‘Those Who Confront Death’
A request by the Republic of Iraq for military equipment for artillery and infantry units has been approved by the Department of State. The announcement comes from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the Department of Defense agency that provides financial and technical assistance, transfers defense materials, provides training to allies, and promotes military-to-military contacts. The deal is worth a reported $295.6 million and is now waiting for final congressional approval.
The equipment was requested to fully outfit two Peshmerga (meaning “those who confront death”)-infantry brigades and two artillery battalions. While the Iraqi government requested the foreign military sale from the US Department of State, the equipment will be going to units that are operated by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Ministry of Peshmerga (MOP).
During the rise of the Islamic State in early 2014, most of the terrorist group’s weapons were obtained when Iraqi security forces abandoned their equipment. This resulted in jihadists operating armored vehicles, including tanks, that had been given to the Iraqi government by the United States. However, the Kurdish Peshmerga held their ground and actually drove ISIS back in several instances. The Peshmerga also managed to recapture some of the Iraqi Army’s equipment as both Iraqi Army soldiers and ISIS fighters fled and died on the battlefield.
After ISIS’ major offensive in August of 2014, the United States and seven other western nations pledged to provide the Peshmerga with weapons and ammunition. However, the Iraqi government has a history of trying to prevent Kurds from acquiring weapons out of fear that they will then seek to make the Kurdish region an independent state. Members of the Kurdish government have made claims that Iraq was preventing these shipments from the west from reaching their security forces and that equipment needed to be delivered directly to them.
Included in the deal would be 4,400 M16A4 rifles, 46 M2HB .50 caliber machines guns, 186 M240B machines guns, 35 standard M1151 Humvees, 77 M1151 up-armored Humvees, 36 M119A2 105mm howitzers, and other assorted equipment. The Peshmerga is currently involved in operations to retake Mosul from ISIS control; they are part of a coalition that includes Shiite militias supported by the former enemy of Iraq (and current oppositional government to the US), the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In addition to the hesitations of the Iraqi government to allow the men defending the country to be armed, the government of Turkey inevitably protests anytime the United States assists the Kurds. During the siege of Kobane in 2014, the Kurds accused the Turkish government of not only blocking support for the Kobane Kurds, but actively supporting ISIS during the battle. In 2015, Turkey bombed Syrian Kurdish militia bases, and a Kurdish group called the PKK shot down a Turkish military helicopter in 2016.
Despite the tensions that will surely be raised politically in the area, the far greater threat to the region is an ISIS that is not resoundingly defeated in Iraq. The campaign to completely clear Mosul from the grips of ISIS has bogged down in the last few months and risks becoming a costly quagmire for the forces committed to the mission.
The agreement was determined by the State Department to not significantly sway military balance in the region, nor would it adversely impact the readiness of the United States military. Most importantly of all, the deal does not require the deployment of any additional American military or contractor personnel to the area. The sooner Congress approves the deal, the sooner the ISIS threat can be eliminated in Iraq, and fewer Americans committed to fighting this war will be necessary.