The prime minister of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq described his recent visit to Russia as “an opportunity to expand the relationship” with the Kremlin “in all fields, including energy, economic and political sectors.”
“We now have good relations, and we hope it will be better,” declared KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, according to Rudaw.
The United States has refused to directly arm the Iraqi Kurds, providing assistance only through Baghdad.
U.S. officials consider the Peshmerga troops to be one of the most capable American-led coalition allies combating the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), but President Donald Trump’s administration has seemingly continued its predecessor’s policy of not providing military assistance through the Iraqi government.
“The central government of Iraq is the only authorized party to buy weapons in the United States,” stressed Trump’s State Department in April. The United States “is selling weapons and supplies to and through the central government of Iraq.”
In June 2016, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov revealed that the Kremlin’s position on arming the Iraqi Kurds is similar to that of the U.S.
That month, Russia sent weapons to assist the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in their fight against ISIS.
“We took into account the Kurds’ needs in the supplies of our arms to Iraq, but these supplies were made through the central government, through Baghdad,” said Lavrov. “We fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq.”
The Iraqi Kurds have been asking for independence for years.
In April, Kurds in Iraq announced that they plan to move ahead with a referendum on independence after the ISIS is defeated.
ISIS in Mosul, the terrorist group’s last major stronghold in Iraq, is reportedly on its last legs.
Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, the chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), told American lawmakers in May that the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq will likely become an independent state after the ISIS falls.
“Kurdish independence is on a trajectory where it is probably not if, but when. And it will complicate the situation unless there’s an agreement in Baghdad — an agreement that all of the parties can live with. So this a significant referendum that comes up in October this year,” said Gen. Stewart.
In its most recent Worldwide Threat Assessment, the DIA chief warned that the KRG will face some challenges in the future.
“Financial shortcomings and institutional limitations of the Kurdistan Regional Government will continue to limit Kurdish forces’ military and counterterrorism capabilities,” reported the DIA.