Iraq: Armed Forces Integration Process Stumbles: The Amalgamation of Kurdish Troops into the Armed Forces of Iraq Has Hit a Problem

Article excerpt

AMALGAMATION OF THE ARMED FORCES was one of the last steps of the unification of the two rival administrations in Iraqi Kurdistan and by far the most difficult, only 12 years after the end of the civil war that raged between Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) from 1994 to 1998 and claimed thousands of victims.

The first step was achieved in April 2009 with the unification of the Ministry of Peshmergas (the Kurdish fighters, or literally "those who face death"). Sheikh Jaffar Sheikh Mustafa (PUK) was appointed Minister of Peshmergas, while Major Jemal (KDP) became Chief of Staff, and Jaber Al Yawal (PUK), Secretary General of the Ministry.

The second step came nine months later with the formation of four unified brigades of 3005 Kurdistan guards, each composed of peshmergas and officers from both parties. The officers--about 200 for each brigade--come from the ranks of the Kurdish forces and from two military colleges in Zakho and Qala Tchwalan, which recruit cadets aged between 18 and 24, who then graduate as second lieutenants after 20 months' intensive training. There are no longer women recruits in the military colleges. "We suggested we could recruit a few but the answer from Baghdad was that there was 'no need for women' in the units," said a Kurdish officer. The four unified brigades are now located in Erbil, Kirkuk, Germian and Mossoul, where, as he put it, they "protect the border with the Iraqi government".

The third step--the formation of six new unified brigades, which will protect the international borders with Turkey and Iran--is still in progress. But in the military college of Qala Tchwalan, near Souleimania, and in the training camp of Bani Slawa, near Erbil, progress continues as training and development schedules are implemented. Out of the 200,000 peshmergas currently on the payroll of the two parties, it is agreed that only half will be retained in the "Kurdistan guards", with the other 100,000 pensioned off.

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Small groups of 15 to 50 officers, from majors to brigadiers, follow a 12-week training course, before being sent back to their brigades. Simple peshmergas are following a training schedule of several weeks' duration to become instructors in their battalions. Some courses are led by American instructors, such as Bill Luntsford, from Kansas City, who teaches after-action review processes, leadership values and ethics: "I teach them what is a lawful order.., and an unlawful order", Luntsford told The Middle East.

Unable to identify which soldiers hailed from which political party, the colonel escorting us in the training camp objected to our initiative to identify the political stripe of individual peshmergas, saying: "We are unifying them, this party identification belongs to the past."

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The Commander in Chief of the unified brigades is Massoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan region; in the past PUK peshmergas were under the command of Jalal Talabani. The officers commanding the divisions and the brigades are appointed by a high committee of 10 members under the Minister of Peshmergas. Commenting about the unification of the fighters, an officer remarked: "At the top, we are working together smoothly ... further down the ranks, it will take more time".

Another factor hampering unification and one much less publicised than the controversy about Kirkuk and Article 140 of the Constitution (a road map to resolve territorial disputes between Kurds and other ethnic groups in the country), or the debate about the oil contracts signed by the Kurdish government with foreign companies, is the fact that the new force of Kurdistan Guards represents a bone of contention between Baghdad and Erbil. …