand and the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) on the other - rather than being controlled by the government. In recent years Western states, especially England, have repeatedly put this fact on the agenda as a problem to be solved. They urge all sides to unite the Peshmerga under the umbrella of a single command center. So this demand is not new. But are the latest US investments in the Peshmerga to be understood only in the context of this agenda, or are there other intentions?

In their analyses and reports, especially last year, think tanks based in the USA emphasized that Washington had to deepen military cooperation with South Kurdistan. They point out that this is of strategic importance for safeguarding US interests in the Middle East. When it comes to US interests in the Middle East, the first thing that comes to mind is the conflict with Iran over hegemony in the region.

Viewed from this perspective, the assumption seems entirely justified that the restructuring plans for the Peshmerga are not independent of the regional plans of the USA and serve the goal of breaking the regional influence of Iran.

Military cooperation and support are not uncommon. But in this case the priority must be to strengthen the ability of the Kurdish people to defend their existence and freedom in the face of an impending genocide. Getting involved in the contradictions and conflicts of other forces would mean a great danger for the Kurds. This is especially true in the current phase.

* This article was first published in Yeni Özgür Politika