A lot of stuff has transpired in Iraqi Kurdistan over the last few months and the turn over of Kirkuk to Iraqi forces has left the Peshmerga in disarray. Finally, two of the Peshmerga’s infantry brigades have officially been reunited as they were separated over 100 days ago when the offensive for Kirkuk began. 1st and 2nd Brigades have reunified with minor modifications to the staff organization among the higher ranks of the units. Col. Hemin Hassan, who is the current commander of both 1st and 2nd Brigades, stated that,
Peshmerga forces have always been ready [for unity] and the two Peshmerga units have never had issues with each other … The day of the separation was a day of crying for Peshmerga, akin to a child crying for his mother and a brother crying for his brother.”
When the Iraqi and Iranian backed forces of PMU and Hashd al-Shaabi took control of Kirkuk in late 2017, Kurdish leaders were quick to make claims of treason against fellow Kurdish political parties. Col. Hassan declared that the unification of the brigades was “a feast” and that it would ultimately serve to improve upon Kurdish relations. As a whole, all Peshmerga forces are still ultimately under the command of Nechirvan Barzani, since his father’s resignation as president. The powers of commander-in-chief to take command of Kurdistan’s forces were passed off to Prime Minister Barzani by parliament when it was determined that the Office of the Presidency would not be dissolved.
In early 2016, the United States-led coalition began training, arming and paying the salaries of 1st and 2nd Brigades directly; this all occurred right before the operation to retake the city of Mosul. There are several other brigades of Peshmerga in existence as well as some specialized units that belong to respective political parties (PUK and KDP) such a the Forces of 70 and 80. In 2014, a mandate was put forth by the parliament of Kurdistan to unify all Peshmerga units under the KRG (especially the politically affiliated ones) but it has yet to fully take effect. The Peshmerga’s deputy minister stated that, “It is planned by the next week that the Chief of General Staff of Peshmerga [Jamal Iminiki] will meet with a committee to initiate the unification of the Peshmerga forces,” and added, “We have discussed this matter with Sheikh Jaafar as well, and we realize that changes need to be made.”
The PUK aligned Forces of 70 are currently under the control of Sheikh Jaafar Mustafa, while the KDP’s Forces of 80 are run by Najat Ali Saleh. The Forces of 70 will begin preparing for unification under the guidance of the ministry of Peshmerga and the plans will later be passed to Prime Minister Barzani. This will be done alongside a committee to ensure the process will go smoothly and any shortcomings will promptly be addressed. Prior to the joining of 1st and 2nd Brigades there were 6 unified Peshmerga units; prior to the events of October 16th there were 14. The chaos has made the reunification and organization of the Peshmerga a tedious task.
The Gorran political party, also known as the Change Movement, called on the government to follow through with the nationalization of all Peshmerga units and remove the political overtones/influence that was in place over specific brigades. The Gorran party was quick to cite the events of Kirkuk as to why such political leverage was a serious detriment to the Kurdish military forces.
The United States Presidential Envoy, Brett McGurk, met with Barham Salih, head of the Kurdish Coalition for Justice and Democracy, to discuss the issue of “nationalizing the Peshmerga forces.” McGurk later met with Prime Minister Barzani and Deputy Prime Minister Talabani in Erbil; he later wrote, “Constructive meetings with KRG PM Barzani and DPM Talabani on post-ISIS stabilization, support to Peshmerga, and the vital importance of a strong and unified KRG within the constitutional framework of Iraq.”
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.