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Thousands of Peshmerga Drafted into Army

Incorporation of large numbers of peshmerga into national security forces fails to allay concerns of some Iraqis over the militia force.
By Talar Nadir

Iraqi Kurdistan is to bolster Iraqi army and interior ministry units by providing the beleaguered security forces 32,000 of its peshmerga fighters - a little more than half the elite militia, according to Kurd officials.

The remaining thirty thousand Kurdish troops will come under the control of a planned peshmerga ministry in the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan, said Mustafa Sayyed Qadir, deputy chief of units belonging to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK.

The move comes as the rival Kurdish administrations in Sulaimaniyah and Erbil prepare to unify. The election of Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, as president of Iraqi Kurdistan on June 12 paved the way for the two authorities to merge.

Sulaimaniyah and Erbil are the capitals of the PUK-controlled eastern side and the KDP-controlled western side of the Kurdish region respectively.

The continued presence of a peshmerga force has alarmed some Iraqis, especially Sunnis, who are concerned that it might be deployed by the Kurds in a future independence struggle. Plans to halve the militia have failed to allay these worries.

Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd and head of the PUK, recently sparked controversy when he publicly expressed support for maintaining the peshmerga and the Badr Brigade, the military arm of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Abdul Salman al-Qubeisi, spokesman of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, accused Talabani of trying to prolong the fighting in Iraq and to turn it into a civil war.

The former Coalition Provision Authority had issued orders for militias to be disbanded but the decision has not been followed through.

In an effort to assuage concerns over the continued existence of the peshmerga, Qadir insisted the militia was a patriotic force and should not be looked at with suspicion. "We don't have any evil intentions," he stressed.

Other members of the Kurdish force have echoed this sentiment but admit that they have some persuading to do. Fazil Basharati, a peshmerga soldier and member of the KDP, said they need to show they have the interests of Iraq at heart. "To prove that we don't pose a threat and we consider ourselves to be part of Iraq, we have to be prepared to defend Iraq," he said.

While the rest of Iraq might not like it, Kurds believe it is paramount that they retain substantial numbers of pershmerga fighters.

Muhsin Bayez, a senior official in the Kurdish regional government, said it is important Kurds do not have to rely on others for their protection. "We don't [want to depend totally] on to the Iraqi Army," he said.

Muhammed Jalal, who teaches international relations at the University of Sulaimaniyah, said maintaining the militia would reassure locals that their region will remain an autonomous entity, "It is impossible for the Kurds to fall under the direct rule of Baghdad again."

Talar Nadir is an IWPR trainee in Sulaimaniyah.