• 900 men have been training in the programme for six months
  • Baghdad will pay the salaries of the new units
  • The operations of the new units will be coordinated by the peshmerga

The armed forces of Iraqi Kurdistan, known as the peshmerga, are training Arab fighters to help combat the jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) in northern Iraq.

So far 900 men have been training in the programme for six months with the assistance of the US armed forces, according to the peshmerga Colonel Mahdi Younes, who coordinates Kurdish forces in Iraqi Kurdistan’s Makhmour region.

“We are training up Arab units that will be used to take more territory from Isis,” he told MEED in an interview. “In our sector we have very good connections with Arabs that are against Isis. We get good intelligence support from these Arabs and there are many that want to be armed against Isis.”

During their training the new recruits have been paid salaries by Baghdad and they will eventually be armed by Baghdad, according to Mahdi Younes.

“Though their salaries will be paid by Baghdad their operations will be coordinated by the peshmerga,” he said.

The peshmerga already controls all the ethnically Kurdish villages in the Makhmour region as well some that are ethnically Arabic.

“We don’t want to be seen as an occupying force and increase hostility between Kurds and Arabs,” said Younes. “Liberating more Arabic villages from Isis will help provide a buffer between Kurdish territory and Isis, but this must be done by the hands of Arabs. We don’t want to be seen as an occupying force.”

Due to political disagreements arms transfers between the Kurdish and Iraqi armed forces have been limited over recent years.

Under the current Iraqi constitution, which was approved in 2005, the Iraqi army is not allowed to enter the Kurdistan Region.