Bill to fund Peshmerga, deny US equipment to PMF advances in Congress

The US House of Representatives is to vote soon on the Pentagon budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which starts on Oct. 1.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - The US House of Representatives is to vote soon on the Pentagon budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which starts on October 1. 

The massive spending bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), has already been passed separately by the House and the Senate. The current version is a compromise hammered out between the two legislative bodies. 

Following the House vote, which may come as early as this week, the Senate will vote on the bill. 

The NDAA provides $290 million to support the Peshmerga—out of a total of $850 million in Train and Equip Funds to support the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) as a whole. 

The initial version of the NDAA lacked specific mention of the Kurdish forces, but Rep. Ralph Abraham (R. Louisiana) introduced an amendment hailing the “significant contributions” of the Peshmerga to the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) and providing for the $290 million in funding for them. His amendment has been preserved in the final version of the legislation. 

The NDAA also includes provisions explicitly blocking Iranian-supported militias in Iraq from gaining access to US equipment. The most powerful units within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) are supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and are, for all practical purposes, under Iran’s command. 

The Trump administration has designated the IRGC and its proxy forces as terrorist organizations, but has not included in that designation several of the IRGC-backed militias in Iraq. 

Last month, Kurdistan 24 spoke with Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, commander of the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria, and asked him about this problem. 

Funk dismissed it as insignificant, saying that the ISF was free to do as it chose with US-supplied materiel.

“They’re their weapons, once we give them to them,” Funk said. 

Michael Pregent, an Iraq expert at the Hudson Institute, who advised Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), took strong exception. 

The US tracks the end-use of equipment, Pregent told Kurdistan 24, describing Funk’s response as “terribly irresponsible,” particularly as some IRGC-backed militias in Iraq “have access to US equipment, because they are in the ISF, and they have threatened to attack Americans.”

The NDAA contains language that seeks to end that anomalous situation. It requires the “Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State,” to submit reports to “the appropriate congressional committees” and congressional leadership on key issues, including “instances in which forces associated with Iran’s [IRGC] have acquired United States-provided equipment and training,” and “the extent to which United States-provided equipment is controlled by unauthorized units.”

The PMF managed to obtain US equipment and used it when Iraqi forces attacked Kirkuk in an operation engineered by Iran last October. 

Congressmen, including Rep. Duncan Hunter (R, California) and Scott Perry (R, Pennsylvania), both of whom served in OIF, strongly protested the PMF’s access to US equipment and its use of that equipment against the Peshmerga. 

Indeed, Perry challenged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on this very point, when Pompeo appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in May. 

Perry was not satisfied with the response he received then, or earlier, from the administration, and he was behind the NDAA’s language requiring Pompeo, along with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, to report to him, and other Congressmen, about the PMF’s access to US military equipment.

This might be considered a nice example of US democracy in action. America’s founding fathers understood that power was prone to abuse, so they created a system intended to provide checks on power and instill accountability within the political system. 

Now, the administration will have to account to Congress for the disposition of US military equipment in Iraq and ensure that it is not in the hands of Iranian-backed militias.