where did all the weapons go?

news reports on military assistance and much needed weapon delivery to the kurdish regional government and its peshmerga units in the fight against the islamic state filled the pages of both local and international media for a while. a question circulating between the local peshmerga, however, is rarely reflected in media reporting: ‘where did all these weapons go?’

traveling to the front lines and speaking to government officials, there are differing accounts on how many weapons have actually reached the kurdish regional government. some say there has been a lot of new weaponry delivered, which is now trained on extensively in order to build the knowledge necessary to operate them. others say that no heavy weaponry has actually been delivered to the kurdish government. and others again, point to the role of the ministry of peshmerga in the distribution of the weaponry among the many different divisions on the peshmerga front. in one thing, however, most of them concur: almost no new weapons have reached their own front line.

following ministerial information, there are currently eight divisions in the front line management of the kurdish regional government. with this being the case, one might argue that the few weapon deliveries that have taken place have gone to the most acute areas of conflict – a stance that supports a view of pragmatic calculation in the conflict management. however, one of the most prominent front lines in this conflict, jalawla, has, according to a recent media interview with leading generals, not seen any armory either. this news is hence either discouraging the view of pragmatic weapon distribution by the government, or enforcing other voices who claim there to be an uneven distribution of weaponry between the pdk and puk territories. later stances, while not unthinkable, are thought to be not in the interest of the ministry of peshmerga, which is currently held by a third party, gorran, that at least by its principles and self-representations stands outside of the territorial-political division of the two major parties and is officially in charge of the weapon reception and distribution.

so if we assume that the weapons would be distributed more or less equally, but they are none on the front lines present, the question of ‘where did they get lost?’ becomes ever more pressing. as with everything in the kurdish region, information can only be subtracted from the many stories circulating between the newspaper stands, bazar counters and ngo offices. some say that the krg is stacking up on weapons in order to save them for another war to come. while an interesting thought, it is quite unlikely that this shows the full story. after all, even with the daily propaganda and civil support remaining high, the political and military leaders have come to a level of realization that there needs to be more technological force on the front lines in order to actually gain grounds against the islamic state. at least on some of them…

in the front lines i have visited so far, the kurdish government has put their peshmerga in a defensive stance. it is not about gaining territory, it is about holding the one they have. these lines run almost perfectly around every last kurdish-majority town, both within krg- and disputed-area- territory. on these front lines, the shovel for digging shelters and trenches is more important than any humvee or milan rocket. however, these front lines are only one part of the story. there are other lines that are still fought over and some towns that stand to be reclaimed by the peshmerga. and it is these that do need any support they can get indeed.
curiously, it is also these lines that see most us-american intervention from the air. air strikes, as i was told, while insufficient to fight the islamic state, can decrease the amount of heavy weaponry on the side of the islamic state and hence increase the fighting chance of the peshmerga and their morale on the ground. it is also said however that these air strikes are part of the us-idea of supporting a local force on the ground while avoiding to giving weapons directly to them, as this in turn might lead to frictions with baghdad and an increased confidence of the krg to push for independence – something that the us is still trying to avoid, following their iraq policy of ‘priority: iraqi unity’ in the old credo ‘push it until we either make it or break it’.

this policy would however also go in line with a more educated story circulating the debate, that hints towards the united nations security council resolution (unscr) 661 – a resolution that forbids any weapon delivery to iraq or saddam hussein. while a relict of the past iraq-kuwait war, the resolution has never been abolished but only altered in 2004 where it says that weapons can be delivered but only to the fedeal government in baghdad. while this is of course not to say that unscr’s can not be ‘conveniently forgotten’ or ‘rearranged’, it remains one point to bear in mind, when embarking on the detective mission of where the weapons have gotten lost.

so let’s recapitulate: international and local sources say there are weapon deliveries to the kurdish peshmerga. there are no new weapons on the front lines; particularly no heavy weaponry. so, either, the weapons have never come to the krg, because they are still in the respective country that finds itself restricted by the un-resolution or they are stuck in baghdad. or the weapons have come to the krg and are not evenly distributed by the parties, are still trained upon, or are stocked up for a future war. in either case, the search for the weapons continues…

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