US lawmakers are looking to put air defense systems in the hands of Kurdish peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq after the region has been hit by a series of missile and drone attacks by Iran and Turkey.
Yesterday, Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved an amendment by Republican Congressman Don Bacon that would support the transfer of air defense systems to the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga. The vote came during a markup of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), annual legislation that sets the Pentagon’s budget.
Bacon told MEE that the measure had “strong bipartisan support,” adding that it would “direct the US administration to prepare and implement an action plan to train and equip Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Iraqi security forces to defend against Iranian rocket, missile and unmanned systems attacks.”
Peshmerga fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan. They work with the Iraqi security forces and receive weapons and financial aid from the United States as part of Washington’s campaign to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS).
The Kurdistan region of Iraq is relatively stable, but in the past year the region has seen an escalation of violence as Iran and Turkey launched air strikes against Kurdish groups operating in the region. The Kurdish regional government in Iraq allows Iranian Kurdish groups to operate in the region but also maintains relations with Tehran.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps targeted Iranian Kurdish armed opposition groups in late 2022, when Tehran was struggling to control mass protests sparked by the death of a young Kurdish woman in police custody.
The United States condemned the missile and drone attacks at the time, which it described as “brazenly violating Iraq’s sovereignty.”
Already receiving about $20 million a month in salaries from the US Department of Defense, said Jonathan Lord, head of the Middle East security program at the Center for a New American Security. He warned that providing air defense systems to the Peshmerga could run counter to supply constraints, as US allies compete for armaments.
He said, “There is a huge demand for US air defense systems. Ukraine, the Gulf states, and the Kurdistan Regional Government — every country or region where Iranian munitions, ballistic missiles, or missiles pose a threat is a place that is looking to bolster its air defense capabilities.”
The war in Ukraine has occupied Washington’s attention, but the Middle East still features prominently in the NDAA draft drafted by the House and Senate.