Erbil: As Islamic State militants continue to wage their campaign of terror throughout northern Iraq and Syria, Kurds have expressed strong support for an international coalition including Australia that is designed to back them in their fight.
With militants from the Islamic State holding towns and villages within 100 kilometres of Erbil, Kurdish military leaders say they need all the help they can get, with both strategic assistance and hardware.
Hoshang Waziri, an analyst based in Erbil, says international support for the Peshmerga forces, including Australia’s involvement, was “100 per cent welcome by the Kurdish people”.
“We have to acknowledge that the Kurds are the only ones fighting the Islamic State on the ground here and in Syria,” Mr Waziri said. “Anything that can help the Kurds fight ISIS [Islamic State] will be welcomed by Kurds from all political parties.”
Even as the third consignment of Australia-delivered munitions arrived in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq’s north last week, requests for further support came from all quarters.
Australia’s next contribution, hatched after discussions between Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and soon to be deployed to the United Arab Emirates, will include up to eight Super Hornet aircraft, an early warning and control aircraft, and aerial refuelling aircraft. It will also include a contingent of Special Forces troops, Mr Abbott said.
Up to 600 personnel will go into Iraq as military advisers to the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Mr Abbott said.
Australia has already committed C130 Hercules transport aircraft and a C17 to the multinational effort including the US, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Along with weapons and ammunition, Kurdish forces were also in need of training, both in the use of modern weaponry but also in terms of military strategy and capacity building, the former deputy prime minister of Iraq and now finance minister Dr Rowsch Shaways told Fairfax Media.
“The countries that supply the hardware will also provide the training and we welcome military advisers and trainers to Kurdistan – we need all kinds of support: weapons training, academic and strategic studies.”
In an interview with Minister for Peshmerga Affairs Mustafa Sayed Qadir late last week, Dr Shaways said: “We are requesting more support from Australia and we hope they send more … this war will take a long time to reach its end.”
Along with his role in Baghdad, Dr Shaways has resumed his role as a Peshmerga commander on the frontline near the border of Erbil and Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq and the first to fall to the Islamic State on June 10.
“With international support there is now the possibility that the Peshmerga can do counter-attacks and free much more territory [from the Islamic State militants],” Dr Shaways said.
Since early June Islamic State has expanded its hold through eastern Syria and across the border into northern Iraq, seizing cities, towns, army bases and heavy weaponry in Iraq, as Iraqi Army soldiers deserted in their thousands.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces stepped in to secure many key towns but they have been badly overstretched, suffering a significant drought of weapons, ammunition and strategic ability.
For the last month the United States has already carried out more than 150 air strikes on Islamic State positions in northern Iraq and sent hundreds military advisers to assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces, but has so far ruled out sending ground troops.
Germany has also announced it is preparing to send about 40 soldiers to northern Iraq to train Kurdish fighters battling against militants from the Islamic State, Agence France Press reported the German army as saying. Additional teams will be “temporarily” deployed to Iraqi Kurdistan, with up to 30 Kurdish soldiers travelling to Germany in exchange, it said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has been touring the Middle East over the weekend to sign up governments to a “broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat”.
Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon as well as the Gulf Co-operation Council – an alliance of the Sunni Arab Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – have committed to “stand united” against the Islamic State.
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