US lawmakers are looking to get air defence systems into the hands of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq after the region was struck by a series of missile and drone attacks by Iran and Turkey.
On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committe passed an amendment by Republican Congressman Don Bacon that would support the transfer of air defence systems to the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga. The vote came during a markup of the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual piece of legislation that sets the budget for the Pentagon.
Bacon told Middle East Eye the measure had “strong bipartisan support”, adding that it “would direct the US administration to prepare and implement a plan of action to train and equip Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi security forces to defend against attacks by Iranian missiles, rockets and unmanned systems”.
The Peshmerga are fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan. They work with the Iraqi security forces and receive arms and financial assistance from the US as part of Washington’s campaign to defeat the Islamic State militant (IS) group.
Iraqi Kurdistan is relatively stable but last year the region witnessed an escalation of violence as both Iran and Turkey launched air strikes against Kurdish groups operating in the area. The Kurdish regional government of Iraq (KRG) allows Iranian Kurdish groups to operate in the region but also maintains ties with Tehran.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps targeted Kurdish-Iranian 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 US condemned the missile and drone attacks at the time, which Washington said “brazenly violated Iraq’s sovereignty”.
The Kurdish Peshmerga already receive about $20m a month in the form of stipends from the US Department of Defence, Jonathan Lord, head of the Middle East security programme at the Center for a New American Security, told MEE. He cautioned that providing air defence systems for the Peshmerga could run up against supply constraints, as US allies jockey for the armaments.
“US air defence systems are in very high demand,” he told MEE. “Ukraine, Gulf states, the KRG – every country or region where Iranian loitering munitions, ballistic missiles, or rockets pose a threat, is a place looking to strengthen its air defence capabilities,” he said.
The war in Ukraine has occupied Washington’s attention, but the Middle East still features prominently in the draft NDAA being hammered out by the House and Senate.