Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat— Washington is considering a request from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to provide arms to Peshmerga forces fighting the advancing Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the head of the KRG’s Department of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa said on Thursday.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Mustafa said: “The fight against terrorism requires support and assistance and coordination and unfortunately the Iraqi army did not help us. That is why we asked the US to provide us with arms and training because we are unable to continue defending the Kurdistan region without more arms.”
ISIS was able to advance into Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, and the surrounding area on Thursday, after the withdrawal of Peshmerga forces from the region. Local and international media reported that tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians had been forced to flee the advancing Islamist fighters.
“We were clear from the beginning and told them that we are in the same trench fighting against terrorism and require support and assistance to do so. Unfortunately, the Iraqi forces that were supposed to defend the disputed areas were unable to do so, and now the arms that were previously in the hands of the Iraqi military are now in the possession of ISIS,” he added.
Mustafa would not be drawn on the types of arms that Erbil has requested from Washington but said that “air cover” is the most important thing. “We do not want US forces on our territory; we are capable of defending ourselves. We have requested all forms of arms,” he said.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces took control of the disputed city of Kirkuk in June, halting ISIS’s northern advance after the Islamist group captured Iraq’s second city of Mosul, but Kurdish troops have been spread increasingly thin in an attempt to hold the new territory.
“If we compare our arms with theirs, it is clear that they are in possession of arms that had belonged to the Iraqi army which they seized when they took over Mosul, and this is advanced weaponry. We need advanced weapons and air cover from Baghdad,” Mustafa said.
The spokesman’s comments also reflected Kurdish officials’ increasing confidence about the prospect of independence following ISIS’s advances in Iraq, and as attempts to form a new government in Baghdad drag on.
KRG President Massoud Barzani has rejected a third term in office for Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki outright, and has said that he intends to hold a referendum on independence for the autonomous region “within months.”
“We have not turned back on the subject of a referendum and we are moving forward on implementing this. We have already taken the first step in this process with the KRG president [Massoud Barzani] going to parliament and asking members to vote on this issue and form an independent election body [to oversee the referendum]. This law has already passed and this election body will be established within the next 90 days,” Mustafa said.