U.S. struggles with Kurdish militias as residents flee North

Friday, May 7, 2004

BAGHDAD The U.S. military has been confronted with difficulties in absorbing Kurdish militias into the new Iraqi army and security forces.

U.S. officials said Kurdish organizations have offered their combatants for deployment in the newly-trained Iraqi forces. But they said the Kurdish fighters have proven resistant to induction and training.

"We don't really have a big problem incorporating them into an Iraqi Security Force construct," Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, commander of Task Force Olympia, said. "It is finding the right role for them to play in the future of Iraq."

Ham was referring to the Peshmurga militia, which fought the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein during the 2003 war. He said negotiations were taking place for both individual combatants and entire units of the Peshmurga, Middle East Newsline reported.

"We are looking for ways to increasingly incorporate Peshmurga forces into legitimate Iraqi Security Force structure, whether this be taking former Peshmurga units and forming them under the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps or whether this is individual members, former members of the Peshmurga serving in the Iraqi Armed Forces or in another security force construct," Ham said. "It is clear that that is the role ahead for their former Peshmurga forces is with Iraqi Security Force operations."

On Friday, thousands of Kurds were said to have fled Faluja for northern Iraq amid threats from and attacks on Kurds by pro-Saddam forces and Al Qaida. The Washington Times reported from Iraq that Kurdish residents of Faluja have been accused of supporting the U.S.-led coalition.

Ham said the United States does not conduct patrols with Peshmurga. But the U.S. military conducts patrols with ICDC units that were formerly Kurdish militia groups.

"I wouldn't say that the former Peshmurga pose a threat to Iraq," Ham said. "It is just that having militias that are outside of a federal architecture is inconsistent with the federalist nature that Iraq is developing toward. So if there are going to be military forces, security forces in a country, they have to be part of an authorized and approved and structured organization, not separate entities with loyalties to something other than the federal government."

The ICDC battalion in Faluja was regarded as the most effective Iraqi fighting force. Officials said many of the members of the 36th Battalion were former Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.

"There are no Peshmerga militia operating under Iraqi or coalition command and control," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy coalition operations director, said. "There are many former members of the militia that have joined the Iraqi armed forces, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, who now answer to the coalition, answer to the Iraqi security forces who have their allegiance to the people of Iraq. But there are no Peshmerga militias that are under our control, nor are we are they operating under any direction from the coalition."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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