US mandate for unification of Peshmerga forces faces deadline amidst political armed conflicts

SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region — In light of recent escalation of internal disputes within a small political party in the countryside of Sulaimani, resulting in casualties, the question arises as to whether the Peshmerga forces will be unified by 2026, as mandated by the US.

On Thursday, power-sharing disputes escalated between factions loyal to Mohammed Haji Mahmood, the recently reelected leader of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party (KSDP), and his ousted senior member and brother, Abdullah Haji Mahmood, claiming the life of a Peshmerga fighter and left at least four others wounded.

Both sides accuse each other of exacerbating the long-standing feud. However, concerns have resurfaced regarding the influence wielded by armed forces outside of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs (MOPA).

The Coalition forces, particularly the United States, have long been advocating for a unified Peshmerga force under the MOPA command, aiming to wean off them from party affiliations and misuse in times of conflicts. They have equipped and trained numerous Peshmerga forces for years in that regard, in addition to the financial support provided directly to the KRG to pay their salaries.

In March of this year, Peshmerga Minister Shorsh Ismail stated in a televised speech that the US deadline for unifying the Peshmerga forces is September 2026.

Ismail himself temporarily resigned for months in 2023, citing political interference between the rival ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the affairs of his ministry.

In the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the Peshmerga forces are aligned with the ruling parties, the KDP and the PUK, under various names and divisions, along with a few other political parties with smaller armed forces.

Military experts have consistently warned against the delay by resistant armed parties to hand over their forces to the command of the Peshmerga ministry.

In August 2023, former MOPA Secretary-General retired Peshmerga General Jabar Yawar, urged political factions to urgently unite the armed forces of the Region under a single, independent government structure.

Yawar emphasized that the failure to achieve this unity may ultimately result in severe consequences, including the withdrawal of Coalition and US forces, the loss of Kurdistan’s institutional entity, and the potential takeover of the armed forces by the Iraqi government.

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