The Defense Department should take on a serious re-evaluation of its efforts to train and arm foreign forces in the wake of ongoing violence between U.S. allies in northern Iraq, Sen. Tammy Duckworth said Friday.
“The events of recent days also lay bare the need for a swift and thorough review of the military assistance and training our Armed Forces provide to foreign fighters,” the Illinois Democrat and Iraq War veteran said in a statement issued Friday.
Her comments come amid reports of clashes between Iraqi and Kurdish forces, turning arms and heavy weapons provided by the American-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State terror group against each other in recent weeks.
Most recently, Kurdish peshmerga forces claimed to have destroyed several U.S. Humvee combat vehicles and a M1 Abrams tank, used by Iraqi military units and Iranian paramilitaries to retake areas in Iraqi Kurdistan from Irbil’s control.
The growing presence of U.S. military hardware on both sides of the fight for Iraqi Kurdistan “is simply unacceptable,” said Ms. Duckworth, who lost both legs after the Army Blackhawk she was piloting was shot down by Iraqi insurgents in 2004.
“Worse still, some of those weapons reportedly ended up in the hands of Iranian-backed militias … [and] if there continues to be this misuse of American equipment, we must ensure accountability,” she added.
Iraqi forces and Shia militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces or PMUs opened up an offensive against the Kurdish-held city of Altun Kupri, which lies 30 miles north of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Government forces, on orders from Baghdad, pushed peshmerga units out of Kirkuk. The city had been under Kurdish control since peshmerga forces liberated the city from ISIS in 2014.
“Recent clashes between the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces in Kirkuk are not only tragic, but they run counter to our nation’s strategic interests as well as those of the Iraqi and Kurdish people,” the senator said. “This escalation of hostilities threatens to undermine our goals across the region and must be reversed.”
The breakdown of Kurdish control in areas like Kirkuk and Sinjar is a major win for Baghdad, but the victories also cemented Iran’s growth in the post-Islamic State Iraq, analysts say.
“The Iraqi Government and Iran likely signaled their intent to use military force to compel the peshmerga withdrawals in those provinces, if necessary,” Jennifer Cafarella, the senior intelligence planner at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, wrote Friday
“Iran has downplayed the role of its proxies in order to legitimize them as instruments of the Iraqi state,” she added in a recent analysis of northern Iraq’s ongoing internal conflict.
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