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US defense bill to directly arm Kurdish Peshmerga

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By Yerevan Saeed

Kurd Post

The US House Armed Services Committee passed a watered down defense bill on Thursday, removing a clause asking for recognition of Kurdish Peshmergas and Sunni tribal forces as “country,” but maintaining that some of the military aid should go directly to the two forces fighting ISIS.

The committee voted 60-2 to send the draft bill for full House consideration in May after 18 hours of debate.  On Monday, it released the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Markup for Fiscal Year 2016, a draft bill authorizing $715 million in aid to forces fighting the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq.

Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry’s “proposal reinforces the mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR). His proposal reauthorizes the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq,” the bill read.

“The Chairman also supports authorizing the President’s request of $715 million for security assistance to Iraqi forces combating ISIL. However, Chairman Thornberry requires that 25 percent of the funds be provided directly to the Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni forces,” it added.

The bill stipulates that US support will depend on the Iraqi government’s actions in reintegrating minorities in Iraq and on building political reconciliations. If those conditions are not met, the monetary allocations for Kurdish and Sunni forces will go up to 60 percent.

“The remaining 75 percent would be withheld until the Secretaries of State and Defense determine that the Government of Iraq is meeting certain conditions for political reconciliation. Should they not be able to make that assessment, 60 percent of the remaining funds would be released directly to the Kurds and Sunnis,” the bill stipulates.

On Wednesday, the US State Department vowed to work on the language of the bill in order to reflect the policy of the Obama administration, which opposes direct weapons or defense aid to the Kurds or Sunnis. It insists all aid should go through the central government in Baghdad.

The amended bill also has removed wording that conditioned US help to the Iraqi government on Baghdad distancing itself from Shiite militia groups fighting ISIS alongside the Iraqi Army.

Iraqi minister: ‘We reject the direct US arming of Peshmerga’

In the meantime,  Iraqi Ministry of Defense has denounced a proposal now in the US Senate that would send weapons to the Kurdish Peshmrga for the war against the Islamic State, according to an official’s statement to Rudaw.

“We will reject the arming of the Peshmerga directly by the US,” Iraq’s Defense Minister Khalid Al-Obeidi, told Rudaw on Thursday.

“Arming the Peshmerga, Sunnis and Shiites must be conducted by the central government, not by the US,” he added.

The bill proposed by congressmen from the Republican Party contains a measure to arm the Peshmerga and Sunnis, according to a copy of the bill obtained by Rudaw.

“What is being debated now is only a suggestion by the Republicans and the US administration has not decided on it yet,” Obeidi said.