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The nightmare of another round of Kurdish civil war is knocking on the door

The nightmare of another round of Kurdish civil war is knocking on the door

 Peregraf- Surkew Mohammed

The Kurds are only two weeks away from the anniversary of a Kurdish civil war which erupted in 1994. While the event is still bitter in the memory of the people of Kurdistan, nowadays they are living with uncertainty and fear those dark days with the looming possibility for history to repeat itself.

The fact that the Kurdish political parties have their own militias and the Peshmerga forces are deployed on the order of the party leaders characterize the most common factors between 26 years ago and today. This is the main reason behind the fear of the eruption of another civil war.

After three decades of self-governing the Kurds in Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister admitted a bitter truth when he stated that the partisan officials still have the power to deploy the Peshmerga even for standing against their brothers.

The memory of a bitter history

Redeploying a military faction from Salahadin district to the city of Qaladze in May 1994 ignited the first round of Kurdish civil war between rival Kurdish parties Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). After exactly 26 years, the deployment of military factions of KDP, PUK and The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) make another confrontation between the Kurdish parties imminent.

Mohammed Haji Mahmoud, an Iraqi Kurdish politician and leader of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party, says in his autobiography that, on May 1st, 1994 fights broke out between the faction belonging to the KDP which moved to Qaladze and the people of the PUK-dominant town caused fatalities. That was the first point of a four-year civil war.

On the same day, the KDP and PUK who had been governing the Kurdistan Region, like today, benefiting from their own military, formed a committee to ease the tension and to solve the problem. However, the killing of a commander from the PUK caused the situation to reach a point of no return. The PUK forces entered the city and killed the KDP commander in charge and tens of other fighters while taking control of their headquarter in the city.

The next day, the fighting widened out. The KDP and PUK raided on rival headquarters in different cities. The situation deteriorated to a point that, as Haji Mahmoud mentions, back then PUK-secretary, the late Jalal Talabani had sent a letter from abroad to instruct to cease the fighting immediately, but without any success.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq had experienced a series of civil wars after the 1991 uprising. Most of those parties who had their own military forces fought against each other several times. However, the bloodiest fight was the one between KDP and PUK.  

Even though several things have changed compared to the mid-1990s, both KDP and PUK still control their own Peshmerga forces, who act under the direct order of partisan officials, and not the government, and this has remained unchanged.

KDP and PUK would not give up on their military

In 2006, the sixth cabinet of KRG pledged to establish a unified army for Kurdistan Region. Ever since, four cabinets and three other prime ministers went without fulfilling the promise. Almost all the Peshmerga forces are still controlled by the parties. The KDP and PUK each have their own Peshmerga forces—known as Unit 80 and Unit 70, respectively—which do not share unified command and control structures.

For the first time in Kurdistan Region, a top official admitted that Peshmerga forces have been deployed on the order of the parties, and not the government, when the Prime Minister of Kurdistan Regional Government, Masrour Barzani, said in a statement that “a particular group purposely and with a political aim moved its forces opposite to the government’s forces and stood against the government.”

In the last decade, Peshmerga forces have been moved several times on the order of political parties to oppress demonstrators and frighten opposition parties. However, it was always denied that political parties were behind these moves.

“If any military force, at any time, is not unified or does not comprise of a high discipline, it might cause a disaster,” military advisor Brigadier, Adil Kakaiy told Peregraf. He added that when it comes to the political tensions, if a force is not unified, the tension reflects in the military ranks and it cannot defend itself and the homeland.

After the events of October 16, 2017 when the Kurds lost control over the city of Kirkuk to Baghdad, Peshmerga forces were largely accused of avoiding to defend Kurdistan, especially within the “unified brigades” as their commanders were divided between the PUK and KDP.

According to some unofficial data, there are over 200,000 Peshmerga in the Kurdistan Region. Unifying the forces has been a key concern for the Ministry of Peshmerga over the past decade as most Peshmerga are connected and under the direct command of either one of the two leading Kurdish parties: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), or some individuals within those two parties.

The Ministry of Peshmerga has 14 unified brigades, but the events of October 16 revealed that these so-called unification is just a cover. The political parties still have their own hegemony over those brigades.

After the war against ISIS erupted in mid-2014 and Peshmerga forces where intensively engaged, the coalition forces set a plan to reform the Peshmerga. By 2017, a comprehensive plan had been developed, the first step of which was the establishment of a separate directorate with the "internal capacity" for reform.

The reform plan, entitled "The Peshmerga in the Future," was agreed by the KRG. Since then, the Peshmerga reform directorate was formed.

In an exclusive interview with Peregraf conducted in June 2019, UK’s Consul General in Erbil, Martyn Warr, whose country is part of the reform plan within Peshmerga, admitted the difficulty of such a reform in the Peshmerga forces, and said "this will take many years, and this is normal and might take longer in Kurdistan. It will take 10 to 15 years, because we are changing something very radically and the culture of Peshmerga is very deeply rooted." He also described the reform as "a fundamental change in the power structure in Kurdistan."

KRG Ministry of Peshmerga Secretary General Jabar Yawar told Peregraf that the unification of Peshmerga forces have to take place during the four years of the current cabinet of KRG, “all the forces should be unified under the aegis of the Ministry of Peshmerga with only one commander-in-chief affiliated to the Kurdistan Region Presidency.”

The nightmare of another round of Kurdish civil war is knocking on the door

2020-04-19 19:43:36

 Peregraf- Surkew Mohammed

The Kurds are only two weeks away from the anniversary of a Kurdish civil war which erupted in 1994. While the event is still bitter in the memory of the people of Kurdistan, nowadays they are living with uncertainty and fear those dark days with the looming possibility for history to repeat itself.

The fact that the Kurdish political parties have their own militias and the Peshmerga forces are deployed on the order of the party leaders characterize the most common factors between 26 years ago and today. This is the main reason behind the fear of the eruption of another civil war.

After three decades of self-governing the Kurds in Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister admitted a bitter truth when he stated that the partisan officials still have the power to deploy the Peshmerga even for standing against their brothers.

The memory of a bitter history

Redeploying a military faction from Salahadin district to the city of Qaladze in May 1994 ignited the first round of Kurdish civil war between rival Kurdish parties Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). After exactly 26 years, the deployment of military factions of KDP, PUK and The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) make another confrontation between the Kurdish parties imminent.

Mohammed Haji Mahmoud, an Iraqi Kurdish politician and leader of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party, says in his autobiography that, on May 1st, 1994 fights broke out between the faction belonging to the KDP which moved to Qaladze and the people of the PUK-dominant town caused fatalities. That was the first point of a four-year civil war.

On the same day, the KDP and PUK who had been governing the Kurdistan Region, like today, benefiting from their own military, formed a committee to ease the tension and to solve the problem. However, the killing of a commander from the PUK caused the situation to reach a point of no return. The PUK forces entered the city and killed the KDP commander in charge and tens of other fighters while taking control of their headquarter in the city.

The next day, the fighting widened out. The KDP and PUK raided on rival headquarters in different cities. The situation deteriorated to a point that, as Haji Mahmoud mentions, back then PUK-secretary, the late Jalal Talabani had sent a letter from abroad to instruct to cease the fighting immediately, but without any success.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq had experienced a series of civil wars after the 1991 uprising. Most of those parties who had their own military forces fought against each other several times. However, the bloodiest fight was the one between KDP and PUK.  

Even though several things have changed compared to the mid-1990s, both KDP and PUK still control their own Peshmerga forces, who act under the direct order of partisan officials, and not the government, and this has remained unchanged.

KDP and PUK would not give up on their military

In 2006, the sixth cabinet of KRG pledged to establish a unified army for Kurdistan Region. Ever since, four cabinets and three other prime ministers went without fulfilling the promise. Almost all the Peshmerga forces are still controlled by the parties. The KDP and PUK each have their own Peshmerga forces—known as Unit 80 and Unit 70, respectively—which do not share unified command and control structures.

For the first time in Kurdistan Region, a top official admitted that Peshmerga forces have been deployed on the order of the parties, and not the government, when the Prime Minister of Kurdistan Regional Government, Masrour Barzani, said in a statement that “a particular group purposely and with a political aim moved its forces opposite to the government’s forces and stood against the government.”

In the last decade, Peshmerga forces have been moved several times on the order of political parties to oppress demonstrators and frighten opposition parties. However, it was always denied that political parties were behind these moves.

“If any military force, at any time, is not unified or does not comprise of a high discipline, it might cause a disaster,” military advisor Brigadier, Adil Kakaiy told Peregraf. He added that when it comes to the political tensions, if a force is not unified, the tension reflects in the military ranks and it cannot defend itself and the homeland.

After the events of October 16, 2017 when the Kurds lost control over the city of Kirkuk to Baghdad, Peshmerga forces were largely accused of avoiding to defend Kurdistan, especially within the “unified brigades” as their commanders were divided between the PUK and KDP.

According to some unofficial data, there are over 200,000 Peshmerga in the Kurdistan Region. Unifying the forces has been a key concern for the Ministry of Peshmerga over the past decade as most Peshmerga are connected and under the direct command of either one of the two leading Kurdish parties: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), or some individuals within those two parties.

The Ministry of Peshmerga has 14 unified brigades, but the events of October 16 revealed that these so-called unification is just a cover. The political parties still have their own hegemony over those brigades.

After the war against ISIS erupted in mid-2014 and Peshmerga forces where intensively engaged, the coalition forces set a plan to reform the Peshmerga. By 2017, a comprehensive plan had been developed, the first step of which was the establishment of a separate directorate with the "internal capacity" for reform.

The reform plan, entitled "The Peshmerga in the Future," was agreed by the KRG. Since then, the Peshmerga reform directorate was formed.

In an exclusive interview with Peregraf conducted in June 2019, UK’s Consul General in Erbil, Martyn Warr, whose country is part of the reform plan within Peshmerga, admitted the difficulty of such a reform in the Peshmerga forces, and said "this will take many years, and this is normal and might take longer in Kurdistan. It will take 10 to 15 years, because we are changing something very radically and the culture of Peshmerga is very deeply rooted." He also described the reform as "a fundamental change in the power structure in Kurdistan."

KRG Ministry of Peshmerga Secretary General Jabar Yawar told Peregraf that the unification of Peshmerga forces have to take place during the four years of the current cabinet of KRG, “all the forces should be unified under the aegis of the Ministry of Peshmerga with only one commander-in-chief affiliated to the Kurdistan Region Presidency.”