“Kurdish Peshmerga Divisions Hamper War Effort”
Al-Monitor, January 13, 2015
“Facing a common enemy along the front line in northern Iraq, Kurdish peshmerga have set aside their partisan loyalties to protect their homeland. The division between the region’s main two political parties — the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) — however, persists. While peshmerga have emerged as the most trusted ally of the US-led coalition fighting IS — albeit at a great price to them, with close to 800 peshmerga dead and more than 3,500 wounded — the lack of a unified command and force divisions have undermined their efforts against the extremist group. … Many peshmerga still owe their allegiance to the PUK or KDP, not the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The division among Iraqi Kurds emerged in 1975, when the PUK branched off from the KDP. The two parties subsequently fought a bloody civil war in the 1980s and 1990s over leadership of the Kurdish struggle, resulting in several thousand deaths. A legacy of that conflict is the entrenched rivalry between the leadership of the two parties, which has prevented the unification of the peshmerga. The competition between the KDP and PUK gave rise to a vast network of patronage, whereby thousands of people now receive their salaries through appointments linked to the two parties in return for their votes. Another manifestation is a large number of “ghost” peshmerga who either do not exist or do not turn up for duty. … Official KRG estimates put the number of peshmerga at around 190,000 to 250,000, but some officials say it is in fact far lower. It is not uncommon for senior peshmerga officials to receive promotions on the basis of their loyalty to one of the rival parties instead of their military prowess. … There are moves underway to bring the two peshmerga forces under one umbrella. The Iraqi Kurdistan parliament passed Law 19 on July 23 to place all peshmerga under one command, setting a fast-approaching deadline of six months to make it happen. While 12 out of 36 brigades have been unified under the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs, the PUK and the KDP have retained command over the overwhelming majority of their forces, which include peshmerga and thousands of personnel in counterterrorism units as well as the secret police, known as Asayish.”
Quickie Analysis: Not wanting to wade into Kurdish politics, the US was previously reluctant to arm and train competing peshmerga forces. Now, the threat of ISIS and the lure of US military aid are pushing Kurdish factions into unifying their peshmerga if not their politics.