The Peshmerga, a term referring to Kurdish valor, originated in the twentieth-century struggle for Kurdish rights in Iraq. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) emerged as powerful entities with their own Peshmerga forces.
The Peshmerga remained fragmented due to partisan units operating outside the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs (MoPA) established after the Kurdish uprising in 1991. Today, Iraq’s Kurdistan Region is divided into Yellow (KDP) and Green (PUK) security zones patrolled by partisan Peshmerga units and MoPA Peshmerga forces.
In 2014, the Kurdistan Region’s Peshmerga fought against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, with over 1,300 fighters sacrificing their lives. They helped liberate Mosul with US-led Coalition support, but internal divisions hindered their effectiveness.
The international community recognized the need for a unified and professional Peshmerga force, which has been discussed since the beginning of the Kurdish Republic (KRG) formation in 1991. In 2017, the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands launched the Peshmerga reform program, seeking to create a strong and unified defense force.
The KRG has signed a 35-point agreement with international partners to focus on institutional reforms, including bringing partisan KDP and PUK units under the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs (MoPA). The US-led Combined Joint Task Force-Operations Inherent Resolve provided financial support, training, and equipment divestments to support these reform initiatives. In 2022, a four-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the US Department of Defense and MoPA, outlining stringent conditions and strict timelines. The MOU outlines the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs’ progress in institutional reforms and its commitment to further enhance the professionalization of its forces.
The MOU mandated the integration of partisan units, biometric enrollment of soldiers, transition to electronic funds transfer for paying Peshmerga soldiers by October 2024, and stipend payments and compliance. The Department of Defense committed to providing financial assistance to the MoPA, subject to specific conditions, including adherence to US laws and regulations and international human rights laws. The MOU also outlined a gradual reduction in stipend payments, with the US Department of Defense intending to cease payments by September 2026. In the past year, MoPA has made significant steps toward achieving reforms, demonstrating the international community’s unwavering commitment to the Peshmerga reforms.
The United States has unified 28 Regional Guard Brigades, with 25 and 27 nearing completion. The process involved thorough assessments and categorizations to create a cohesive force. Two division headquarters have been established, enhancing command and control over the brigades. Biometric enrollment of Peshmerga personnel exceeded 85%, demonstrating commitment to accurate record-keeping, security, and transparency.
MoPA has submitted a four-year budget request to KRG for a single line of accounting to maintain a 125,000 unified Peshmerga force structure. However, critical reforms like plans for additional division headquarters and reorganization of the 70s and 80s force structure are stalled or behind schedule. The US, KRG, MoPA, and 70s and 80s Peshmerga are finalizing an annual assessment model.