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Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Guard Forces (peshmerga)

The large and well-developed Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] security sector consists of military forces (the Peshmerga), investigative and policing entities (the Municipal Police and the Asayish), intelligence services (Parastin and Dazgay Zanyari), the Judiciary, and the penal system. Related to the KRG security sector are Government of Iraq forces operating inside the KRG, or consisting of personnel and units formerly part of the Peshmerga.

While the KDP and PUK fought with AK47s in the 1990s, today they have a myriad of heavy weaponry available, including tanks and German-made anti-tank Milan missiles. The war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group further strengthened these militias thanks to the unconditional military support of the US-led coalition. The necessary and immediate goal of defeating ISIL meant overlooking the danger that could arise from arming irregular armed groups.

The word peshmerga means those who face death. The Peshmerga is a security organization that operates as the regional guard force described in Article 121 of the Iraqi Constitution. It maintains security independently within and along Iraq’s borders for the Kurdistan Regional Government. Private security companies have hired individual Peshmerga members for work outside the Kurdish area. Some members of the Peshmerga have been integrated into the Iraqi Army; there are allegations that these former Peshmerga members remain loyal to Kurdish authorities rather than to their proper Iraqi chain of command.

The Peshmerga are largely funded by the budget of the KRG and Baghdad. The budget is a challenging issue. Salaries alone probably approach $30,000,000 per month (including both PUK and KDP areas). If the revenue stream from Baghdad is delayed for any reason, then the KRG quickly becomes so strapped for cash that government salaries, even for the Peshmerga military forces, cannot be paid on time.

Standing some 200,000 strong [by some estimates] and comprised of both male and female fighters. By early 2001 reporting described the Peshmerga as reducing from 200,000 to 70,000 with the other 130,000 either retiring or getting “government” jobs. Those “government” jobs would include the 30,000 Zerevani Paramilitary Police transferred to Iraqi Ministry of Interior [MoI], the 29,500 transferred to the Iraqi Army [IA], and 5,000 being formed into the KRG’s Oil Police.

The number of Peshmerga on duty can be ramped up during emergencies. This occurred during fall of 2007 when a crisis between the PKK and Turkey in northern Iraq prompted the Peshmerga in Dohuk Governorate to keep 75% of their soldiers on duty and 25% on leave, as opposed to the usual 50/50 arrangement; the last time 100% of Peshmerga troops in this area were on duty was during on the eve of the US invasion in 2003.

The laws of the Kurdistan Region provide for a single, unified force, Peshmerga army with all Peshmerga forces (KDP and PUK) subordinate to the KRG Presidency Council (the cabinet – headed by President Masud Barzani). However, in practice the two forces remain divided, with Barzani commanding the KDP Peshmerga and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani retaining command of the PUK Peshmerga.

Today’s Peshmerga is a much larger, better equipped, and better organized force than its predecessors. Between them the KDP and PUK fielded a forces totaling between 100,000 - 120,000 Peshmerga soldiers. Of these, only about 60,000 were intended to remain designated as Peshmerga. Remaining troops earmarked for transfer to the Iraqi Army or, as has already occurred for a sizeable contingent of KDP troops, for transfer to the KRG Interior Ministry.

Approximate Peshmerga manning levels as of 2009 were:

PUK PeshmergaProjected Residual Force27,800
PUK PeshmergaEarmarked for Transfer to 16th Division IA14,700
KDP PeshmergaProjected Residual Force40,000
KDP PeshmergaEarmarked for Transfer to 15th Division14,700
KDP Zerivani(former Peshmerga transferred to Interior Ministry)30,000

The Peshmerga also included the Zerevani [paramilitary police] and is responsible for border security, vital infrastructure protection, dignitary protection, and myriad other security and law enforcement duties. The peshmerga militia is responsible for guarding the compound in Baghdad controlled by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, which also houses the presidential residence as well as offices and private residences.

Since 1991, the Kurdistan had enjoyed autonomy from the rest of Iraq. Despite upheavals and setbacks, during this period the Kurds of northern Iraq have established viable government institutions including legally constituted legislative, executive, judiciary, and security entities. These structures were the only state elements in Iraq to remain intact in the aftermath of the 2003 US invasion, and have continued to develop in the following years. Their existence and authority was ratified on an interim basis by the Transitional Administrative Law and permanently by the terms of the 2005 Constitution of Iraq.

The highly-trained and capable Kurdish Peshmerga regional security force could be a useful ally for Baghdad after years in which they were rivals. While US troops were active in Iraq, the Peshmerga mainly stayed out of the civil war between Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs, defending the three provinces that make up their autonomous Kurdish region in the north. Iraq's Kurdish area has prospered while avoiding the violence that plagued the rest of the country, with the Peshmerga keeping a firm and unchallenged grip.

Known for their fierce resistance to the Saddam Hussein government, leaders of the Kurdish region's peshmerga military said by 2005 that their forces were ready to join the Iraqi National Army. But working alongside Iraqi Arabs, the Kurds former foes, would take some adjustment. Irbil was the home of a division of the Iraqi National Army, a force of about 1,100 soldiers and officers made up entirely of Kurds. Even though these men were training to be part of Iraq's National Army, the officers and soldiers here still thought of themselves as peshmerga. Some Kurdish leaders remained wary about fully integrating the peshmerga into Iraq's National Army.

In early 2007 Iraq's army moved more troops into Baghdad as part of the new effort to stop sectarian violence there. The controversial plan included bringing Iraqi Army units to the capital from the Kurdistan Region of Northern Iraq. Some critics of the plan opposed adding Kurds to Baghdad's volatile ethnic mix. Some news reports said some soldiers from the Kurdish north deserted rather than go to Baghdad. Some Kurdish members of Iraq's Parliament supported sending troops from the north to help bring order to Baghdad. The mostly Kurdish units from the north needed some additional training before they began patrolling in Baghdad. Because many of the Kurds were experienced soldiers, training focused on larger units learning to work together and polishing the urban warfare skills needed for the difficult task of patrolling Baghdad's very dangerous streets.

The GOI had asked the Peshmerga to help in areas northeast of Mosul and in the Hammrins when the threat from Al Qaeda was significant. But by late 2008 PM Maliki insisted that the KRG had no authority south of the Green Line and that the Peshmerga must withdraw from south of the Green Line. Maliki feared that the Peshmerga/Kurds were seeking to place parts of Diyala under Kurdish control, and would then move onto Mosul in Ninewa province and then to Kirkuk.

Across northern parts of the country, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and other violent extremist groups continued to exploit the de facto internal boundary created by the separation of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and peshmerga. Insurgent forces have fomented tension between ISF and peshmerga elements, and exploited unguarded seams of territory between the two to conduct terrorist attacks and criminal activity.

Beginning in the summer of 2009, a series of well-publicized attacks against minority communities in the disputed internal boundary (DIBs) areas, particularly in Ninewa province, threw the nature of the threat into stark relief. At the request of PM Maliki, USF-I, in consultation with GOI and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) counterparts, facilitated the development of the CSMs to knit together the seams and improve security.

The Combined Security Mechanisms (CSMs) consist of temporary, non-political measures across the disputed internal boundary (DIBs) areas of northern Iraq, and are designed to ensure the security of the Iraqi population. Key features include Combined Checkpoints (CCPs), Combined Security Areas (CSAs) in which combined Iraqi-Kurdish-U.S. forces will patrol, and Combined Coordination Centers (CCCs) through which operations will be coordinated. These measures have the corollary effect of reducing tensions between Arabs and Kurds, and increasing security during the period of highest risk through Iraq's upcoming national elections and government formation. Long term security in the DIBs areas requires political solutions; the CSMs can help mitigate tension and engender cooperation between Arab and Kurdish actors. Commanders of the Iraqi Army (IA), Iraqi Police (IP), Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Guard Forces (peshmerga) and United States Forces (USF) have begun training and other preparations necessary to implement the CSMs.

The Iraq Ministry of Interior and the Kurdish Regional Government Ministry of Interior signed a memorandum of agreement pledging greater cooperation among the two ministries in Arbil 20 October 2010. Facilitated by United States Forces-Iraq, the signing of the document reflected an important step toward greater cooperation and integration of forces. Additionally, the agreement called for the integration of the Zeravani and Bargiri-Fryakawtin forces to form the 6th Federal Police Division. The two ministries' cooperative efforts came in the form of strengthened internal security, as the 6th Federal Police Division would be available for nation-wide deployment to conduct missions. Furthermore, the 6th Division would be formed upon Federal Police common standards in which all new recruits would be required to meet specific requirements for entry, including education, physical qualifications and background checks. But by 2013 distrust between the security forces of Iraq's central government and of its autonomous Kurdish zone helped the local wing of al-Qaida, the once-defeated Sunni Islamist insurgents who are again rapidly gaining ground, a year and a half after US troops pulled out. Cooperation had been extremely rare since U.S. troops left at the end of 2011, while the central government and the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region in the north were locked in an increasingly hostile dispute over land and oil.

The Peshmerga are a revered institution throughout Iraqi Kurdistan because of their many years of hardship and sacrifice in pursuit of freedom for Kurdistan. The Peshmerga bolstered their legitimacy by their record of generally good conduct on the field of battle – a record that has earned them the respect even of some of their erstwhile opponents. They fought face-to-face, they did not make war on the population, and they did not destroy the infrastructure. The Peshmerga’s record of conduct over the course of their history has hardly been perfect, but they have generally exercised creditable restraint in the conduct of their struggle, generally eschewing the terrorism and other forms of misconduct that so many other insurgent groups have taken to with zeal.

Regional commands (fermandayee dever) are commanded by a major general. Each fermandeyee vary widely both in terms of the geographical area for which they are responsible and in terms of assigned strength, each of which is based upon the mission assigned to that fermandayee and local conditions in its geographical area of responsibility. While exact strength figures for the ten regional fermandayee are not available, some idea of the wide variation among them can be gained from the example of two fermandayee: Fermandayee Dohuk, responsible for a large area along the Iraqi-Turkish border, has an assigned strength of approximately 10,000 soldiers, while Fermandayee Kowa has a much smaller 1500 soldiers assigned.

Regional fermandeyee are subdivided into divisions (leshkiri), brigades (hez), and battalions (battalioni or fewj) depending upon size. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th RGBs make up a force being called the "Iraqi Army's Peshmerga division". In March 2011 The government in the Iraqi Kurdistan region refused to withdraw the Kurdish forces it had sent into the city of Kirkuk. The 4,000-strong contingent belong to the Peshmerga division, which operates in the country's northern region as an offshoot of the Iraqi Army's Regional Guards.

Battalions are further divided into squads (dashto), platoons (pal), and companies (liq). Units assigned to the regional fermandayee are mostly light infantry formations. Nominally the KDP has a standard structure for its units to facilitate conversion into Regional Guards, with a standard strength of approximately 700 soldiers per infantry battalion, with four battalions per brigade and four companies per battalion. However, in practice units vary widely in size and organization.

Contemporary Peshmerga are generally well disciplined. In terms of basic soldier behaviors such as wear of uniforms and care and maintenance of facilities, they compared very well to the Iraqi Army soldiers. The Peshmerga do not have a single standard uniform, wearing instead derivatives of a variety of US uniforms such as the old Battle Dress Uniform (BDU), Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU) and even copies of the newest US Army and Marine Corps digitized uniforms such as the Army Combat Uniform (ACU). Within this variety of uniform types, however, Peshmerga tend to wear their uniforms correctly to include the wear of rank insignia for enlisted as well as officers (something the Iraq Army did nt enforce), as well as proper wear of headgear, etc. Also, the Peshmerga have certain ceremonial or duty uniforms that present a very professional appearance.

In terms of infrastructure such as offices and barracks, the Peshmerga seemed at a real disadvantage, particularly in the PUK area. Peshmerga facilities are frequently very decrepit and run down, reflective of the limited resources available to them. While senior leaders tend to have rather nice, well maintained and tastefully decorated suites of offices, common areas in Peshmerga buildings are often in a poor state of repair. Even here, however, there are indications of a reasonably good level of basic soldier discipline.

In June 2014 Kurdish Peshmerga forces were focused on self-defense and protecting semi-autonomous Kurdistan and securing territory close to their lines, although they have seized full control of the city of Kirkuk, which had a large Kurdish population, and some areas of the Nineveh plains just outside Mosul and an hour’s drive from the Kurdistan capital of Irbil. Peshmerga commanders said they moved to secure the oil-rich province of Kirkuk to ensure jihadists didn’t overrun it, but privately they said they don’t want to relinquish the city as they did as part of a deal with Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The equipment requirements of three Iraqi Kurdish (Peshmerga) Brigades needed for counter-offensive operations is $89.3 Million for each Brigade. US funding for this effort went to develop the capabilities of the Kurdish forces to counter ISIL that will be conducted in conjunction with and in support of broader GoI and ISF efforts. Not only will this facilitate interoperability between the Iraq Army and Kurdish Forces; it also represents a major commitment to fighting ISIL in northern and western Iraq. Kurdish fighters have been valiantly fighting ISIL, but ultimately need US support to take the offensive.

Arming the Kurds at a comparable level will provide them needed capability and will provide interoperability with the Iraqi Army. Training three Kurdish Brigades will provide visual proof of American commitment to the Kurdish people and will facilitate our desire for a unified Iraq. The Kurds who are equipped largely with light weapons and limited supplies would lack the capability necessary to conduct counter-offensive operations in support of the GoI. US support for the Kurds and integration with ISF military operations will provide them an incentive to remain a partner within Iraq and avoid future fragmentation within and among Iraqi regions along sectarian and ethnic lines.

According to Amnesty International, Peshmerga and Yezidi armed groups razed villages and towns under their control, with no military necessity to do so. AI reported widespread burning of homes and property in villages and towns in Ninewa, Kirkuk and Diyala governorates that Peshmerga forces captured from Da’esh fighters between September 2014 and March 2015 and that remained under KRG administration. The report stated that in one nearly destroyed village, members of the Peshmerga told AI they had blown up houses so that the residents would never return. In another village a member of the Peshmerga told AI that an area had been bulldozed following its recapture in order to create an empty area. Erbil-based NGOs and human rights activists corroborated some of AI’s claims.

According to local media, in August residents of the Assyrian town Telsqof in Ninewa Governorate said they witnessed members of the Peshmerga entering homes in search of valuables. Residents described the looting as “systematic,” with Peshmerga units going house to house and emerging with products such as appliances, gas cylinders, oil drums, and furniture.

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Page last modified: 09-10-2019 10:31:32 ZULU