(Reuters) – The semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq is pressing the Obama administration for sophisticated weapons it says Kurdish fighters need to push back Islamist militants threatening their region, Kurdish and U.S. officials said.
A Kurdish official said the request was discussed during a Kurdish delegation’s visit to Washington in early July, and U.S. officials said Washington was considering ways to bolster the Kurdish defenses.
The Kurds say U.S. help is critical to enable the Peshmerga, the Kurds’ paramilitary force, to repel fighters from the Islamic State, an al Qaeda spinoff that seized a wide swath of Iraqi territory in a stunning advance in the last few months.
The requested military supplies include tanks, sniper equipment, armored personnel carriers, artillery and ammunition, and also body armor, helmets, fuel trucks and ambulances.
Kurdish officials say the Peshmerga need the weapons to guard the borders of the rugged mountainous region and to protect hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees sheltering there after fleeing the Islamist rebels’ onslaught.
U.S. officials say they are considering ways to help the Kurds defend themselves, but direct provision of arms to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), in the way Washington arms Iraq’s central government in Baghdad, appears highly unlikely.