According to an article at the Kurdish outlet Rudaw, Peshmerga militia forces have had to turn back a high number of foreign fighters attempting to join the war on the Islamic State. Repeated attempts to discourage the foreign fighters and request arms aid instead have failed to stop the flow into Iraq.
Yesterday we looked at Americans, Europeans, and Australians traveling overseas to join the Dwekh Nawsha, a Christian militia fighting to protect Assyrian villages from the depredations of the Islamic State. The Kurds, who have been handling most of the heavy fighting on the front lines, are sympathetic toward most of these foreign volunteers. Reports on foreigners joining the Dwekh Nawsha have noted that many of those foreign fighters have joined the Christian rather than Muslim and Yazidi Kurdish militias because they felt more trusting of the Christian groups.
Rudaw notes that Peshmerga leaders have cited “reasons ranging from safety to diplomatic reasons” for not accepting the fighters. Many foreign fighters who risk leaving their countries to fight against the Islamic State are violating their domestic legal codes, though Kurdish fighters say placing foreigners on the front lines also violates Kurdish law.
“Just last week an American man arrived wanting to volunteer. I couldn’t help him. Yes, they are volunteers, but we have to guarantee their lives and we can’t do that,” said one Peshmerga leader, citing an example.
This resistance to foreign volunteers appears to have been cultivated by the Pentagon, as Rudaw mentions some American and Canadian volunteers who did see combat action alongside the Peshmerga (seemingly in defiance of the Kurdish law that “expressly forbids admission of foreigners” mentioned above) but went home early after “U.S. military advisers pressured Peshmerga commanders to take the volunteers off the frontline.”
The Kurds have been consistent in saying their most vital need is a supply of heavy weapons and ammunition, rather than manpower, because promised shipments of American munitions routed through the central Iraqi government in Baghdad often fail to arrive.
It’s also understandable that the U.S. government would be worried about the safety of American volunteers, whose capture, torture, and videotaped execution would be a propaganda boon to ISIS. Organizations founded to help Western volunteers get to Iraq appear to respect the Kurds’ wishes, and say they are transitioning to providing training and support services instead of combat troops.
The situation is somewhat different with Syrian Kurdish forces, whose YPG “People’s Defense Units” are “not a disciplined army” in the opinion of the peshmerga commander interviewed by Rudaw. Foreign volunteers, including Americans, seem to have an easier time finding front-line service with the YPG, with about 25 foreigners currently fighting in Syria, according to one departing volunteer.