The United States recently signed a deal with the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq to provide fund Kurds fighting ISIS in the region. Specifically, $415 million will go to the Peshmerga, the official military force of Iraqi Kurdistan.
As Jules Suzdaltsev explains in today's Seeker Daily report, the Peshmerga can be considered the standing army of Iraqi Kurdistan, the autonomous region of Iraq that spans roughly 15 thousand square miles. But because the Kurds don't technically have a country of their own, the situation gets complicated.
Some history: Kurdish warriors have been feared and respected for thousands of years -- they've fought against the Persian, Ottoman and British empires, and those are just the more recent conflicts. The designation Peshmerga didn't emerge until the mid-20th century, and the name literally translates to "those who face death."
At that time, the Peshmerga divided into two opposing political factions: The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). In 1994, tensions boiled over into a civil war. The two sides united in 2003, when they jointly partnered with the U.S. to topple the government of Saddam Hussein.
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As Iraqi Kurdistan's official military force, the Peshmerga is part of a larger effort to establish an independent nation for the Kurdish people. This has put them at odds with ISIS, and the Pashmerga have in recent years allied with the U.S., Iran and Kurdish guerrilla groups. Their force consists of an estimated 200,000 male and female soldiers. The army has a long tradition of incorporating female soldiers, known as "the women of the mountains."
It gets even more complicated: The Peshmerga are a separate fighting force from its former enemy the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), but both are now fiercely waging war against ISIS. Meanwhile, the Peshmerga is in regular conflict with the federal government of Iraq itself, over longstanding disputes regarding land and oil resources.
The recent deal with the United States promises to improve conditions for Peshmerga fighters, anyway. The $415 million will go toward ammunition and weapons, but also food and salaries for the army.
-- Glenn McDonald
Al Jazeera: US signs military aid deal with Iraq's Kurdish fighters
NPR: Facing The Islamic State Threat, Kurdish Fighters Unite
Business Insider: ISIS Is Gaining Territory, But The Kurds Still Have Iraq's Most Experienced And Motivated Army
Washington Post: Who Are the Kurds?