Kurds turn to Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ists to con­vince Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion to arm them di­rectly, by­pass Baghdad

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS -

Kur­dish fight­ers are hir­ing lob­by­ists in Wash­ing­ton to con­vince the U.S. gov­ern­ment to send them arms di­rectly rather than rout­ing them through Baghdad, in an ef­fort to ex­pe­dite and strengthen the fight against the Is­lamic State group in Iraq. Forms filed in 2015 un­der the For­eign Agents Reg­is­tra­tion Act show the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Gov­ern­ment has spent $291,000 on three dif­fer­ent firms.

The Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Gov­ern­ment (KRG) has for months pres­sured Baghdad to ex­pe­dite the ship­ment of arms to Iraqi Kur­dis­tan, but so far, the fight­ers claim, progress has been slow. Ear­lier this year Sen. Joni Ernst, a Repub­li­can from Iowa and a mem­ber of the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, tried to pass a bill that would have al­lowed the U.S. to ship weapons to the Kurds di­rectly.

“ISIS is deadly and de­ter­mined, and Iraqi Kurd- ish Pesh­merga forces, our crit­i­cal part­ner in the fight against ISIS, need U.S. weapons as quickly as pos­si­ble," Ernst said in May. "We sim­ply can­not af­ford to have fu­ture de­lays at this crit­i­cal mo­ment in the bat­tle."

At the time of the in­tro­duc­tion of the bill, Denise Natali, an ex­pert on Iraqi Kur­dis­tan at the Na­tional De­fense Univer­sity in Wash­ing­ton, told In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness Times that the bill was not go­ing to pass be­cause it would re­quire an amend­ment to a law that al­lows the gov­ern­ment to send weapons to in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized sov­er­eign gov­ern­ments but does not in­clude au­ton­o­mous re­gions. The bill failed to pass, as Natali ex­pected, but that fail­ure spurred a move­ment among ad­vo­cates in Wash­ing­ton to en­list lob­by­ists to take the fight di­rectly to the hill.

The Kurds aren't the only group of fight­ers in Iraq that claim Baghdad is hoard­ing weapons in the cap­i­tal. The Sunni mili­tias in the coun­try's western An­bar prov­ince have also com­plained.

“The U.S. gov­ern­ment has not pro­vided us with the weapons di­rectly. The Iraqi mil­i­tary has them,” Mu­hand Mur­shad Drueesh Al­wany, a Sunni mili­tia­man in Ra­madi who also fought along­side U.S. troops in An­bar in 2007, told IBT in Fe­bru­ary. The lack of di­rect weapon ship­ments, the tribes­men said, pre­vented them from de­feat­ing the Is­lamic State group in ma­jor bat­tles such as Tikrit and Ra­madi.

U.S. pol­icy in Iraq is to send arms di­rectly to Baghdad and al­low the Iraqi mil­i­tary to dis­trib­ute them to dif­fer­ent fight­ers across the coun­try ac­cord­ingly. But ten­sions re­main be­tween the cen­tral gov­ern­ment and var­i­ous reli­gious and eth­nic fac­tions, in­clud­ing the Kurds and the Sunni tribes. Dis­tri­bu­tion has been slow as the Iraqi gov­ern­ment works to re­cruit and train fight­ers be­fore arm­ing them. The U.S. has also been help­ing to train fight­ers with the aid of mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers.

The first U.S. troops to en­ter the fight against ISIS mil­i­tants ar­rived in Novem­ber. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama sent 1,400 of them to An­bar to help the Iraqi mil­i­tary plan the fight against the ex­trem­ist group, which had al­ready taken over more than 80 per­cent of the prov­ince. Hun­dreds of U.S. troops, sta­tioned at Al Asad Air­base, have been train­ing Iraqi sol­diers over the past year. At the same time, U.S. troops are try­ing to build up a Sunni-dom­i­nated na­tional guard made of tribes­men; sev­eral hun­dred Sunni tribes­men have been trained along­side U.S. mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers, and thou­sands of oth­ers by the Iraqi mil­i­tary.

Given the es­tab­lished re­la­tion­ship be­tween the U.S. and Iraqi mil­i­tary in train­ing fight­ers in An­bar, Kur­dish lob­by­ists in Wash­ing­ton face a dif­fi­cult task. The U.S. is com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing its re­la­tion­ship with Baghdad and over­see­ing the strength­en­ing of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, es­pe­cially af­ter the down­fall of Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki; any move to by­pass Baghdad to as­sist the KRG would risk a de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the U.S.-Baghdad re­la­tion­ship.

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