After a year long agreement came to an end, a militaryforce of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is no longer paid by the Pentagon.
Back in July 2016 the Obama administration had agreed to pay salaries to 36,000 Kurdish fighters battling ISIS in Iraq. The agreement was expected to be renewed over the summer, yet US and Kurdish officials say that talks stalled since the KRG pursued a divisive independence referendum and the ISIS presence in the region began to collapse.
Peshmerga accuses the Donald Trump administration of withholding support because of opposition to the September referendum. The US has taken Baghdad’s side in the dispute and refused to recognize the results, which were overwhelmingly in favor of Kurdish independence.
Even before the previous agreement expired, Pentagon had already stopped supplying weapons to Kurdish fighters,Peshmerga sources say.
According to US Department of Defense spokesman Eric Pahon, the Pentagon had no plans of renewing the agreement for months prior to the contentious Kurdish independence vote.
In May the Pentagon released a budget request for fiscal year 2018 that assumed that the agreement would be renewed this past summer. The request for the fiscal year that started October 1 calls for $270 million for Peshmerga stipends and $95 million for “sustainment,” 26% more than the $289.5 million requested for fiscal 2017 during Obama’s last year in office. In addition to providing stipends the budget request includes provision of weapons, ammunition, food, fuel, mobility assets, and sustainment support to the peshmerga.
Pahon said the budget is “not a static entity” and is expected to go through “tweaks and changes to match current operating conditions.” However Pahon claims the Pentagon did not stop supporting the Peshmerga with training and equipment.
Congress has also weighed in on the issue. A provision in the House of Representatives’ annual defense bill released in June threatened to cut funding for the peshmerga if the KRG decides to split from Baghdad, a clear signal to Erbil ahead of the referendum.
Separately, the Trump administration authorized a military sale in April worth nearly $300 million to equip two Peshmerga brigades and arm them with 36 howitzers and small arms. Sources in Erbil say those weapons have yet to arrive.
The Kurdistan independence referendum took place on September 25. Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence, defying the central government in Baghdad as well as neighboring Turkey and Iran.
The United States does not recognize the independence referendum as legitimate.