In the various military skirmishes that have erupted during the movement of troops in northern Iraq, much has been made of the fact that both sides possibly used weapons they were given by international allies. Those weapons were ostensibly given to the Iraqi military and to the Kurdish military to fight against the extremist group known as the Islamic State.
The skirmishes have been between Iraqi forces – both the Iraqi army and the Shiite Muslim militias – and the Iraqi Kurdish military, commonly known as the peshmerga. Since the middle of October, the Iraqi military has been moving back into positions they formerly occupied but which the Kurdish military had been in control of. This includes the city of Kirkuk.
Along the way there have been several deadly clashes. One of the most recent took place at Alton Kupri, near the borders of the semi-autonomous region, nearer the Kurdish capital city, Erbil. In the days that followed, Kurdish forces published pictures of burnt out tanks and other vehicles saying they had been able to destroy an Abrams tank that belonged to the Iraqi forces.
The Abrams has a very good reputation on the battlefield and the Kurdish forces were proud of what they saw as a victory. The Abrams tank had most likely been given to the Iraqi army by the US, to fight the extremist Islamic State, or IS, group with.
The Kurdish military have also been able to take control of weapons and vehicles that were abandoned by the Iraqi army when they fled from the IS group in 2014. Doubtless some of that was US-supplied too.
Around the same day the Iraqi military released a statement saying that the Kurdish forces had used a MILAN missile against them; these are European anti-tank guided missiles and had been supplied to the Kurdish by Germany for the same reason that the Americans gave the Iraqis their tanks: To fight the IS group.
Both parties then rapidly denied that they had done any such thing, all the while demanding investigations into whether the other party had done that thing.
“Weapons and tanks given to the Iraqis and to the Kurdish region by coalition countries were intended to be used in the war against the IS group. Any use of these weapons for any other reason is illegal,” states Hakim al-Zamili, the head of the parliamentary defence and security committee in Baghdad.
However, al-Zamili was not sure if this had actually happened. He could only tell NIQASH that he thought the accusations from both sides should be investigated.
Iraqi major general, Ali Fadhil Omran, begged to differ. He confirmed that the Kurdish military had used the anti-tank missile system against Iraqi forces. In a roundabout way he also confirmed that Iraqi forces had used armaments they had been given.
“Those who claim that the army used weapons it was given to fight the IS group, against the peshmerga, should bring evidence,” Omran argued. “The weapons we used during this fight was military equipment belonging to the Iraqi army. We were attacked while we were transporting modern military equipment we received from the coalition towards the Kirkuk area,” he added. “So we were obliged to defend ourselves.”
One way of confirming whether the Kurdish military did use the German-supplied anti-tank missiles would be to carefully examine the various videos that have been posted and published of the fighting around Alton Kupri that day.
None of the MILANs, which are considered vital in combatting suicide car bombs, can be seen in the footage. However in one of the videos a Kurdish soldier can be seen carrying another kind of German-made weapon.
It appears to be a shoulder-carried Panzerfaust 3 rocket launcher, several batches of which were sent to Iraqi Kurdistan between 2014, when the security crisis began, and now.
The deputy commander of the Kurdish forces in west Kirkuk, Mohammed Regr, denies that his forces used German-supplied armaments in the fighting. “A number of tanks tried to move from Kirkuk toward Erbil last Friday and we confronted them,” Regr told NIQASH. “But the Peshmerga didn’t use any other weapons, other than our own, and the Russian T55 tanks, which we took after the defeat of the Iraqi army [by the IS group] in June 2014.”
The Shiite Muslim militias attacked the Kurdish with Abrams tanks, Soviet-origin T72 tanks and armoured Hummer vehicles, Regr added. This was particularly galling for the Kurdish because although the militias now occupy a more formal position in Iraq’s military make up, they are not fully part of the Iraqi state. They were all asking where they got the US equipment from, Regr said.
“All parties in this conflict have used weapons they received for the purpose of fighting the IS group – that includes the Iraqi army, the Shiite militias and the Kurdish,” says a Kurdish intelligence officer, who had to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The officer then passed on lists of the armaments used that he knew of. The Iraqi military and supporting forces had used US-made Abrams tanks, AT4 anti-tank missiles and Humvees as well as Russian-made Grad rockets.
According to the Kurdish officer, the Kurdish military had used US-made M4 assault rifles, German-made G36 assault rifles, MILAN anti-tank missiles and 50 calibre machine guns.
Hiwa Assad, a Kurdish officer who was formerly part of the Iraqi army’s special forces, says it seems clear that both sides have used weapons supplied for the express purpose of fighting the IS group against one another. But, he suggests, there’s not much anyone can really do about it.
“The use of these weapons and tanks to solve internal problems is completely forbidden because both sides signed pledges to use them only against the IS group,” Assad told NIQASH. “A court could resolve this, but I believe that’s probably useless because both sides could just circumvent that.”