US congress threatens to cut payments to Iraqi Kurds

(KurdPress) – The U.S. Congress is threatening to cut funding for Iraq’s vaunted Kurdish Peshmerga fighters if the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) ends up splitting with Baghdad.

The House Armed Services Committee released a draft annual defense bill this week that makes continued funding for the KRG “contingent” upon Erbil’s “participation in the government of a unified Iraq.”

This summary language is not legally binding but signals congressional intent to the Donald Trump administration, al-Monitor reported.

“The committee notes that funding provided to the [KRG] is to enhance Government of Iraq-KRG cooperation and support a unified effort to counter the Islamic State (IS),” the draft National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) reads. “Such funding should be contingent upon KRG participation in the government of a unified Iraq and on their continued good faith cooperation in the anti-IS campaign.”

At risk are hundreds of millions of dollars in annual US support for the peshmerga, who have gone without regular paychecks in the midst of the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) as Erbil struggled with a budget shortfall. Congress responded last year by allocating $480 million “in stipends and sustainment” to the Peshmerga for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The new congressional language comes as Erbil is gearing up for a long-awaited independence referendum in September.

The language is bad news for the Kurds’ independence bid, said Bilal Wahab, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“The KRG wasn’t expecting US support, but they would be happy if the US would not oppose,” Wahab told Al-Monitor. ”And this language is therefore bad news. It has the hallmarks of opposition.”

Image Source: Kurdishstruggle, Flickr, Creative Commons

Wahab noted that the Trump administration appears to be on the same page as Congress with regard to the referendum. The State Department signaled its opposition in a June 8 statement from spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

Meanwhile Kirk Sowell, the head of the political intelligence firm Utica Risk Services, predicted that the referendum, should it go forward, will not affect relations with the United States.

“The referendum will have no impact at all, at least in terms of US policy,” Sowell told Al-Monitor. “It is not even certain to happen, but assuming it does, nothing will change afterward. The question is framed like an opinion poll, and there is no legal or institutional structure to turn a ‘yes’ vote into something real. The status quo will continue.”

Kurdish opposition parties have also criticized the referendum on the grounds that it’s nonbinding. But KRG President Masoud Barzani insisted today that it was binding in a Washington Post op-ed while persisting in his calls to move forward.

This report prepared by KurdPress.