'US funding of Sunni militia groups would further partition Iraq'
The US is boosting its military support for security forces fighting against Islamic State in Iraq. The Republicans have proposed a bill to directly fund militia groups operating in the country, such as the Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni irregular forces. If the bill is passed, tribal groups could receive up to $429 million in aid from the US.
RT:Do you think America's funding of tribal security forces such as the Peshmerga might encourage further sectarian tension in such a volatile region?
Ivan Eland: Definitely. I think that’s true. Of course the US during its occupation was helping out the Peshmerga, so they were kind of undermining a unified Iraq even back then. But now Iraq basically is partitioned by war and I don’t think we can put it back together again. And so the Republicans are actually facing reality, but certainly this effort to fund individual militias will hasten the effort and entrench already partitioned Iraq.
RT:The bill also requires these security forces to be an independent entity from Iraq, so they can receive the aid separately from Iraqi national forces. What implications could that have on the US-Iraq partnership?
IE: The Republicans are unhappy with the Iraqi government’s dependence on Iran for training its Shia militias, and the Shia militias have been accused of some atrocities against Sunnis. The US doesn’t like Iranian influence in Iraq and so this bill says it funds the Peshmerga and other militias which would be Sunnis, but it also says that the government of Iraq doesn’t associate itself with the Shia militias; they’ll give you even more funds to the Peshmerga and other Sunni militias. So it doesn’t totally go away from the Iraqi government, but it puts a lot of pressure on them to dissociate themselves from the Shia militias which the Iraqi government probably is not going to do.
RT:If the bill does recognize these tribal security forces, they will gain a large amount of aid assigned for Baghdad. How will that affect the ability of Iraqi forces to counter Islamic State's offensive?
IE: I think the Iraqi forces are already sort of a shell; they cut and ran when the ISIS forces attacked. The Iraqi government is depending on the Shia militias to defend them and they had the greatest role in the campaign to recapture Tikrit. The US Congress - if they pass this bill – will be asking the Iraqi government to remove the only reliable military force it has. The Iraqi armed forces are not reliable. And the Shia militias are the only groups that can adequately, even have a priority, of taking on ISIS.
RT:There are also reports of Kurds recruiting former US military members to fight the terrorist group. Apparently, a dozen Americans have already joined their ranks. What do you think about that?
IE: This may be the US government giving a wink and a nod to this without officially sanctioning it because they want to shore up the Peshmerga against the ISIS fighters and the administration doesn’t really want to do this. Most probably - what the Republicans are suggesting - giving direct aid - because of course implications can lead to the breakup of Iraq officially. Iraq is already broken up on the ground but the administration probably doesn’t want to encourage officially supporting the Peshmerga. So this could be a way of winking and nodding to get more expertise and to help them fight ISIS.
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