ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Earlier this week, Kurdistan 24 attended a conference in Erbil, entitled “Peshmerga of the Future,” dealing with the reform of the Peshmerga Ministry—above all, unifying the two main Peshmerga forces into one entity, under a single command.
The US, UK, and Germany, leading members of the Coalition against the Islamic State (IS), formally known as Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), have prepared a reform project for the Ministry of Peshmerga. A key objective is to move away from the current division of Peshmerga forces between the two major Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), while institutionalizing a unified command structure.
“The reform project consists of 35 points,” Maj. Gen. Dler Miran, Director of the Reform Directorate of the Peshmerga Ministry, told Kurdistan 24. “Over the past year, five points have been implemented,” he said, adding that eight more points will be implemented in 2019.
There are about 240,000 Peshmerga fighters in the Kurdistan Region. Although some have been unified under the umbrella of the Peshmerga Ministry, the majority remain divided, taking orders largely from the political parties to which they belong.
“There are no serious problems for unifying the Peshmerga, as all parties support the process,” Chief of Staff of the Peshmerga Forces, Jamal Iminki, explained to Kurdistan 24 at the conference. “But, unfortunately, sometimes we face some realities and incidents that affect the process,” he added.
The unification and modernization of Peshmerga forces requires some time. To make it sustainable, the process should not be rushed, Jabar Yawar, Secretary-General of the Peshmerga Ministry, said.
Regarding coordination between the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces, Yawar explained that since Iraq’s new government was formed, there have been no meetings between Erbil and Baghdad on military and security cooperation.
“In addition to the lack of military cooperation, we have some other issues with Baghdad that need to be resolved, such as the budget of the Peshmerga, military aid, and the share for the Peshmerga, as well as the absence of Peshmerga forces in the disputed territories,” Yawar said.
About 2,000 Peshmerga were killed fighting IS and 12,000 were wounded, according to the Peshmerga Ministry.
Since 2014, CJTF-OIR has trained thousands of Peshmerga fighters, and that training continues.
Brig. Gen. Austin Renforth, Deputy Commanding General-Operations (Iraq) under CJTF-OIR, suggested that there are no real obstacles for the reform and unification of the Kurdish forces.
“I don't see any problems I see the [Acting] Minister of Peshmerga [Karim Sinjari] very dedicated and moving forward for reform. One Kurdistan come together, one Peshmerga come together and then have one Iraq come together to defeat ISIS. That's what we're looking for,” Renforth told Kurdistan 24.
“The Peshmerga forces have proven themselves in combat already, and they have proven themselves worthy to fight against ISIS. So the more we train the Peshmerga forces, the more they're prepared to defeat ISIS, and the more they can better assimilate into the Iraqi security forces,” he added.
Renforth stressed that the terrorist group still exists and could threaten the security of the Kurdistan Region and Iraq.
“If we don't have this reform, they will always find a way to exploit the gaps between the Peshmerga forces,” he said. “We need to never forget that there will always be a resurgence of ISIS, if we don't keep the pressure on them.”
Renforth stressed the importance of coordination between the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces in the fight against IS.
“We're looking for joint security mechanisms along the KCL [Kurdish Control Line.] I think that is extremely important to get Peshmerga forces and Iraqi security forces to have some sort of joint operations center along the KCL, so they can deny those safe havens of ISIS.”
Other CJTF-OIR commanders spoke similarly. Col. Christian von Blumroder, Commander of German Forces Capacity Building in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, believes three key steps are necessary for the Peshmerga forces.
The “first point” is that the Peshmerga “unite and work together to unify the forces,” he said.
The second is “modernization, the modernization of the materials and structure [of the Peshmerga Ministry]”. And the third, which is “very important” is “to find a way to cooperate with the government of Iraq to confront and tackle the problems at the Iraqi border.”
Blumroder also highlighted the sacrifices of the Peshmerga.
“In Germany, we have a lot of respect for the successful fight of the Peshmerga forces against Da’esh [IS]. They did it also for our wealth and for our safety, and we have to thank them a lot,” he added. “We are very very respectful of them and what they did.”
“We are supporting the Peshmerga with different types” of training, he explained. That includes “infantry training, but also CBRN training.”
CBRN is an acronym for “chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear.” Such agents are typically extremely deadly even in very small quantities.
They can be used against civilian populations—as Saddam Hussein did against the Kurds, during his notorious Anfal campaign, and as Bashar al-Assad is doing now, against his own population. They can be used in terrorist attacks. And they can be used in conventional warfare, as chemical agents were used during World War I.
IS sporadically used chemical agents, and unfortunately, the Peshmerga were poorly equipped to deal with that. However, CJTF-OIR is now addressing the problem, as Blumroder explained.
Angelo Lachetti, the Italian Commander of the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center (KTCC), explained, “The KTCC plays a very key role in reform, because we are reforming the training of the Peshmerga, by providing basic and advanced types” of training.
The KTCC’s main effort over the next year will be the preparation and formation of Kurdistan’s security forces, as well as training Kurdish instructors, Lachetti said, adding that the KCTCC aims to make Kurdish forces self-sustaining, in both the short and long term.
Editing by Laurie Mylroie
(Additional reporting by Blessa Shaweys)