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US Discusses Directly Arming Iraqi Kurds, Sunnis

A House committee on Wednesday discussed a bill to directly arm Kurds and Sunni tribes in Iraq, deeming the groups "a country."

A House committee on Wednesday discussed a bill to directly arm Kurds and Sunni tribes in Iraq, deeming the groups "a country." 

The proposed legislation by Armed Service Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry would grant President Barack Obama’s request for $715 million for security assistance to Iraqi forces fighting the ISIL. 

It would allow 25 percent of the funds to go directly to peshmerga and Sunni forces and the remaining 75 percent would be withheld until the secretaries of state and defense can determine if the Iraqi government is fulfilling obligations for political reconciliation.

"Should they not be able to make that assessment, 60 percent of the remaining funds would be released directly to the Kurds and Sunnis," reads the bill. 

The proposal is part of a larger national defense strategy bill on the National Defense Authorization Act for 2016.

The bill also requires peshmerga, Sunni forces and the Iraqi Sunni National Guard to be deemed "a country," allowing those forces forces to directly receive aid U.S. aid, in the event the Iraqi government failed to reconcile with the all segments of Iraqi society. 

The Iraqi government and the Obama administration reacted strongly to the bill.

"Iraq rejects this bill, which violates its sovereignty and targets unity of Iraqi people," the Iraqi foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that it might cause more division in the region. 

Iraqi MP Muqtada al-Sadr said if passed, the bill would be a "starting point" of division in Iraq. 

"The U.S. and its interests will be targeted by Iraqi people that oppose such a division in the country, if the bill is passed," said al-Sadr. 

A State Department spokeswoman said the bill doesn't reflect the administration's policy in Iraq.

"The policy of this administration is clear and consistent in support of a unified Iraq, and that we've always said a unified Iraq is stronger, and it's important to the stability of the region as well," said Marie Harf. "All arms transfers must be coordinated via the sovereign central government of Iraq."

The Armed Service Committee and entire House will vote on the  bill while the Senate Armed Service Committee will submit its own version of the bill.

If the two bills meet the required number of votes in both houses of Congress, both versions will be combined into one bill and voted on again at a joint session at the Capitol before being submitted to the White House for approval.

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