The 2019 U.S. defense budget was approved on Thursday by the U.S. House of Representatives, $290 million of which will be allocated to Kurdistan’s Peshmerga military forces — under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The U.S. budget for Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) is $560 out of $850 million, the rest will be allocated to the Kurdish military. The distribution makes sense when comparing the scale of both militaries, given that the Peshmerga are a much smaller organization than the ISF. The Peshmerga budget has also been increased by six percent from last year. The next stop on the budget’s approval process will be the Senate, which is likely to approve the bill.
Now that the May parliamentary elections have concluded with Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon Alliance emerging with a total of 54 seats, the U.S. has concern over Iran’s increasing influence over the region. This will likely cause increased support for the Kurdish alliance — in the form of a gradually larger budget. This week House Foreign Affairs Committee Representative Scott Perry exhibited a photo of a U.S. produced M-1 Abrams tank with a Hezbollah flag on top it to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Perry stated that, “I’m concerned and have written letters regarding the Train and Equip Program in Iraq” and “the land bridge” in reference to Iranian expansion in Iraq. Iran has injected its influence into Iraq’s primary paramilitary force, the Hashd al-Shaabi militia forces that have been not only used by Iraq to combat the Islamic State but also to secure the city of Kirkuk, albeit half-assed.
Perry went on to say that he “offered amendments in the NDAA to stop the funding of the Train and Equip program. One was found in favor. One was not.” Perry’s amendment demanded the Pentagon follow through in reporting “the incorporation of violent extremist organizations and organizations with association to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) into the Iraq military,” and “the level of access” the militias have in regards to “United States-provided equipment and training.”
One of the primary resources provided to the Peshmerga by coalition forces is the Kurdish Training Coordination Center (KTCC) located near the city of Erbil. To date, nearly 31,000 Kurdish military members have trained at the KTCC, around 63% were from the Ministry of Peshmerga and the rest from the Ministry of Interior. This does not include Peshmerga from the politically affiliated 70th and 80th Forces units. The KTCC is operated by both German and Italian military personnel but the instructors are comprised of various nationalities from within the coalition.