The Kurdish Peshmerga have enjoyed a reputation as the strongest and fiercest fighting force within Iraq.
However, the recent advances by ISIS against Kurdish positions has highlighted some of the key areas in which the Peshmerga have been lacking.
Chiefly, the Peshmerga suffer from a lack of soldiers with clear battlefield experience who are able to respond to a variety of military situations. Instead, the explosive growth of the economy in Iraqi Kurdistan drew many former veterans into other lines of work.
“Many of the pesh merga’s battle-hardened veterans quit to take advantage of new opportunities amid a wave of economic development,” Azam Ahmed of The New York Times reports. “Training became an afterthought, and there was little incentive to unify pesh merga units that remained mostly divided along political party lines.”
Related to the lack of military veterans and a softening of training is the inherently divided nature of the Peshmerga. The majority of Peshmerga militias are under the control of either of the two Kurdish political parties — the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
The KDP and the PUK are political rivals. In 1996, this rivalry devolved into a civil war that only ended after U.S.-brokered peace talks. Despite a power-sharing arrangement that the two parties agreed to after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the KDP and the PUK at times remain distrustful of each other, leading to difficulties coordinating missions between the two armed Peshmerga wings.
The Peshmerga’s collapse has highlighted the need for the militias to become depoliticized. An amendment signed last week will create a national army that will operate integrated units under the control of the Ministry of the Peshmerga. How successful that will be is an open question.
Michael Knights of The Washington Institute For Near East Policy recently detailed other weaknesses exposed by ISIS, including the need for better training, poor relationships with local tribes, basic logistics, and lack of intelligence.
Aside from political and logistical difficulties, the final reason for the Peshmerga’s collapse was a matter of supplies. The Kurds have had difficulty receiving arms from Baghdad and foreign donors, limiting the Peshmerga to utilising largely outdated eastern European and Soviet weaponry.
ISIS, on the other hand, has a large amount of looted U.S.-supplied weaponry, vehicles, and artillery which gave the group an upper hand in terms of raw firepower.
This balance should change in the coming weeks, however, as a host of nations, including the U.S., Iran, Germany, and France begin to deliver military assistance to the Kurds.
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