Iraq’s Border Guard has been recruiting for service along the Iran-Iraq border in the Kurdistan Region, with more than 2 million hopeful applicants signing up so far. But they will not be fighting. Their mission will be to monitor movements along the border and enhance control in the mountainous area.
At the recommendation of the Council of Ministers in Baghdad, the federal Ministry of Interior opened a call for employment in the Border Guard on January 16, 2023. In just a few days, 2.182 million forms were filled out, applying for the 2,621 spots available.
"Forces will be established in Sector One…which covers the Kurdistan Region from Fishkhabur to Khanaqin," Colonel Karwan Khoshnaw, spokesperson for the sector, told Peregraf.
While the Border Guard is under the control of the federal Ministry of Interior, it is mostly ethnic Kurds who serve in this sector. The force controls checkpoints and headquarters near the Iranian, Turkish, and Syrian borders with Iraq.
Given the large number of "people who have filled out forms for employment, it is not clear who will be selected and how many will be Kurds," said Khoshnaw.
"This force is not a fighting force. It is the job of border guards to handle smuggling, evasion, and border crossings," he said, adding that Peshmerga forces will also operate in the sector. "But the Border Guard will be right at the border, which is called ‘zero point,’ and will be stationed there."
The hiring push came as a result of a series of decisions by the federal government after repeated missile attacks in the autumn on Iranian Kurdish dissident groups headquartered in the Kurdistan Region by Iran. Tehran demanded that Baghdad and Erbil do more to secure the border, including during a visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani on November 29.
In response, the federal government devised a plan to redeploy the Border Guard in cooperation with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
"There are many security gaps on the borders and they will be filled with this force. There will no longer be excuses [for Iran] about the crossing border", Karim Shkur, an Iraqi parliamentarian who was involved in the decision to bolster the Border Guard, told Peregraf.
Shkur stressed that the unit’s role is to eliminate smuggling, border crossings, and illegal movements on the border so that this "does not become an excuse for neighboring countries to say that the Kurdistan Region has become a place of instability at the borders."
Over the past several months, Iran has increased its own security forces presence on the border, threatening to launch further attacks on Iranian Kurdish groups within the Kurdistan Region.
Brigadier General Mohammed Sakr, a commander in the Border Guard, agreed on February 7 to form a new unit, the 21st Brigade, that would be deployed in Sector One, and to provide them with supplies and advanced technology, including thermal cameras, surveillance towers, and vehicles.
Osman Sedari, deputy head of the Peshmerga Affairs Committee in the Kurdistan Parliament, said that the Border Guard has faced a hiring shortfall in recent years, due to retirements and deaths, and that those units were never replenished "because of the ISIS war and the financial crisis."
Sedari also pointed out that a brigade has already been requested to be stood up on the border of Halabja governorate with Iran.
To be eligible to serve in the Border Guard, applicants must be between 17- and 35-years-old and have graduated high school. The applications were online and successful candidates will receive an electronic communication.
"It is not yet known whether the entire force will be Kurds or not. We will meet with the Iraqi authorities about this matter" said Shkur, the MP. "We don't believe they will bring Arabs. In the past, the forces on this border and their commanders have all been Kurds, so it is better to keep the situation like this."
"It is not clear when there will be a response and there is no new information. It is up to the Ministry of Interior," said Koshnaw, who warned applicants and the public against falling for misinformation published by fake sources on social media.