Huffpost Politics

Kurds' Pleas For U.S. Weapons May Finally Be Heard

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PESHMERGA
Kurdish peshmerga fighters take their positions behind a wall on the front line with militants from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in Tuz Khormato, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of the oil rich province of Kirkuk, northern Iraq, Wednesday, June 25, 2014. | ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON (AP) — For years, Kurdish officials have beseeched the Obama administration to let them buy U.S. weapons. For just as long, the administration has rebuffed America's closest allies in Iraq.

U.S. officials insisted they could only sell arms to the government in Baghdad, even after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki broke a written promise to deliver some to the Kurds. Their peaceful, semiautonomous northern region had been the lone success story to come out of the 2003 U.S. invasion.

The U.S. has resisted arming the Kurds because Washington's aim is to keep Iraq united. A strong Kurdish army could hasten independence for the Kurds.

Now, the Islamic State group, which some American officials have branded "a terrorist army," has overpowered lightly armed Kurdish units, threatening the Kurdish region and the American personnel stationed there.

President Barack Obama said Saturday that the U.S. had increased military aid to the Kurds, though he did not elaborate. White House officials said Friday that Baghdad had sent the Kurds some weapons, a first after years of ill relations between the Kurds and the central government.

"The United States and the Iraqi government have stepped up our military assistance to Kurdish forces as they wage their fight," Obama said.

Among the 300 military advisers the Pentagon sent to Iraq in June, dozens are operating out of Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, which is now within 25 miles of fighters from the Islamic State.

In a bitter irony, the extremists used American armored vehicles and weapons they had seized from the Iraqi military to defeat Kurdish fighters who were blocked from acquiring just such equipment, U.S. and Kurdish officials said.

The U.S. sought to halt the extremists' advance toward Irbil with airstrikes, but Kurdish officials also say Washington has promised to begin sending them arms. Pentagon officials say their policy hasn't changed — they will only sell arms to Baghdad.

That raises the question of whether the CIA has begun providing weapons in secret to the Kurds, something U.S. officials will not confirm nor deny. The CIA declined to comment on whether it was sending arms.

But whether or not a covert program is underway, a growing number of voices are calling for the U.S. to begin openly and speedily arming the Kurds.

"If Baghdad isn't supplying the Kurds with the weapons that they need, we should provide them directly to the Kurds," said Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.

"The only way to confront this threat is to arm Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces, and yet we're doing nothing to support either one of those," said retired Gen. Michael Barbero, who used to run the mission training the Iraqi military. "It just doesn't make sense to me. It's an existential threat, so why we are not in there at least equipping and arming them?"

Karwan Zebari, spokesman for the Iraqi Kurdistan region in Washington, said in an interview that U.S. officials have assured him that guns and ammunition would be forthcoming.

"Last night, they said, 'We will be moving expediently with providing you some military assets,'" he said Friday.

The U.S. has not wanted to stoke the Kurds' desire for, and Baghdad's fear of, an independent Kurdish state. Officials tried to steer some of the military aid it has given the Iraqi government to the Kurds, but Maliki didn't cooperate.

Under the Pentagon's foreign military sales program, some $200 million worth of American weapons that was supposed to be earmarked for the Kurds by the Maliki government was never delivered to them, Barbero said.

"This policy of one Iraq, everything goes through Baghdad, ignores the reality on the ground," Barbero said in an interview.

Zebari and Barbero said Kurdish forces have been outgunned by ISIL troops driving in armored American Humvees and firing American machine guns seized from the Iraqi army.

"It's not that the peshmerga forces are scared or not willing to fight," Zebari said, referring to the Kurdish militia. "They are coming at us with armored Humvees and we're throwing these AK-47 bullets at them. It doesn't do anything. At some point you run out of bullets."

The Kurds have some tanks and armored vehicles, but not in Sinjar, a city far from the Kurdish seats of power in Irbil and Suliminiya. That city fell swiftly to an onslaught from Islamic State fighters, leading thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority to flee to a mountaintop, where the U.S. has airdropped supplies to stave off deaths from hunger and thirst.

Many of the peshmerga soldiers defending Sinjar had just six magazines of ammunition, said a former CIA official with close ties to the region who spoke on condition of anonymity because he got the information in confidence.

U.S. airstrikes are not "the endgame," Zebari said. "What has changed for the peshmerga on the ground? Nothing. We still need that military equipment."

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Correspondent for Britain's The Sunday Times Hala Jaber reports that Kurdish and Yazidi officials say the death toll from the Islamic State's attack on the Iraq village of Kocho on Friday is higher than previously estimated. A Kurdish official initially said around 80 people lost their lives.

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New York Times correspondent Alissa J. Rubin tells her story inside the Iraqi helicopter that crashed on the Sinjar mountains on Tuesday while attempting to rescue stranded Yazidis.

Rubin was wounded in the crash and dictated the article from her hospital bed in Istanbul, the newspaper notes.

Read her moving account on The New York Times here.

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The BBC's Yalda Hakim reports from a refugee camp in Dohuk on how the Yazidi community learned of an alleged massacre by Islamic State militants in Iraq.

Watch the BBC report here.

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Kurdish forces, supported by U.S. warplanes, are battling to recaptured Iraq's largest dam from Islamic State militants, Agence France Presse reports.

More from AFP:

Kurdish forces attacked the Islamic State fighters who wrested the Mosul dam from them a week earlier, a general told AFP.

"Kurdish peshmerga, with US air support, have seized control of the eastern side of the dam" complex, Major General Abdelrahman Korini told AFP, saying several jihadists had been killed.

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The Kurdish Iraqi leader has appealed to Germany for weapons to battle the advancing Islamic State, Reuters reports.

From Reuters:

Germany has shied away from direct involvement in military conflicts for much of the post-war era and a survey conducted for Bild am Sonntag newspaper indicated that almost three quarters of Germans were against shipping weapons to the Kurds.

But Germany's defense minister has said the government was looking into the possibility of delivering military hardware.

Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, said the Kurds needed more than the humanitarian aid that Germany began sending on Friday to support people forced to flee their homes by the Sunni militant group's advance.

"We also expect Germany to deliver weapons and ammunition to our army so that we can fight back against the IS terrorists," Barzani told German magazine Focus. He said they needed German training and what they lacked most were anti-tank weapons.

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The Associated Press reports:

Airstrikes pounded the area around Iraq's largest dam on Saturday in an effort to drive out militants who captured it earlier this month, as reports emerged of the massacre of some 80 members of the Yazidi religious minority by Islamic extremists.

Residents living near the Mosul Dam told The Associated Press that the area was being targeted by airstrikes, but it was not immediately clear whether the attacks were being carried out by Iraq's air force or the U.S., which last week launched an air campaign aimed at halting the advance of the Islamic State group across the country's north.

The extremist group seized the dam on the Tigris River on Aug. 7. Residents near the dam say the airstrikes killed militants, but that could not immediately be confirmed. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity out of fears for their safety.

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The United States may accelerate economic and military aid to Iraq now Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has stood down, Reuters reports.

U.S. officials first want assurances that the Iraqi government has moved away from the sectarian policies of al-Maliki's administration, according to the news agency.

Read the full story here.

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Reuters reports:

Islamic State insurgents "massacred" some 80 members of Iraq's Yazidi minority in a village in the country's north, a Yazidi lawmaker and two Kurdish officials said on Friday.

"They arrived in vehicles and they started their killing this afternoon," senior Kurdish official Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters. "We believe it's because of their creed: convert or be killed."

A Yazidi lawmaker and another senior Kurdish official also said the killings had taken place and that the women of the village were kidnapped.

A push by Islamic State militants through northern Iraq to the border with the Kurdish region has alarmed the Baghdad government, drawn the first U.S. air strikes since the end of American occupation in 2001 and sent tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians fleeing for their lives.

Yazidi parliamentarian Mahama Khalil said he had spoken to villagers who had survived the attack. They said the killings took place during a one-hour period.

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ABC News' Jon Williams posted a photo of the UN Security Council Resolution against Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria.

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From Reuters:

The Hezbollah leader described the radical Islamist movement that has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria as a growing "monster" that could threaten Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states, according to an interview printed on Friday.

In a separate speech, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Islamic State also posed an existential threat to his own nation, Lebanon, the target of an incursion by Islamist insurgents from Syria this month. He said his heavily armed Shi'ite Muslim group was ready to fight the threat in Lebanon - if required.

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Reuters reports:

The United Nations Security Council took aim at Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria on Friday, blacklisting six people including the Islamic State spokesman and threatening sanctions against those who finance, recruit or supply weapons to the insurgents.

The 15-member council unanimously adopted a resolution that aims to weaken the Islamic State - an al Qaeda splinter group that has seized swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate - and al Qaeda's Syrian wing Nusra Front.

Read the full story here.

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The Associated Press reports:

Canada is committing two cargo planes to move military supplies into northern Iraq as part of the international effort to bolster Kurdish forces against Islamic militants.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday a CC-177 Globemaster and a CC-130J Hercules transport will shuttle arms provided by allies to the Iraqi city of Irbil over the next few days

The flights, crewed by some 30 Canadian Forces personnel, will continue as long as there is equipment and supplies to move.

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The New York Times reports on how the U.S. decided it was not necessary to launch a mountain rescue of Yazidis who had fled the Islamic State, after getting advisors reported back that the situation was not as dire as they thought.

From The New York Times:

The news took the far-flung advisers who were in the videoconference — including Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Hawaii; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, on a plane over the Rockies; and the national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, who was with the president on Martha’s Vineyard — by surprise. Just hours before, the White House had sent out a top aide with a statement saying that the United States was considering using American ground troops to rescue the Yazidis.

The article notes that Yazidi and UN officials give a different picture of Yazidis still stranded on the mountaintop.

Read the full story at The New York Times here.

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Amid the relentless advance of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, the whole Middle East region needs to pitch in to solve the crisis, Joyce Karam, Washington Bureau Chief of Al-Hayat Newspaper told HuffPost Live.

In particular, Iran and Saudi Arabia have a shared interest in stability in Iraq and should overcome their differences to halt the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, Karam told host Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani.

"We do need a regional wake-up call to deal with the threat and a Iranian-Saudi rapprochement would do a great deal in promoting this," she said.

Read the full story on the Huffington Post here.

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From Reuters:

The European Union said on Friday that individual EU governments were free to send weapons to Iraqi Kurds battling Islamic militants provided they had the consent of Iraqi national authorities.

EU foreign ministers holding an emergency meeting in Brussels did not reach a united position to all send arms to the Iraqi Kurds but welcomed the decision by some EU governments, such as France, to do so.

The EU said it would also look at how to prevent Islamic State militants, who have overrun some oilfields in Syria and Iraq, benefiting from oil sales. The bloc also called for a swift investigation of human rights abuses in Syria and Iraq, saying some may be crimes against humanity.

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peshmerga
An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter plays a musical instrument on the front line in Khazer, near the Kurdish checkpoint of Aski kalak, northern Iraq, on August 14, 2014. (SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

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Reuters reports:

Tribal leaders and clerics from Iraq's Sunni heartland who staged a revolt against outgoing prime minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government would be willing to join the new administration if certain conditions are met, a spokesman for the group told Reuters on Friday.

The spokesman, Taha Mohammed Al-Hamdoon, said Sunni representatives in Anbar and other provinces had drawn up a list of demands to be delivered to the moderate Shi'ite Abadi through Sunni politicians.

He called for government and Shi'ite militia forces to suspend hostilities to allow space for talks.

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The United Nations agency for refugees interviews Yazidi refugees who escaped from the Sinjar mountains:

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Reuters reports:

Iraq's most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, threw his weight on Friday behind the new prime minister, calling for national unity to contain sectarian bloodshed and an offensive by Islamic State militants that threatens Baghdad.

Speaking after Nuri al-Maliki finally stepped down as prime minister under heavy pressure from allies at home and abroad, the spiritual leader of Iraq's Shi'ite majority said the handover to Maliki's party colleague Haider al-Abadi offered a rare opportunity to resolve political and security crises.

Iraq has been plunged into its worst violence since the peak of a sectarian civil war in 2006-2007, with Sunni fighters led by the Islamic State overrunning large parts of the west and north, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee for their lives and threatening the ethnic Kurds in their autonomous province.

Sistani told the country's feuding politicians to live up to their "historic responsibility" by cooperating with Abadi as he tries to form a new government and overcome divisions among the Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish communities that deepened as Maliki pursued what critics saw as a sectarian Shi'ite agenda.

Abadi himself, in comments online, urged his countrymen to unite and cautioned that the road ahead would be tough.

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The U.S. government's development agency posted a photo on Twitter of American officials meeting with displaced Yazidis on the Sinjar mountains on Wednesday. USAID said the assessment team consisted of military and humanitarian officials.

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More from the Associated Press on Maliki's announcement he is standing down:

Al-Maliki says his decision is based on his desire to "safeguard the high interests of the country," adding that he will not be the cause of any bloodshed.

"I will stay a combat soldier to defend Iraq and its people," he added in the televised address late Thursday, with al-Abadi standing by his side.

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08/14/2014 4:12 PM EDT
Maliki Due To Address The Nation

The Associated Press reports:

Iraqi state television says Iraq's Nouri al-Maliki has given up his post as prime minister to Haider al-Abadi.

The Iraqiya television network said al-Maliki has "relinquished the post of prime minister." It did not elaborate.

The announcement comes ahead of an address al-Maliki is due to make later Thursday evening, according to the government.

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The Associated Press reports:

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi government says embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is to address the nation, as Shiite lawmakers say he has agreed to step aside and support his nominated replacement in the post.

Four senior Shiite lawmakers tell The Associated Press that al-Maliki has agreed to endorse Haider al-Abadi as the next prime minister following a meeting of Dawa party members in Baghdad late Thursday, ending the deadlock that has plunged Baghdad into a political uncertainty.

Hussein al-Maliki and Khalaf Abdul-Samad, lawmakers with al-Maliki and al-Abadi's State of Law parliamentary bloc, say al-Maliki will support al-Abadi's nomination in his speech Thursday night. Two other lawmakers, speaking to AP on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting, also say al-Maliki will do so.

The government announced al-Maliki will speak Thursday evening.

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The United Nations Security Council will vote on Friday on a draft resolution aimed to stop the flow of fighters and money to the Islamic State militant group, according to Agence France Presse.

Diplomats told the news agency that all 15 Council members have agreed the draft, proposed by Britain, and it will go to a vote at 1900 GMT on Friday.

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