A Kurdish resident holds a signs during a demonstration in
support of the Peshmerga troops in front of the US
consulate in Arbil, north of Baghdad. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
The US government is directly supplying weapons to
Peshmerga fighters from Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region
to help them fight Sunni militants, in a deepening of America's
military involvement in Iraq, US government sources say.
The supply of weapons to Iraqi Kurdistan comes as Kurdish
fighters struggle to stem advances by militants from the
Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot.
The sources said the weapons were supplied by the Central
Intelligence Agency but that the Department of Defense may
soon start arming the Kurdish fighters, who regained control
of two strategic towns in northern Iraq on Sunday with help
from US airstrikes.
The officials declined to specify when the supply program
began or what sort of arms it included.
Weapons have also been shipped in three deliveries from the
Iraqi government in Baghdad to Arbil, consisting mostly of
AK-47 assault rifles and ammunition, the US officials said.
Reuters was first to report on Friday that the Iraqi
government had sent a first, unprecedented shipment of
ammunition to Arbil.
The United States has long insisted that all sales of US
weapons must go through Iraq's central government, despite
Kurdish complaints that Baghdad had deprived them of promised
military equipment and financial support.
Critics accuse US President Barack Obama of being reluctant
or too slow to intervene in thorny foreign policy issues
which have piled up under his watch, including the dramatic
rise of the Islamic State, which has seized control of large
swathes of land in the north and west of OPEC member Iraq.
A senior US defense official acknowledged that the US was
providing arms and ammunition needed by the Kurds but said it
was not coming from the Department of Defense. Officials said
the Pentagon was having discussions about how to increase its
military support to the Kurds and could soon approve a
decision to directly supply weaponry.
FIRST SINCE 2011
Just last week Washington launched its first military action
in Iraq since pulling its troops out in 2011. US warplanes
bombed Sunni insurgents from the Islamic State, who have
marched through northern and western Iraq since June.
Washington says it is taking limited action to protect the
Kurdish autonomous region and prevent what Obama called a
potential "genocide" of religious minorities targeted by the
The militants made new gains against Kurdish forces despite
three days of US airstrikes, while Baghdad, long braced for
the Sunni fighters to attack, was now tensing for possible
clashes between forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
and those of his rivals after Iraq's president named a new
prime minister on Monday.
Obama says a more inclusive government in Baghdad is a
precondition for more aggressive US military support against
the Islamic State. He has rejected calls in some quarters for
a return of US ground troops, apart from several hundred
military advisers sent in June.
The Islamic State, which sees Shi'ites as heretics who
deserve to be killed, has ruthlessly moved through one town
after another, using tanks and heavy weapons it seized from
soldiers who have fled in their thousands.
On Monday, police said the militants had seized the town of
Jalawla, 115 km (70 miles) northeast of Baghdad, after
driving out the Kurds' Peshmerga forces.
Washington and its European allies are considering requests
for more direct military aid from the Kurds, who have
themselves differed with Maliki over the division of oil
resources and who took advantage of the Islamists' advance to
expand their territory.