WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Brig. Gen. Halgurd Hikmet, the spokesman for the Ministry of Peshmerga, recently spent three weeks in the US at the joint invitation of the Pentagon and State Department.
Before returning home, Hikmet sat down with Kurdistan 24 to relate his experiences and impressions of the visit, during which he had been part of an Iraqi delegation that spent two weeks in Washington and a third week at CENTCOM Headquarters in Tampa, Florida.
Hikmet was extremely satisfied with the visit, leaving with one message he wanted to convey to his American hosts: “We will never forget the support and cooperation of the US for the Peshmerga forces,” as he had told CENTCOM’s Chief of Operations. “We will remain your allies and friends forever.”
While in Washington, Hikmet did his share of briefings, including at the Pentagon and State Department.
At the Pentagon, a senior adviser to Secretary of Defense James Mattis received the delegation.
Hikmet had three issues to discuss, including the project of the US-led coalition to unify, reorganize, and train Kurdish forces: i.e. to turn the Peshmerga into a professional army. That program is now well-along, already in its eighth month.
Hikmet also asked Mattis’ adviser for support for another project: to help create a system to assist the Ministry of Peshmerga in better informing the media about its activities.
The third topic on his agenda was renewing the protocol between the Ministry of Peshmerga and the Pentagon on arms sales and assistance.
The response was “very positive,” Hikmet told Kurdistan 24.
The State Department honored the delegation with a dinner, hosted by the Deputy Secretary of State, and attended by the Kurds’ old friend, Joseph Pennington, formerly Consul General in Erbil and now Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq.
At CENTCOM headquarters, the delegation was welcomed warmly, but Hikmet felt a special friendliness was reserved for him, as Peshmerga spokesperson.
Certainly, recent reports of the Pentagon’s Inspector General confirmed the US military has a much easier, more collegial, time working with the Peshmerga than with the Iraqi army.
A 2016 report quotes a US commander, “The Peshmerga have proven that they can fight and defeat the enemy with really a fairly light touch from us…In the vast majority of the battle space, they’re on their own.”
By contrast, a 2015 report complained of the Iraqis’ refusal to allow US advisers into some warehouses.
The advisers could not be sure supplies were not being secretly given to unauthorized parties, such as the Shia militias, many of which are controlled by Iran, or siphoned off by corrupt Iraqi officials.
Kurdistan 24 also discussed post-Islamic State (IS) security arrangements with Hikmet.
He welcomed the idea of the US maintaining a military base in the Kurdistan Region after IS’ defeat—the bigger, the better.
Asked if Baghdad would accept a US base in the Arab areas of Iraq, he suggested it was probably unlikely.
“The Iraqis’ problem is that their opinions are not unified,” Hikmet said. “Even if a party wants to make an official decision on this, they won’t be able to do so, because of the Shia leaders.” And, he pointedly added, “Definitely, Iran will have a say.”
Hikmet also explained an important difference between the Iraqi Army, which collapsed, as IS seized Mosul in a matter of hours, and the Peshmerga, who once they had recovered from the initial shock, fought and stood their ground.
“The Peshmerga had simple, outdated weapons, and they knew that they faced a battle of life and death.” However, “we would not let what we built, fall into the hands of others,” he said.
The Peshmerga identified with the land and people they defended, but the Iraqi army did not.
Asked about the delegation of which he had been a member, Hikmet explained there had been 15 Iraqi officials, including the spokespersons for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, as well as for the Ministries of Defense and Interior, and the head of media for the Iraqi Navy.
Hikmet was the only Kurd, and he told the Iraqis, “You are 15 people, and I am alone. That is why we are losing patience with you.”
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany