Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) with KDP party leader Massoud Barzani, Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, January 9, 2019.
SULAIMANI, Iraq’s Kurdistan region,— U.S.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid an unannounced visit to Iraqi Kurdistan Region on Wednesday, but his meeting with a party political leader in Erbil led some to question whether the US was undermining its own strategy to encourage the formation of non-partisan armed forces in the Kurdish Region.
On his arrival to Iraqi Kurdistan, Pompeo met with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani in Erbil.
Besides the official talks, however, Pompeo and his delegation met with Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
On December 11, US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry also visited Iraqi Kurdistan and met with the KDP leader.
While the elder Barzani remains influential in Kurdish politics, he holds no formal position in the KRG, having resigned as the Region’s President in November 2017 in the aftermath of the controversial independence referendum.
Political commentator Muhammad Nuri told NRT TV that such visits by US cabinet officials showed that the US supported “political parties who have their own armed forces, which is the opposite of what the US claims to support.”
The Peshmerga has historically been divided between the two ruling parties, with significant portions controlled either by the KDP or its historic rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
Kurdistan is split politically and geographically between the KDP and the PUK.
There are between 150,000 to 200,000 fighters serving in units affiliated with either the KDP or the PUK, some of which were used in the past to suppress anti-government protests.
Despite holding no official government position in Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud barzani is also participating in Peshmerga ceremony..
A key element of US aid to the Kurdistan region is its support for the Peshmerga militias.
In the past, US policymakers have said that they support a proposed program of reform that would see partisan Peshmerga units unified under a non-partisan command structure within the ministry for Peshmerga affairs.
Nuri added that “the official US visit to meet Barzani is the opposite of attempts by its advisers to reform the ministry of Peshmerga, specifically unifying the forces.”
The ministry’s reform project began in February, when it announced a 35-point plan that had been developed in consultation with military advisers from the US, UK, and Germany.
One of the most important points was that the Peshmerga would become a unified, non-partisan force.
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