Advisor of New Iraq Center
In one of the meetings, before the 2017 referendum, Massoud Barzani talked about the insistence of the former US civil administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, in 2003, to resolve the “Peshmerga” forces and to consider them military militias like the Badr and Mahdi Army.
Barzani’s response was clear when he said, “the solution of the Peshmerga is neither of your powers nor of my powers, because the Peshmerga was not established by a decree to be resolved by another, but it was founded by blood and tears. The subject of the Peshmerga is not a red line, but a set of red lines that cannot be crossed.”
On July 1, 2019, the Iraqi Prime Minister (Adil Abdul Mahdi) issued a decree to include all formations of Iran-backed militias to the Iraqi armed forces, the closure of their headquarters inside and outside cities, and cutting any link to these armed groups with any political organization.
The text of the decree issued by (Abdul Mahdi) is that “all Iran-backed militias shall be an integral part of the armed forces, subject to all that applies to the armed forces, and act under the command of the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.”
The reactions to the decree differed between those who supported the decree and considered it necessary to limit the Shiite militias and subject it to state authority and other parties that expressed its fears of attempts to resolve the militias. This will be in compliance with the American will in Iraq. Whereas other parties such as the Victory Alliance headed by the former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who called on the Prime Minister (Adil Abdul Mahdi) to include the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the organizational measures on the Shiite militias, which stated merging them into a unified structure of the armed forces.
After the statement issued by the Victory Alliance expressing the vision of its leader (Haider al-Abadi), who failed to eliminate the experience of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq when he was the prime minister despite all his attempts, several voices came out. These voices repeated these demands and called for the dissolution of the Peshmerga forces. They falsely compared the Peshmerga, which plays an essential role in protecting security and stability and is subject to training and supervision of the coalition forces, and sectarian militias. Those who openly declare their loyalty to the Iran and is prepared to harm neighboring countries and engage in external conflicts based on the directives of Tehran and Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist.
It is wrong to compare the Peshmerga forces to militias and armed factions that are loyal to Iran in Iraq. The Peshmerga forces have become professional forces that receive training and supervised by the United States and the International Alliance countries. Since 2003, military academies in the Kurdistan Region have been formed to train Peshmerga forces and convert them into professional forces. In contrast, militias and armed factions founded by religious fatwas without military training or having a clear military doctrine have led to widespread chaos in the areas of influence of these militias.
The Peshmerga forces are committed to protect the Kurdistan Region from external dangers, do not interfere in the internal affairs of the region, do not exercise economic and commercial activities, do not impose their vision by force and are not involved in illegal acts and pose no threat to Iraq’s neighbors. Unlike them, the sectarian militias that declare allegiance to the project of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist in Tehran. They have an extremist ideology which they are trying to apply in Iraq and working to control the commercial activity in the areas under their influence. In addition, many of these militias have participated in activities outside Iraq (for example in Syria) in response to Iranian instructions and thus they have posed a real threat to the neighboring countries of Iraq because they have become an arm of Iran in Iraq and a source of threat to the countries of the region.
The experience of the Peshmerga forces in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is a distinct experience; these forces succeeded in protecting security and providing stability in the region since 2003. Because of the professional performance of these forces, the Kurdistan Region have become a destination for the oppressed and the marginalized from the rest of Iraq. They have provided a successful model in Iraq and the region, which contributed to the consolidation of all nationalities, religions and sects within the Kurdistan Region without exclusion or retaliation for any party. On the other side, the sectarian militias that spread in the affected cities and disputed areas caused the displacement of thousands of citizens and theft and looted them and controlled their homes and their shops by force. In addition, they imposed a narrow ideological vision and tried to blur and erase all manifestations of diversity in these areas, with the spread of the phenomenon of kidnapping, killing, torture and secret prisons and the transformation of residential areas into warehouses for weapons and missiles and the formation of a real threat to coexistence in these regions which is known for its national, sectarian and religious diversity.
The importance of the Peshmerga forces survival emerged after 2003 when religious and sectarian parties failed to build the state, implement the Constitution and establish non-sectarian national security and military systems. The former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki was known for his continuing threats to the Kurdistan Region, in addition to the leaders of sectarian militias that were threatening to enter the capital of the region, Erbil. In addition, there was the referendum when the former Prime Minister (Haider al-Abadi) tried to control the border crossings and end the experience of the Kurdistan Region, but the presence of Peshmerga forces contributed mainly to abort these schemes against the Kurdistan Region. Without these forces, the fate of the Kurdistan Region would have been the same as the Sunni areas that had been destroyed and controlled by militias and armed factions displacing thousands of its citizens to tents.
The current environment in Iraq, the spread of militias, the increase of their influence, their strength and their bad experiences in many governorates, in addition to the risk of the return of the terrorist groups activity, are all sufficient reasons to justify the survival of the Peshmerga as a strong institution that maintains the security and stability of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. They cannot be compared to the Shiite militias or the other armed factions associated with the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist project. Those militias threaten stability and constitute a destabilizing factor of internal security and a threat to the neighboring countries of Iraq because of its aggressive rhetoric and its insistence on interfering in the internal affairs of the Arab and Gulf countries.