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Obama Administration Considers Emergency Aid for Russia-Assisted Peshmerga

The Obama administration is contemplating providing an emergency aid package to the cash-strapped Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq because it has been unable to pay its Peshmerga force, which has received military assistance from Russia.

Citing U.S. officials, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports the Obama administration concluded “that the KRG’s inability to pay Peshmerga fighters their salaries poses a threat to the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State [ISIS/ISIL].”

Russia has already provided the Peshmerga with arms to fight ISIS, Rudaw quotes the Kurdish Peshmerga Ministry as saying, following a meeting between the KRG President Masoud Barzani and Russia’s ambassador to Iraq on Sunday.

Russia has promised additional help, Jabar Yawar, chief of staff of the Peshmerga Ministry told Rudaw.

“Russia has sent help to the Peshmerga and Kurdistan’s other defense forces in the fight against ISIS a number of times,” said Yawar. “And the date is not clear for the new assistance that has been decided. We are waiting for it.”

Peshmerga fighters have been one of the U.S.’s most effective partners on the ground against ISIS.

However, Dow Jones Business News reports:

The KRG’s budget has been stretched to the breaking point by a steep drop in oil prices, a bloated public sector payroll and the high cost of absorbing nearly two million people displaced by the fighting, among other factors, according to American and Kurdish officials.

Recent internal State Department and U.S. military assessments of the KRG’s financial crisis have warned the White House that the regional government’s lack of funds to pay salaries to its fighters and cover other costs could slow the counter-Islamic State campaign, particularly operations against Islamic State stronghold of Mosul and other areas.

“We can’t afford for them to have a crisis that really prevents them from fighting,” a senior Obama administration official reportedly said.

Yawar, the Peshmerga Ministry official, noted that all Russian and coalition support reaches the Iraqi Kurdistan region through the central government in Baghdad.

“The coalition countries send us assistance in agreement with Baghdad,” Yawar explained. “It doesn’t matter how the support reaches us.”

He confirmed that the U.S. has trained and armed two Peshmerga brigades of 4,500 fighters.

“Because of limitations on the U.S.’s authority to directly pay Peshmerga salaries, the Obama administration is looking at providing other types of financial support to KRG fighters, including stipends, food and fuel,” reports Dow Jones News.

“Obama administration and KRG officials have been discussing the size of the proposed emergency aid package in recent weeks, according to both sides,” it adds. “Kurdish officials initially requested at least $200 million in emergency aid for salaries and other needs, according to people close to the discussions.”

The proposed support to the KRG would require Baghdad’s expected approval, according to U.S. officials.

Dow Jones notes, “The Obama administration’s options for assisting the KRG have been limited because the regional government isn’t a sovereign state, precluding the U.S. from supporting a KRG request for loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.”

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