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OPINION: The Dire Need for a Unified Kurdish Army

6 mins read

by Michael Arizanti

Qazi Muhammad pointed out: “The success of any people is caused by, unity and support of their whole nation, any nation that does not have unity will forever be under its enemies’ rule”.

It was the Kurdish Peshmerga that destroyed the myth of ISIS being a invicible fighting force, already in 2014, and became famous worldwide for their heroism. But it also showed the weakness of the Peshmerga forces, the lack of unity.

During the winter of 2014 Kurdish peshmerga forces linked to the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) advanced upon ISIS terrorists in Kharabut, in the historic Kurdish area of Kirkuk. The Peshmergas even managed to take over the city, even though only temporarily. It didn’t take long before the Peshmerga forces faced a very aggressive ISIS counterattack, and for tactical reasons the Peshmerga forces decided to retreat.

During this event, another Peshmerga force linked to political party Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), in blindness of the situation prepared to advance on Kharabut themselves, totally unaware of the amassed ISIS fighters.

The lack of communication, unity and cooperation between KDP and PUK Peshmerga resulted in the death of at least 11 Peshmerga soldiers. They didn’t have to die, if the Peshmerga wasn’t so disorganized and disconnected to each other. The lack of unification between Peshmerga forces, the lack of a national Kurdish army creates a lot of problems, and it’s probably the Kurds biggest weakness and obstacle for a future autonomous Kurdistan.

The Peshmerga “those who face death” are the Kurdish fighting forces. Many regard them as one of the most effective ground forces in the modern history, and the most effective force in the fight against ISIS.

Today western (Syria Kurdistan), southern (Kurdistan Region of Iraq) and eastern Kurdistan (Kurdistan Iran) have Peshmerga forces. Kurdistan Region Peshmerga together with support of Peshmerga forces from Iran occupied Kurdistan, they claimed key victories in Kurdistan Region and Iraq against ISIS, in spite of the lack of an independent state, lack of Kurdish unity, their troubles with Baghdad, lack of arms, and lack of support from the world community.

The victory over ISIS also shows what fantastic opportunities there are, if the Peshmerga reforms become a reality, not only as an important cornerstone for a future autonomous Kurdistan, but also as an important factor for stability and security for the whole region.

In the Kurdish documentary “No friends but the mountains” by prominent filmmaker Kae Bahar, from 2017, General Yazdapana from the Parti Azadi Kurdistan said something very interesting: “The Kurdish unity is flawed. Kurdish unity exists at grassroots level but not at the top. The Kurdish leaders are not yet politically united to liberate Kurdistan. There is no agreement on how to move forward and unite all the Kurds. These divisions are caused by political leaders. Political allegiances are as destructive as the enemies who want to keep us divided”.

This is the same problem and opportunities immortal Kurdish leader Qazi Mohammad pointed out in his last speech: “The success of any people is caused by unity and support of their whole nation, any nation that does not have unity will forever be under its enemies’ rule”.

You as Kurds are no less than other free nations.

On the contrary you are in many ways more ready than other nations that freed themselves before from cruelty.

But those who freed themselves had unity among them.

For you to be free you have to stop fighting among yourselves, stop keeping jealousy for each other, stop selling yourselves to the enemy. Only then you can be free and live in a free country.

The Peshmerga is Kurd regional force in Kurdistan. In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the force is authorized under the Iraqi Constitution (article 121/5).

When it comes to the Peshmerga reforms, and the unification of the Peshmerga. It should be noted that the Regional Guard Brigades (RGBs) are free of external political influence under the command of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affair and elected civilian governance. It should be noted that on the 16th of October 2017, 8 out of 14 brigades split along KDP and PUK lines, they remain splitted.

It should also be noted that all attempts to unify the Peshmerga under government control have failed since the 1990s, but have had positive progress the last few years. Per date PUK and KDP retain their own Pershmerga.

The PUK and KDP also retain their own Peshmerga, separate from the RGBs.

These are called the 70s and 80s Forces respectively. The Netherlands, the US, the UK and Germany have formed the world unique Multi National Advisory Group (MNAG) that enthusiastically supports the Kurdistan Region with their Peshmerga reforms.

As a result of MNAG effort and support, Kurdish leaders earlier this year put heavy support units of the KDPs 80th Unit and the PUKs 70th Unit under the command of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs. If KRG and Kurds want a unified effective, modern Peshmerga force – these are important steps that are going very slow (started 2015), but of huge importance.

Kurdistan Regional Government commitment to the Peshmerga reforms: In order to strengthen Kurdistan Region defense capability, counter risks and enhance the security of the Kurdistan Region, KRG will review the current mechanisms for re-organizing and unifying the Peshmerga forces and internal security forces, in coordination with the Kurdistan Region presidency. They will do this with the help of local and international experts. We will also elevate the professional and military capability of our forces.

From a friend of Kurds in Europe

I have been involved in the Kurdish issue in various ways for over 15 years now. I have great respect for the fact that Kurdish parties are trying to learn from their historical mistakes, especially when it comes to letting different destructive forces make Kurds fight against each other.

I am very well acquainted with the painful civil war in the 90s, what happened in Kirkuk 2017, and more. I am also relatively knowledgeable in modern Kurdish history. I see why the formation of a Kurdish state failed in Red Kurdistan, the Republic of Ararat, the Republic of Mahabad and other attempts.

The biggest problem has been the lack of Kurdish national unity. After the Ottoman’s fall, there was really nothing that could have stopped the formation of a Kurdish nation-state if all the Kurds had been one.

Instead, there were different clans, dynasties and more that fought against occupying powers, as Qazi Muhammad pointed out: “The success of any people is caused by, unity and support of their whole nation, any nation that does not have unity will forever be under its enemies’ rule”.

We all saw that while the Iraqi army with high-tech modern weapons ran from ISIS, the Peshmerga ran towards ISIS to fight them – with old worn out AK47s. 

We all saw how difficult it was for the Kurdistan Region to receive weapons from the West in the war against ISIS during the first years, when these weapons were sent via Baghdad (which kept most of them).

However, that did not stop the heroic Peshmerga from crushing ISIS wherever they found them. Eventually, the coalition also realized that it was better to invest in the Peshmerga than the Iraqi army, and began to arm them. From then on it didn’t take long before ISIS was defeated in Iraq and Kurdistan Region.

So what’s the Peshmerga’s biggest strength?

Their fighting spirit, popular support, reliability, mass, and an unique intelligence network.

For the west the Peshmerga reforms are about creating an accountable, capable and affordable regional force operating as an effective element of the Iraqi Security Forces, for a more secure and stable Kurdistan Region within Iraq. 

That should not be the Kurdish government objective. The objective of the Kurdistan Region Government should be to use the Peshmerga reforms as a cornerstone to build a future independent Kurdish state. Security, safety, and stability are the cornerstones of a sovereign nation state.

If we look at the history of Israel, we quickly see how strong one can become through a united national army, even when one is threatened. Even when the nation is newly formed. Israel’s army was built by various militias joining forces. Kurdistan is different but still in a fairly similar situation as Israel in the late 40s.

Kurdistan is historically a tribal society, and historically the Peshmerga have also been loyal to different tribes, the local community, or political parties. In connection with the democratic development in the Kurdistan Region, there will be a lot of challenges, such as the Peshmerga becoming one national army, which will also create enormous opportunities for the future Kurdish independent state. 

Whatever the future has to bring, one thing is a curtain: The increasing importance of Kurds and Kurdistan for the future of the Middle East as international politics. That is in the Kurdistan regional government’s favor!

Michael Arizanti is a debater born in the Netherlands, raised in Norway but now living in Sweden. In Sweden he has been an important part of the debate on how to deal with violence-promoting extremism, and how to fight honor-related violence and oppression. Nowadays he has more focus on human rights and the Kurdish issue.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Milli Chronicle’s point-of-view.