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White House opposes key bill recognizing Iraqi Kurdish, Sunni forces as ‘country’

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By Yerevan Saeed

RUDAW

The Obama administration is opposing a US defense bill that authorizes “direct military assistance” for Kurdish forces and Sunni tribal forces and recognizes them as “country,” the State Department said on Wednesday.

The House Armed Services Committee on Monday released the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Markup for Fiscal Year 2016, a draft bill auhthorizing $715 million in aid to forces fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) Iraq.

“The policy of this Administration is clear and consistent in support of a unified Iraq,” acting State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said during a daily media briefing.

“We’ve always said a unified Iraq is stronger, and it’s important to the stability of the region as well. Our military assistance and equipment deliveries, our policy remains the same there as well, that all arms transfers must be coordinated via the sovereign central government of Iraq. We believe this policy is the most effective way to support the coalition’s efforts,” she added.

According to Harf, the White House will work with Capitol Hill to address the language of the bill, to make it more consistent with the policy of the administration towards Iraq.

“So we look forward to working with Congress on language that we could support on this important issue, but the draft bill, as you noted, in the House – this is very early in the process here for the NDAA – as currently written on this issue, of course, does not reflect Administration policy,” she added.

Section 1223 of the NDAA that was released by the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday has appropriated $715 million in aid to Iraqi forces combating ISIS.

A quarter of the budget will directly go to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi Sunni forces. The bill further increases Kurdish and Sunni forces allocations up to 60 percent in case the Iraqi government fails to meet certain conditions, including “political inclusion of ethnic and sectarian minorities within the security forces of Iraq.”

“If the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State do not assess that the Government of Iraq has substantially achieved such conditions, the Secretary of Defense would be required to withhold fiscal year 2016 assistance directly to the Government of Iraq,” the bill reads.

“If the Secretary of Defense withholds such fiscal year 2016 assistance to the Government of Iraq, then the Secretary would be required to provide not less than 60 percent of all fiscal year 2016 unobligated funds to the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Sunni tribal security forces with a national security mission, and the Iraqi Sunni National Guard,” it adds.

In an unprecedented move, the bill calls for recognition of Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni forces as a “country.

“Finally, this section would require that the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Sunni tribal security forces with a national security mission, and the Iraqi Sunni National Guard be deemed a country, which would allow these security forces to directly receive assistance from the United States under this section,” the bill says.

“Should the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State not submit the assessment required by this section or submit an assessment that the Government of Iraq has not substantially met the conditions related to the requirements for assistance, as outlined in this section,” it said.

Kurdish troops have been highly hailed as a bulwark against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But they have been underfunded and under armed compared to pro-Iranian Shiite forces related to the Iraqi government. The Iraqi central government continues to use the budget and international military support as a pressure lever against Erbil.

The draft bill also conditions support to Baghdad on distancing itself from Shiite forces that have been accused of wide-scale of human rights violations in the Sunni areas of Iraq.

During a visit to Washington this month, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Abadi was able to receive $200 million in humanitarian assistance for internally displaced people (IDPs), but failed to convince the administration to provide military assistance to the Iraqi security forces.