Peshmerga: Pride of All Humanity ? But We Need To Help More
August 8th, 2016. The temperature is over 120 degrees and I am in a car with Peshmerga General Ato Zebari, visiting several Peshmerga posts at the front lines of the war against ISIS. One of these posts was located no further than a quarter mile from ISIS positions. There, we were greeted by the major-colonel in charge, who was of Shabak ethnicity. The morale is high, and the Peshmerga soldiers are determined to defeat ISIS. One truck, severely damaged by a recent ISIS mortar attack, was being pulled aside as our motorcade passed by. ?They are trying suicide missions and launching mortar attacks. They cannot mount any other attack on us now. We strengthened our positions well,? one Peshmerga soldier explains. Approaching the first lines of the military base, General Ato Zebari shows us former ISIS front lines that the Peshmerga has reclaimed, indicating their advancement and progress in defeating ISIS.
With General Ato Zebari and Shabak?s major-colonel in charge of the post, at the front lines
The general tells me that while in retreat, ISIS blew up bridges, destroyed homes and entire villages, except for those populated by Sunni Muslims. ISIS completely demolished Kurdish homes and those of Yezidi?s, Christian?s, Shabak?s, Turkmen, Kakais and other ethnicities. Yet, Sunni villages remained untouched. Despite the wreckages they endured, 150.000 Peshmerga soldiers are guarding well over a thousand mile long border and are ready to launch additional offensives on ISIS in order to advance their position once they agree coordinate with their coalition forces.
The U.S. training program for Peshmerga forces is progressing very well. ?The U.S. government?s recent financial support of 415 million USD that will provide 25 percent of Peshmerga salary needs for one year was much welcomed. Iraqi soldiers receive a regular 1000 USD salary each month, while the Peshmerga soldiers receive 450 USD, sometimes late in payment four months at a time? Karim Sinjari, Minister of Interior and acting Minister of Peshmerga, told us at the meeting.
More Coalition Support for Peshmerga Is Much Needed
Over 1450 Peshmerga soldiers, generals and officers were killed in their fight against ISIS, while 8500 are currently injured. The monthly budget required to sustain 150.000 Peshmerga soldiers with sufficient ammunition, solid military equipment, food, petrol, and other strategically important devices would run between 150 to 200 million USD. Peshmerga forces desperately needs armored vehicles and helmets, as many casualties are due to a lack of adequate protection, from ISIS mortar attacks and heavy machine guns. Plenty of counter-IAD equipment is needed as well. So are heavy machine guns and heavy artillery. ISIS used a chemical attack?s in the Makhmur region (in military sector 6) and it may use chlorine and mustard gas again. Coalition forces (mostly Germany and the U.S.) have provided 12,000 gas masks, but much more equipment is needed. Canadians provided Peshmerga with solid bunker protection for their front line posts, significantly increasing the protection of Peshmerga?s forces and strength of the front line positions.
?Peshmerga are grateful to the U.S. and the coalition forces for their support, especially for air strikes that were crucial for stopping ISIS from advancing further,? General Brusk Qasab said.
Peshmerga Plans to Reform ? Unifying After ISIS
Peshmerga forces consist of Shabak?s, Christian?s, Yezidis, and other ethnicities, fighting together, in Peshmerga army.
Standing with brave Peshmerga soldiers at the front lines, about 15 miles outside Mosul, proudly wearing Kurdish clothing
After defeating ISIS, Peshmerga will need to reform in order to further unify its forces. There are now 50.000 soldiers under Zeravani police forces belonging to the Ministry of Interior. These forces should be merged with the Peshmerga. Over 10,000 Yezidis and 3000 Christians have their own battalions, as part of the Peshmerga, but need more unification, as Christian units are currently undergoing training with 400 Christian soldiers already on the front lines. Strong and united Peshmerga forces are needed for the stability not only of the Kurdistan Region, but for the entire Middle East.
There are two million refugees and internally displaced people currently living in Kurdistan, with many more bound to come after the Mosul operation. The humanitarian crises that the Kurdistan Region is facing is severe. The international community must embrace long term, continued support for the expected influx of refugees.
President Barzani recently supported the idea of establishing a protected area for the Christian community in Nineveh and Shabak representatives from Mosul welcomed this idea. Discussions are underway with Armenians and Assyrians as well. Minorities are playing an important part in this fight, and rightly so, they are looking into certain sovereignty and self-rule rights, under the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The Shabak death toll alone stands now at 1384 with over 200 Shabak still held captive by ISIS.
With General Hazar O. Ismail, graduate of the U.S. Army War College
The future atmospherics of Mosul, the largest Sunni city in Iraq and the country?s second biggest city with a population of 2.3 million, remains unknown. It is hard to imagine how trust can be rebuilt between Yezidi?s, Shabak?s, Kurds, and other ethnicities, and the Sunni majority, who were once neighbors, but have now in large numbers embraced ISIS. It is still hard to comprehend and to understand how many Sunnis could turn on their fellow citizens by joining ISIS, often raping and enslaving their neighbors? wives and daughters, beheading and killing people with whom they shared decades of peaceful co-existence. It is yet to be seen whether or not ISIS? ideology has gained deep root in the hearts and minds of many Mosul inhabitants. IN any case, rebuilding trust will be a daunting task.
While discussions for the construction of a post-ISIS Iraq have already started, when it comes to military issues, here is one suggestion: create arms production facilities in Kurdistan, so the local population can protect itself and become liable for enhancing its own security. This way, there would be no need to go through Baghdad, which is refusing to provide support for Kurdistan. Regardless, one thing is certain; the people of Kurdistan are our true friends and allies in our joint fight against ISIS and beyond, and we should reciprocate that friendship while these brave soldiers are fighting for the freedom of us all.