There are several accusations against Peshmerga that consistenly come up. On the one hand, that the whereabouts of the German Federal Armed Forces are unknown, on the other hand, that they would blow up houses of the Arabian population. I was already told that they are selling weapons before they were even delivered. Sometimes it also gets reported that simply no one knows where the weapons are. When it comes to the blown up houses, the location of the event changes frequently. Both accusations are in the media again at the moment, so I’ll try to explain this from my point of view:
(This Blogpost is also available in german)
Blown up Arabian houses
One year ago, Donatella Rovera of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the Peshmerga blew up houses of the Arabian population to make their return home impossible. During summer, the Foreign Policy reported about it based on a report of Donatella Rovera. Now Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International (AI) is reporting about it. I don’t think that HRW and AI would make a canard. But because of the experiences of the past month and my local experiences, I looked deeper in the reports.
In the report is mentioned that the Arabian population isn’t allowed to get back or rather wasn’t allowed to get back in the Nineveh Province while the Kurdish population was allowed to. I was there one year ago. In this area many villages are completely or mainly destroyed. Several houses were supplied by the IS with booby traps, the streets mined- in the important parts 50-100 mines or IEDs on 20 meters street. The explosive ordnance clearing service of the Peshmerga is unfortunately very bad equipped. Often, they are patrolling with only a screwdriver and a pincer, rarely with more equipment as an electrician apprentice in Germany. That the clearance is taking really long this way should be obvious. There are always Kurdish and Arabian villages but also mixed ones. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kurdish villages are cleared first and the Arabic ones second. But everything has to get cleared anyway. When we travel from Dohuk to Shingal through this area, we didn’t see any inhabitants for 2 hours. Sometimes there were sparsely populated checkpoints where people who worked there also improvisational lived there. Otherwise only destroyed villages. So there really weren’t any Arabs who returned but also no Kurds. We also weren’t allowed to enter many of those villages because of the self-made „mines“- signs in front of them. These houses are blown up one after the other, the remains cleared with bulldozers.Refugees in the Camp near Halabja
I thought the accusations were really illogical: during war, building materials and machines are really rare. But why blowing up intact houses of the Arabs instead of giving them to the Kurds. There are also strong tensions between the Kurdish regional government and the Yazidi population in Shingal. They were much stronger than the „usual“ tensions between the Kurds and the Arabs. In Shingal, there weren’t any houses blown up either. The same accusations came from the Foreign Policy during summer. This time not in Nineveh but in Daquq. One day later I was there and asked the Arabian population. They’ve never heard of this story before- and obviously still lived there. Just as the religious minority Kakai. After this experiences I wanted to know more and read the latest articles.
On 50 pages he explained the situation detailed. For example, there are satellite pictures on which villages and houses are first intact, later they’re gone. And this is taking place in the area which is under control of Peshmerga. The problem is that this aspect is beyond dispute. The reasons and details of the clearance and detonation are the point at issue. Who saw what and where? One of the examples is the (Iraqi) village Jalawla. This was secured by Peshmerga after the withdrawal of the Iraqi army. In this issue the eyewitnesses were Iraqi police men.The problem is that the Iraqi and Kurdish security are afraid to do anything and accuse each other of a lot of different things. Sources like this should be considered with caution. For the area around Kirkuk it was said that „It was not clear whether the men were members of the Peshmerga. In any case, the looting was being carried out in full view of the Peshmerga, who control access in and out of the area“ - In this case it’s obviously not even sure if it was Peshmerga or not.
There are only a few statements in which people say explicitly that they saw Peshmerga. What isn’t answered in the entire article are the reasons for the clearance. But for me this is exactly the point of the question. That’s why I asked the ministry of Peshmerga how those things are in their opinion. To my surprise, the Chief of Staff of Peshmerga, Jabar Yawar, said that AI never confronted them with this accusations and never asked for a statement. I know this problem to build trustworthy contacts with the ministry. But I would think that the AI would have contacts like this- if applicable AI can clear this aspect. I was also told that it would still be the clearance of booby traps and only fit for demolition houses. He also mentioned the 2 million refugees (many Arabs) who were taken in and until today taken care of. Even the Arabian Clan Chiefs of this region reject those accusations.
But then there’s still the question: Why should AI or HRW report something like this if it isn’t true? I really appreciate the work of both organizations, am myself a reporter without limits and can’t imagine that anyone in this position would willingly spread false information. We also agreed on the matter of facts when it comes to Peshmerga blowing up houses. After many visits in this area, I can’t imagine that it really happened as told in the reports. Only the reasons for the detonations and the interpretation of the statements are separating the AI and me. For a normal reader there won’t be any more information but still open questions- but unfortunately I don’t have the big dissolution of those different point of views either. I suspect that some of the sources just weren't as trustworthy as thought. But I really hope that this will be cleared up in the next days.
Peshmerga are selling Weapons of the German Army (Bundeswehr)
The second consistent story is that „nobody knows where the weapons of the German Federal Armed Forces are“. Optional also „they are going to the PKK“ or „they are all sold“. That no one knows where the weapons are was already reported a year ago. I was on the phone with the German Federal Armed Forces who denied that fact and stated that they had a good overview over their supplies. At this time I was at the location and had, in only a few hours, the permission to look at the lists about the whereabouts in the ministry of Peshmerga. Afterwards I was able to see all kinds of different weapons- without any problems. Once meeting the local people it’s really hard to believe Headlines like this. They are real patriots and they fight for the survival of their people. And they have rarely any international support. Doing something stupid with the delivered weapons in such a situation would therefore be completely stupid. The story of the WDR and the NDR that is spread since a couple of days is different in one aspect: the journalists state that they could show the serial number with the characteristic „BW“ (German Federal Armed Forces) and pictures of the weapons- it would be a single G3 gun and a P1 pistol. Not to forget that several years ago many G3 of the German Federal Armed Forces got to the Turkish army (together with AK47 and 74 of the former east-german Army). In Kurdistan (Iraq) I saw Iraqi G3 too which conditions were as good as new.
When it comes to the two weapons found on the market it’s only about two single weapons, obviously not about a general or systematic problem. It also isn’t a secret blackmarket that sells these weapons but a licensed market at which dealer and product get registered. At this matter I also asked the local agency. The secret service Asayish and the police are already on the watch for assumed thief of weapons. The minister of Peshmerga, Mustafa Sayid Qadir told me that they recounted all weapons again. The result was that five (!) guns were reported missing. For comparison: The USA are missing 200.000 weapons only in Iraq at the moment. What people often forget is that in the German Federal Armed Forces, weapons get stolen or sold too. Unfortunately criminals can always be found somewhere.
Several channels reporte that the Peshmerga wouldn’t have gotten any salary from their government. Dr. Najmaldin Karim, governor of Kirkuk was cited too. Apparently he said that the Peshmerga sold weapons of the German Federal Armed Forces due to a lack of money. He stated to me that he never gave such an interview and rejected this quotation. That the Peshmerga hasn’t seen any money for a ling time is true but: The Peshmerga are a part of the Iraqi armed forces since 2005 and must therefore be paid by the central government of Baghdad. But they don’t disburse the earned taxes to the Kurdish regional government- and therefore also no wages for soldiers. By now Baghdad is several billions in backlog. That’s why the regional government can barely compensate this. They also need to take care of over 2 million refugees at the same time.
The headlines to this topic are most of the time misleading. They seem like there’d be a general problem. But it’s only a few criminals. It also gets suggested a lot that the Peshmerga would sell their weapons. For this purpose there aren’t any proofs.
(Thanks to Lara for the Translation)