Iraqi government and Shiite cleric oppose US bill to arm Peshmerga

US bill aimed at directly arming Kurdish Regional Government forces opposed by Iraqi officials and notable figures

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Updated Jul 28, 2015

Following the White House’s request to amendment the wording of a new bill for supplying armaments to Iraqi armed groups, Sunni militias and Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) Peshmerga forces would receive direct military aid from the US government.

US State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf had stated the White House’s opposition to the bill’s clause recognising the KRG as an independent country.

The Senate Armed Services Committee passed a revised version of the controversial bill which will see the US send a total of $715 million in supplies to Iraq’s army, Sunni militias, and the KRG’s Peshmerga forces. These factions will all receive individual shipments of arms as they continue the fight against ISIS.

Following the approval of the bill, the Senate Armed Services Committee released as statement hailing the decision.

“[Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry’s] proposal reinforces the mission against ISIS and Operation Inherent Resolve [OIR]. His proposal reauthorises the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq,” it said.

“The Chairman also supports authorising the President’s request of $715 million for security assistance to Iraqi forces combating ISIL. However, Chairman Thornberry requires that 25 percent of the funds be provided directly to the Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni forces.”

The bill further states that if the Iraqi government does not stop the mistreatment of minorities the percentage of aid sent to Sunni and KRG forces will rise to 60 percent.

The US bill, though yet to be approved by the White House and Congress, was met with strong opposition from both the Iraqi government and Shiite personalities in the country.

“We will reject the arming of the Peshmerga directly by the US,” Iraq’s Defence Minister Khalid Al-Obeidi told the KRG run Rudaw news agency.

“Arming the Peshmerga, Sunnis and Shiites must be conducted by the central government, not by the US,” he continued.

Iraqi Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, also lashed out at the US, stating that he would act against the US’ interests if the bill were to pass into a law.

"In the event of approving this bill by the U.S. Congress, we will find ourselves obliged to unfreeze the military wing and start targeting the American interest in Iraq - even abroad, which is doable,” he announced through a statement on his official website.

The critical debate over the bill comes one week before KRG President Massoud Barzani is set to travel to Washington to discuss the notion of Kurdish independence and the fight against ISIS with US President Barack Obama.

Barzani announced last year that the KRG would vote to hold a referendum of independence once the war with ISIS is concluded, stating also that the areas of Sinjar and Kirkuk would be able to vote on whether to join the currently autonomous region of northern Iraq.

Sinjar and Kirkuk, despite being home to Kurdish majorities, are currently excluded from the KRG but remain under the control of the Peshmerga which liberated the cities from ISIS fighters.

TRTWorld and agencies