Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) under the auspices of President Masoud Barzani has been undertaking a full-court press of lobbying in Washington in order to get direct provision of weaponry. The KRG has hired at least four lobbying firms, spending several million dollars, and has leveraged several former officials and businessmen hopeful to have KRG contracts to act as unofficial and, frankly, illegal lobbyists with Congress.
The crux of the Kurdish lobbying campaign is to convince Congress that:
Kurdistan lacks weaponry to fight the Islamic State. Iraqi Kurdistan may seek more weaponry, but a greater problem is that political bickering within the KRG is preventing the weapons from getting where they need to be.
After Ramadi’s fall, the largely Kurdish city of Kirkuk is next in the Islamic State’s crosshairs. And yet, Masoud Barzani and his sons Masrour Barzani (chief of the intelligence service) and Mansour Barzani (a general) refuse to deliver weaponry to peshmerga in Kirkuk. The problem? Kirkuk did not vote for Barzani’s political party.
The Kurds have acquired weaponry directly from Iran and several European countries. In the idea that he lacks weaponry, Barzani has found an effective tale, and he’s milking it to great effect. Alas, rather than use the weapons against the Islamic State, he is hoarding them for use against his Kurdish political rivals.
Baghdad does not provide weaponry to Kurdistan. Along the lines of the above point, the Kurdish line that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government is refusing to transfer weaponry to the Kurds is an outright lie.
It’s simply false. Baghdad doesn’t itself have enough, but what it does get, it shares. Indeed, even the United States government recognizes that in some ways, the KRG is better armed than Baghdad. Check out this State Department press briefing from yesterday (emphasis mine):
“They [the Islamic State] wield these things [car and truck bombs] so they’re totally impervious to a lot of weapons systems that the Iraqis have to try to take them out. It was one of – I have to say it was one of Abadi’s main demands when he was in the US.
He needed a weapon system to defeat suicide VBIEDs. And we made the decision immediately while he was here to get 1,000 AT4 anti-tank systems to Iraqi Security Forces. And those are going to be arriving fairly soon.
And that’s specifically, as I understand it – I’ll defer to experts on this, but that’s specifically a kind of close-in weapon system for a VBIED that is coming in your direction. The Peshmerga have been using them to good effect and we’re getting 1,000 to the Iraqi Security Forces.”
So, it seems that despite the complaints of no weaponry, the Kurds have AT4 missiles but have not shared them with Baghdad to help Baghdad defeat the Islamic State. And they are not giving them to Kirkuk, and they refused to provide them to the Yezidis before the fall of Mount Sinjar.
Kurdistan is pro-American and a bulwark against Iran. Kurds like America, but the Kurdistan government is opportunistic; it is not ideologically or culturally attached to the United States. Any Congressman who believes lobbyists who use concern about Iran to push deeper relations with Iraqi Kurdistan should request an intelligence briefing.
The Iranians have penetrated as deeply into the Kurdish leadership as they have in Baghdad. Qassem Soleimani, head of the Qods Force, the elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, spends as much time as a guest of Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan as he did as a guest of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
There is no intelligence which the United States provides the KRG that does not find its way to Soleimani within hours. Indeed, Barzani has previously betrayed American intelligence and plans to the IRGC. And, while Kurdish leaders say the right things to American congressional delegations in Erbil or during visits to Washington, they say the complete opposite in Iran and to Iranian delegations.
Remember, the Kurdish leaders spent their exile years in Iran; ties are deep, even if they are less ties of the heart and more the result of Iranian blackmail and extortion.
Kurdistan is democratic. Most Kurds seek democracy, but its leaders do not. Masoud Barzani is a dictator who refused to step down at the end of his term. Given a choice to be Nelson Mandela or Bashar al-Assad, Barzani chose Assad.
The only difference between the two is that American officials still believe the spin of reform when it comes to Barzani. Indeed, Barzani has modeled his Kurdistan Democratic Party after Assad’s Baath Party minus the Arab nationalism; it’s just what he knows. Journalists who criticize Barzani end up in prison or worse.
Lobbyists and KRG officials may like to suggest that “Kurdistan is a new Israel.” Like Israel, Kurdistan does respect freedom of religion. But the similarities end there: Kurdistan is not democratic; it does not respect rule-of-law; it restricts press freedom;
American and European firms have learned it no more upholds contractual commitments than do China or Turkmenistan; and it does not protect its own people from ISIS.
Every Iraqi should receive weaponry to fight the Islamic State, but Kurdish lies have consequence.
Not only does a credulous Congress accepting Kurdish spin fail to correct the real problems preventing Kurdish success against the Islamic State, but it backfires and helps the Iranians.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has bent over backwards to accommodate US interests and nudge Iraqis closer to Iran.
Congressional willingness to supply Sunni militias directly with arms (instead of respect the fact that Sunnis are fighting alongside Shi’ites in the Iraqi Security Forces) or to treat Kurdistan as a separate country, whether or not it deserves to be, have only strengthened the hand of the most radical pro-Iranian elements in Baghdad who rightly say that Abadi put his trust in the Americans, and the Congress responded to his outreach by undercutting Iraq.
It’s time Congress has a real conversation about Iraq strategy, how best to help Kurdistan, and how to defeat the Islamic State…… It should not allow itself to be duped by a family with a flag!