WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The US House of Representatives, on Thursday, approved the Defense Department budget for Fiscal Year 2019 (which starts in October).
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), as the Pentagon budget is formally known, includes $290 million in support for the Kurdish Peshmerga Forces.
The entire “Train and Equip” fund for Iraq is $850 million, with $560 million for Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the remainder for the Peshmerga, who will, thus, receive 34% of the total. That figure is up from 28% of the FY 2018 appropriation for Iraq.
The funding bill approved by the House now goes to the Senate, which must pass the bill as well, although an informed source told Kurdistan 24 that funding for the Peshmerga is not likely to face any problem in the second legislative chamber.
In the wake of Iraq’s May 12 elections, concern is growing about Iranian influence in Baghdad, one reason for the strong Congressional support for the Peshmerga.
Indeed, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testified Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Scott Perry (R, Pennsylvania), who served in Iraq from 2009 to 2010 as an Army aviator, held up a photo of a US M-1 Abrams tank, flying a Hizbollah flag.
Perry challenged Pompeo, “I’m concerned and have written letters regarding the Train and Equip Program in Iraq” and “the land bridge” that Iran is building across Iraq, using the militias that it supports.
I have “offered amendments in the NDAA to stop the funding of the Train and Equip program” in Iraq, Perry continued. “One was found in favor. One was not.”
Perry’s successful amendment called on the Pentagon to report on “the incorporation of violent extremist organizations and organizations with association to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) into the Iraq military,” as well as “the level of access” they have to “United States-provided equipment and training.”
Michael Pregent, an Iraq expert at the Hudson Institute, has long complained of this problem and the danger that it presents to US forces themselves. Pregent has called for the entire Train and Equip program in Iraq to be moved to Erbil.
Perry’s amendment was one of three expressing Congress’ concerns about the role and activities of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.
A fourth amendment to the NDAA, introduced by Rep. Ralph Abraham (R, Louisiana), hailed the “significant contributions” of the Peshmerga to the US-led campaign against the Islamic State (IS) and provided for the $290 million in funding for Kurdish forces.
In addition to fighting IS in coordination with the Coalition, Kurdish forces also receive training at the Kurdish Training Coordination Center (KTCC) in Erbil.
A spokesman for the Coalition—CJTF-OIR (Combined Joint Task Force—Operation Inherent Resolve)—recently provided some details to Kurdistan 24 about the activities at the KTCC.
So far, some 31,000 Kurdish Security Forces have received training at the KTCC. Some 63% came from the Ministry of Peshmerga and another 37% from the Ministry of Interior, the spokesman explained.
The KTCC leadership has been shared between Italian and German officers who have alternated every six months. A German officer now commands the KTCC, and he will hand over his position to an Italian colonel in June.
Coalition countries contributing trainers to the KTCC program include Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Hungary, Finland and Slovenia.