US stops paying Peshmerga amid Kurdish Independence Backlash

By Jack Detsch for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Pentagon stops paying peshmerga salaries amid Kurdish independence backlash

The US government has stopped paying Kurdish peshmerga fighters’ salaries after a yearlong agreement expired over the summer, and there are no current plans to renew it.

Under the deal negotiated by the Barack Obama administration in July 2016, the United States agreed to pay stipends to some 36,000 Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. The agreement was expected to be renewed over the summer for another year, but US and Kurdish officials tell Al-Monitor that talks stalled as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) pursued a divisive referendum on independence and the IS presence in the region began to collapse.

“The department does not currently fund stipend payments for the peshmerga,” Defense Department spokesman Eric Pahon told Al-Monitor. “The memorandum of understanding between the Department of Defense and the KRG facilitating stipend support during the Mosul operation expired in July 2017, and the final stipend payment was transferred in early September.”

Peshmerga sources flatly accuse the Donald Trump administration of withholding support because of opposition to last month’s nonbinding referendum. The United States has taken Baghdad’s side in the dispute and refused to recognize the results, which indicate overwhelming support for Kurdish independence.

There was a plan to renew and sign a new similar memorandum of understanding, but the United States discontinued it because of the referendum, Brig. Gen. Hajar Omer Ismail, director of coordination and relations for the Ministry of Peshmerga, told Al-Monitor. He said no weapons had been received for a while even before the memorandum of understanding expired.

Pahon declined to comment on what he called “internal business matters.” He said the United States and the KRG did not have “any talks on the table” about renewing the memorandum of understanding for months prior to the Sept. 25 vote, “so the referendum has no effect at this point.”

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