President Masoud Barzani of the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq won praise in Washington for the battlefield performance of his army, the peshmerga, against Islamic State forces. But when, during his visit to the White House Tuesday, May 5, he asked for heavy weapons, he was turned down. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden brushed him off by saying that the US remains “committed to a united, federal and democratic Iraq.”
While they were talking, Congress debated whether to use some of the money appropriated for the Iraqi army for weapons to be consigned directly to Arab Sunni militias and the Kurdish force, both of which were standing up and fighting the Islamists on the ground.
But, according to DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Washington and Irbil, Obama is dead against letting the Kurds have heavy weapons or an upgraded modern army capable of repelling the ISIS forces creeping up to the doorstep of Barzani’s fief, the KRG of northern Iraq.
Obama’s veto stops Western arms sales to Kurdish army
The Kurdish leader arrived in Washington armed with a shopping list and a simple message: The Iraqi army was incapable of defending the country against Islamist conquest, and America’s vaunted training program for putting thousands of Iraqi troops in the field was nothing but a pipe dream. Barzani’s advice to Obama and Biden was to forget about the Iraqi army taking on the Islamists at any time in the foreseeable future. It the United States really intended to crush ISIS, there was only one army available and capable of undertaking the mission, i.e. the Kurdish peshmerga.
Producing his list of purchases, the Kurdish leader said he had come to his last address; No one, except for Germany, was willing to provide his army with the weapons for making the peshmerga a modern army, because all the governments he turned to were constrained by an Obama veto.
His shopping list included tanks, heavy self-propelled artillery, antitank and antiair rockets, assault helicopters and drones.
Barzani went on to warn Obama and Biden that any campaign they might contemplate for driving ISIS out of Mosul before the end of the year would call for at least 10,000 well-armed troops, a number that no one but the semi-autonomous Kurdish republic had available. But before they went into battle, these troops needed first-rate equipment.
Kurds willing to support, not lead assault on Mosul
If the Obama administration remained determined not to cough up, then the Kurdish leader advised Washington to forget about recovering Mosul, and understand that, for lack of opposition, ISIS’s grim rule would continue to branch out from Iraq’s second city across northern and western Iraq.
Before setting out for Washington, President Barzani told his close circle: “The Kurds are going to assist, but the people of Mosul, the tribes, the remnants of the Iraqi police and army must carry the main burden. Our role must be supportive within a comprehensive strategy, which must be worked out among all the players… because any Mosul offensive will be extraordinarily complex.”
The Kurdish leader went on to explain why the Kurds don’t want to invade the heart of Mosul, because, he said, “it is historically, a Sunni Arab city,” and the peshmrega must not insert itself in the contest between Iraqi Sunnis and ISIS Sunnis.
He was very clear that the Iranian-backed Shiite militias were not fit to liberate Mosul because in the battle for Tikrit, they burned and looted Sunni homes. Although he praised them as “good fighters,” Barzani insisted that they can only operate in the framework of a central national military command.
Germany trains, arms Kurds. Obama fears impact on nuclear talks
Germany alone has ignored Obama’s ban on arms for the Kurds. Chancellor Angela Merkel was no doubt influenced by the longstanding presence of a million ex-Kurdish citizens in the country – the largest Kurdish Diaspora in the world.
In the first half of April, Berlin began courses in Germany to train peshmerga officers in counter-terror tactics, while also shipping remote-controlled anti-tank rockets to Irbil.
Those rockets have since become the Kurdish fighters’ weapons of choice against ISIS suicide bombers. And more are to come. German state secretary of defense, Markus Gruebel, told the Kurdish officers training in Germany that another 500 MILAN guided anti-tank rockets and 30 rocket launchers are on the way.
Berlin has also sent more “panzerfaust” anti-tank rocket systems, as well as G-3 and G-36 assault rifles and ammunition.
Obama motives for denying the Kurdish the heavy weapons for upgrading their army revolve like all his other considerations around its impact on his relations with Iran:
1. He has decided that strengthening the semi-autonomous Kurdish republic would weaken the already unsteady central government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. This he declines to do although US advisers in Baghdad uniformly confirm that the regime and its head are nearly inoperative.
2. Al-Abadi is Tehran’s man. He is propped up by the Iranian commander in Iraq, Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Obama fears that impairing the Iraqi prime minister’s position would redound on Iran’s willingness to reach a final nuclear accord by June 30.