By Shwan Zulal
Whilst Michael Rubin, a scholar from the American Enterprise Institute, argues in Kurdistan Tribune that Kurdistan Region (KR) President Massud Barzani and PM Barham Salih should pressure US policy makers to block the latest proposed Turkish arms sale, the attention of Kurdish politicians should also focus on their failure to convince the US to sell them military hardware too.
The KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) sees itself as a democratic government, developing its institution rapidly, but not quick enough for the Kurdish public. The region has an elected parliament, albeit dysfunctional, and a coalition government that has faced many challenges, regional and domestic. Progress has been painstakingly slow and as the PM, Salih, has admitted on many occasions, the remnant of the two administrations -PUK and KDP – controlling different parts of the region until late 1990s – is still hindering progress.
One of the crucial issues is security in a region where instability and conflict is never too far away. The KR has locked horns with Baghdad over the financing of Peshmerga forces and their status in Iraq and, so far, the issue is still not wholly resolved.
Iraq is to acquire fighter jets and other military equipment from the US and France reportedly. The KR, however, has the largest organised army in Iraq but it is ill-equipped and not in line to be sold any modern military hardware soon by the US or other European countries. Despite the creation of numerous Peshmerga units under KRG control, technically speaking the Kurdish forces can still be called a militia: simply because the forces are loyal to political parties rather than Kurdish government.
One of the crucial failures of the current and previous Kurdish governments, which politicians from all sides need to take responsibility for, is failing to unite the Peshmerga forces. This has been one of the main stumbling block ahead of the KRG in order to have the means to defend its borders, and have credible military capability to at least work a deterrent in the regional squabble.
Due to a lack of engagement with KR, the US has come under a tremendous amount of criticism from Kurdish commentators and politicians alike. Although the KRG has sought military aid from the US and been given it in the past, the assistance has never been adequate.
It is simplistic to accuse the US of a lack of engagement because it is crucial to bear in mind that, as a policy maker in Washington, if you want to even think about selling arms to Kurdistan Region, who you are going to sell it to – PUK or KDP. Furthermore, what guarantees are there these weapons are not misused.
The US will not sell arms to the KRG without considering the regional implication and possibly the consent of NATO bearing in mind the Iraqi central government. The Kurds have not put themselves in any position to even be considered, by having a fragmented chain of command and a divided military force.
Although it is understandable there are genuine fears and lack of trust among the Kurdish political parties given the history between them, they need to overcome their fears and come up with a workable solution to unite the administrations.
It is easy to dismiss failure of reunification down to a narrow point of self-interest, because there could be other repercussions like frequent military coups and an over-zealous military dictating policy. Nevertheless, the current ruling parties have had nearly 10 years to work on reuniting the forces and still a long way to go.
The latest event in Iraq is a wake-up call for the KR political parties. Differences need to be set aside at this critical juncture and establishing a region based on unity and rule of law is an obligation. The right mechanism with checks and balances need to be enshrined in the constitution, ensuring parliament stays the most powerful institution in the region. Until serious steps are taken to address the pivotal issue of uniting the Peshmerga forces, the KR cannot expect the US to sell it any substantial military hardware.