By John Lee.

A new report from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says that Iraqi hydrocarbons “will either be exploited by Iran and its allies or used for Iraq’s own benefit, transforming the country into an energy export hub between the Gulf states, Turkey, and Europe. The United States has a strong strategic interest in promoting the latter outcome.

Authors James F. Jeffrey, a former US ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, and Michael Knights, who has worked extensively on energy projects inside Iraq, suggest that the US should put its weight behind a north-south energy corridor in which Iraq serves as an energy hub between ever-friendlier Gulf states and Turkey, ultimately forming an export bridge to Europe.

They add that Washington should also support the Basra-Haditha-Aqaba pipeline project to bring Iraqi oil and gas to Jordan.

The full paper can be read here.

(Source: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

By Laura Rozen for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The dealmaker: Mueller witness helped broker $4.2 billion Iraq-Russia arms deal

A Lebanese-American businessman reported to be cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe helped broker a controversial 2012 Iraq-Russia arms deal valued at $4.2 billion, Iraqi sources tell Al-Monitor.

The Russia arms deal

George Nader, 58, traveled to Moscow in 2012, telling Russian interlocutors that he represented Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the deal should be negotiated through him, according to two Iraqi sources. Nader’s role in the deal was controversial to Iraqi officials because Iraq’s minister of defense was in Russia to conduct the negotiations, and they were unaware that Maliki was working with Nader to bypass official channels.

One of the Iraqi sources, a former Iraqi official who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition that he not be named, personally witnessed Nader’s interactions with Maliki in their Moscow hotel when he accompanied Maliki to Moscow in October 2012 to sign the arms deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Nader’s career as a deal broker in Iraq ran from the mid-2000s until Maliki left office in 2014, the Iraqi sources said. Nader then became an adviser to the powerful Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. It is in that capacity that Nader’s meetings with members of the incoming Donald Trump administration in 2016-2017 — including Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former chief strategist Steve Bannon — brought Nader to Mueller’s attention.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Nader was arrested and questioned by the FBI when he landed at Washington Dulles International Airport on Jan. 17 en route to celebrate Trump’s first year in office at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. He was questioned by Mueller’s grand jury March 2 and is reported to now be cooperating with Mueller’s probe.

One line of inquiry Mueller is reported to be questioning Nader about is whether the United Arab Emirates (UAE) might have funneled money to members of the incoming Trump administration in an effort to curry influence with them, including in their dispute with Qatar.

From journalist to deal-maker

Nader’s recent career as a Middle East deal broker is both an outgrowth and departure from his past. As an editor of Middle East Insight magazine in Washington in the 1980s and 1990s, Nader interviewed President Bill Clinton and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

During this time, Nader also served as a frequent go-between in informal Syrian-Israeli talks encouraged by the Clinton administration before abruptly disappearing from the Washington scene around 2000.

“He was a reliable go-between, a facilitator,” Martin Indyk, who knew Nader when Indyk served as Clinton’s assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs and ambassador to Israel in the 1990s, told Al-Monitor. “He was not a con man.”

Nader was connected to the Hafez al-Assad regime through then-Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa and then-Syrian Ambassador to the US and current Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, Indyk said. “He was going to Israel from time to time. He set up an interview of [Syrian Foreign Minister al-Sharaa] with Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari as a confidence-building measure. George is the one that made that happen. … Then he hooked up with [Ron] Lauder. He traveled with Lauder 16 times to Damascus in 1998” in efforts to advance an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement.

“And then when the Clinton administration was gone, George was gone,” Indyk, now executive vice president of the Brookings Institution, said.

“Last time I heard from [Nader] was after the US invasion of Iraq,” journalist Hisham Melham told Al-Monitor. “He called me from Kurdistan. But why would MBZ [the crown prince] need him when he has [UAE Ambassador] Yousef Al Otaiba?”

From dabbling in Syria-Israel peace talks to Iraq postwar dealmaker

Nader appeared in Iraq in the mid-2000s, looking to translate his Rolodex of connections from his Middle East Insight days into work advising various Iraqi political clients, including some of Iraq’s new Shiite political leaders, as well as Kurdish officials.

According to Iraqi sources, Nader helped arrange meetings for the 2005 visit to Washington of leading members of an Iraqi Shiite political party with close ties to Iran, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. In 2010, Nader similarly arranged meetings for then-Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani with high-level UAE officials, including the crown prince, a second Iraqi source now living in exile told Al-Monitor. But Nader failed to win over the KRG leader, the second Iraqi source said.

“Nader got Nechirvan Barzani meetings with MBZ and [Lebanese Prime Minister] Saad Hariri,” the second Iraqi source said, adding that he advised Iraqi Kurdish interlocutors at the time to be wary of Nader.

Nader had a “knack for claiming that he had unique access to ‘mysterious’ persons,” the second Iraqi source said. “This way he would be able to latch on from one new confidant to another.”

By 2012, Nader had forged close ties with the Iraqi prime minister and Maliki’s son and deputy chief of staff, Ahmed Maliki, Iraqi sources said. Nader had worked with the younger Maliki on power generation projects, the former Iraqi official said. The relationship that Nader forged with Maliki’s son apparently brought Nader into the father’s inner circle when the huge Russian arms deal was being negotiated.

In August 2012, Iraq’s Minister of Defense Saadoun al-Dulaimi spent 24 days in Moscow to finalize negotiations for the $4.2 billion Russian arms deal. But during the negotiations, the former Iraqi official told Al-Monitor that he received a message from former Russian Energy Minister Yuri Shafranik warning him that there were other people in Moscow claiming that they, and not the defense minister, were representing Maliki, and that the deal should go through them.

Eventually, on Oct. 3, 2012, Shafranik went to Baghdad to try to clarify the situation with Maliki, the former Iraqi official said. Shafranik even offered Maliki a direct communication line with Russian President Vladimir Putin to avoid confusion and leaks.

“The third of October, Yuri [Shafranik] came to Baghdad, met the prime minister and told him clearly that ‘Mr. Putin is suggesting direct relations between you and him to avoid any leakage and … cut any unhealthy things,’” the former Iraqi official said. “The prime minister welcomed that.”

Maliki assured the officials that he welcomed the suggestion to streamline their contacts and signaled that the confusion over who represented Baghdad in the arms deal would be resolved.

So the former Iraqi official was astonished when he accompanied Maliki to Moscow in October 2012 to sign the Russian arms deal to see Nader enter their hotel and take the elevator to Maliki’s suite.

“We were in a Radisson hotel in Moscow,” the former Iraqi official said. “And all of a sudden, George Nader came, walking very fast, entered the elevator, went up and, I saw from the screen over the elevator, went to the level where the prime minister was staying.

“When the minister of defense came down to the ground floor, I asked, did you notice George Nader? And he said yes; he saw him entering the prime minister’s suite,” the former Iraqi official said. “By that time I realized the issue is in-house. The corrupted party, which went to Moscow to represent Maliki, they are not … strange people. They are in the circle with Maliki.”

The former Iraqi official continued, “Also, while we were there we discovered new facts. I myself did not know that those people who traveled to Moscow at the end of August, that they are connected to Maliki and his son. But George Nader I knew very well. I was shocked. Then it immediately came to me — Nader’s relations with the son of Maliki.”

Over the course of the trip to Moscow, “we came to know that one of the three people who had been in Moscow presenting themselves as [Maliki’s] representative was George Nader,” the former Iraqi official said.

A call Wednesday by Al-Monitor to an attorney who represented Nader in an earlier case was not returned. A spokesman for the Iraqi Embassy said it did not have information on the matter.

The Iraqi-Russian arms deal was controversial in Iraq and long suspected to have involved corruption. In November 2012, just a month after it was signed, Iraq’s then-acting Defense Minister Dulaimi announced that the deal was canceled, “citing possible corruption in the contract,” Reuters reported.

But Maliki’s then-media adviser Ali al-Moussawi was cited by Reuters as saying that the deals would be renegotiated and any suspension of the contract was “a precautionary measure because of suspected corruption.”

From Iraq to the UAE

After the end of Maliki’s run as Iraq’s prime minister in 2014, Nader made his way to become an adviser to the Abu Dhabi crown prince. Until Trump’s election, however, he had maintained such a low profile that even several Washington consultants who have advised the Emirates said they were entirely unaware of his role.

It may now be left to Mueller to help deepen understanding of Nader’s mysterious activities and what role they may have played in influencing the Trump administration’s policies toward the Middle East.

KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani received US Ambassador to Iraq, Mr. Douglas Silliman and his accompanying delegation.

In the meeting, also attended by Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, they discussed the latest developments in the talks between Erbil and Baghdad, upcoming elections in Iraq and in the Kurdistan Region, the Kuwait International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq, and plans to encourage the private sector to participate in reconstruction.

They also discussed means that could help develop the Iraqi economy, facilitate reconstruction, and pave the way for the participation of the foreign companies in the reconstruction process.

Other topics pertaining to the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, the greater region and post-ISIS era were also discussed.

(Source: KRG)

Houston-based GTC Technology is providing a gasoline production complex project for ABG (Al Barham Group Companies) for the refining and distribution of petroleum products.

The grassroots complex will process 12,000 BPD of straight run naphtha (SRN) and untreated natural gasoline (UNG) blend feed to produce high octane gasoline meeting Euro-V specifications. The plant will be located in the city of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq and is supported by the Iraqi Oil Ministry.

The project consists of three units – a naphtha hydrotreater including a naphtha splitter, a C5/C6 isomerization unit, and a heavy naphtha reforming unit.

The project will be the first to utilize a network of three dividing wall columns (DWCs) in a single gasoline complex. The first application utilizes GT-LPG MAX®, a process developed by GTC using Uniting Wall Column (GT-UWC℠) technology which combines adsorption and distillation in the same column to optimize the overall operation and enhance C3+ recovery. The second application of DWC technology is a three-cut naphtha splitter column capable of producing three high purity fractions. The third application is a super deisohexanizer (Super DIH) combining the conventional depentanizer and deisohexanizer columns.

GT-LPG MAX® will collect and process LPG-rich streams, both vapor and liquid, from different stabilizers within the complex to produce on-spec LPG product at one central location (also within the complex) – thereby, eliminating duplicate equipment across different units. The unit will utilize GTC’s proprietary tower internals for the three DWCs as well as specialty heat transfer equipment to maximize productivity and minimize plot space.

Ilya L. Aranovich (pictured), GTC Licensing Manager, said:

We are pleased to work with ABG to provide our full suite of naphtha processing technology and advanced distillation expertise.

“We are confident that ABG will enjoy the robust, reliable performance of the hydrotreating, isomerization and reforming process designs which are optimized using the latest advanced distillation integrated solutions to maximize the return on investment of the project.

“We are excited to extend our track record of providing leading-edge solutions to improve the economics of naphtha processing facilities in the Middle East and around the world.”

(Source: GTC Technology)

Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve and its partners continued to strike Islamic State of Iraq and Syria targets in designated parts of Syria and Iraq between Feb. 23-March 1, conducting 23 strikes consisting of 35 engagements, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported.

Strikes in Syria

Yesterday in Syria, coalition military forces conducted two strikes consisting of two engagements against ISIS targets near Abu Kamal. The strikes destroyed an ISIS motorcycle and two weapons caches.

On Feb. 28, coalition military forces conducted three strikes consisting of four engagements against ISIS targets near Abu Kamal. The strikes engaged two ISIS tactical units and destroyed an ISIS supply route and an ISIS-held building.

On Feb. 27, coalition military forces conducted four strikes consisting of five engagements against ISIS targets near Abu Kamal. The strikes engaged an ISIS tactical unit, destroyed an ISIS vehicle and a supply route and damaged a unmanned aerial vehicle.

On Feb. 26, coalition military forces conducted three strikes consisting of seven engagements against ISIS targets near Abu Kamal. The strikes engaged an ISIS tactical unit, destroyed an ISIS supply route and damaged a mortar.

On Feb. 25, coalition military forces conducted a strikes consistin of two engagements against ISIS targets near Abu Kamal. The strikes engaged an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed three fighting positions.

On Feb. 24, coalition military forces conducted two strikes consisting of two engagements against ISIS targets near Abu Kamal. The strikes engaged two ISIS tactical units and destroyed a heavy machine gun and a fighting position.

On Feb. 23, coalition military forces conducted two strikes consisting of three engagements against ISIS targets:

  • Near Abu Kamal, a strike destroyed a fighting position.
  • Near Shadaddi, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit and an improvised explosive device facility.

Strikes in Iraq

There were no reported strikes in Iraq on Feb. 28-March 1.

On Feb. 27, coalition military forces conducted two strikes consisting of two engagements against ISIS targets:

  • Near Kirkuk, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit.
  • Near Qayyara, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed two ISIS-held buildings.

There were no reported strikes in Iraq on Feb. 26.

On Feb. 25, coalition military forces conducted two strikes consisting of two engagements against ISIS targets:

  • Near Asad, a strike destroyed an ISIS-held cave.
  • Near Rutbah, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed two ISIS vehicles and a weapons cache.

On Feb. 24, coalition military forces conducted a strike consisting of one engagement against ISIS targets near Hawijah. The strike destroyed an ISIS weapons cache.

On Feb. 23, coalition military forces conducted a strike consisting of one engagement against ISIS targets near Hawijah. The strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit.

Additional Strikes in Iraq

On Feb. 22, coalition military forces conducted a strike consisting of three engagements against ISIS targets near Hawijah. The strikes engaged an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed an ISIS watercraft.

Part of Operation Inherent Resolve

These strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The destruction of ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria also further limits the group’s ability to project terror and conduct external operations throughout the region and the rest of the world, task force officials said.

The list above contains all strikes conducted by fighter, attack, bomber, rotary-wing or remotely piloted aircraft; rocket-propelled artillery; and ground-based tactical artillery, officials noted.

A strike, as defined by the coalition, refers to one or more kinetic engagements that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single or cumulative effect.

For example, task force officials explained, a single aircraft delivering a single weapon against a lone ISIS vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against a group of ISIS-held buildings and weapon systems in a compound, having the cumulative effect of making that facility harder or impossible to use. Strike assessments are based on initial reports and may be refined, officials said.

The task force does not report the number or type of aircraft employed in a strike, the number of munitions dropped in each strike, or the number of individual munition impact points against a target.

(Source: US Dept of Defense)

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has announced the opening of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program competition for 2019-2021.

This academic exchange program is funded by the U.S.  Department of State and was initiated by U.S. Senator William J. Fulbright in 1946 to increase international educational exchange between Americans and citizens of more than 150 countries worldwide.

The Fulbright Foreign Student Program provides Iraqi students and young professionals the opportunity to pursue graduate-level study in the United States. The award includes funding for tuition and required fees; a book, equipment, and travel allowance; a monthly stipend for room & board; and also a supplemental health and accident coverage plan.

Please note that applicants may apply in most fields of study, including humanities, social science, science, technology, and engineering.  However, master’s programs related to clinical studies, such as medicine and nursing, are not permitted.

In addition to academic training, Fulbright scholarships also provide transformative cultural exchange experiences. As Fulbright participants, Iraqi students will have the unique opportunity to experience life in the United States and also share Iraq’s unique culture and traditions with Americans.

Program participants will be selected through a merit-based, open competition in which leadership potential, academic excellence and ability to adjust to life in the United States are all considered. Prospective students may apply by following the online application instructions at the U.S. Embassy’s website: .

Applications for the 2019-2021 Fulbright Foreign Student Program are being accepted now through May 1, 2018.

Applicants must:

  • Be Iraqi citizens.
  • U.S. citizens or green card holders are not eligible to apply.
  • Reside in country throughout the application, selection and placement process.
  • Have two years of professional work experience.
  • Hold a Bachelor’s degree at the time of the program start date from an accredited institution recognized by the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Baghdad.
  • Possess a strong academic background.
  • Be proficient in English and/or able to attend a Long-Term English (LTE) program prior to the start of the study program.

Preference will be given to students who have little or no previous experience studying or living in the United States. Those with disabilities are encouraged to apply.

(Source: U.S. Embassy in Baghdad)

Iraqis Continue Security, Clearance Operations In Territory Once Held by ISIS

With U.S.-led coalition forces in a supporting role, Iraqi security forces continue security and clearance operations in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the director of Pentagon Press Operations, Army Col. Robert Manning told reporters today.

“In Baghdad, [Iraqi] patrol presence continues to lower lawlessness and criminal activity in that area,” he said.

In the Middle Euphrates River Valley, Iraqi forces destroyed an ISIS-held cave network and weapons cache, the colonel said.

“In Kirkuk, an ISIS suicide bomber attack on a government building was foiled by the [Iraqis], resulting in the bomber’s vest detonating, killing the terrorist but not injuring any friendly forces or civilians,” Manning said.

Strikes Near Rutbah

During the past 72 hours, U.S.-led coalition dynamic strikes engaged ISIS targets near Rutbah in Anbar province, the colonel said, adding that the strikes resulted in several enemies killed and the destruction of two pickup trucks, a weapons cache and an encampment.

In Syria, Manning said, Syrian Democratic Forces continue to achieve gains against ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley, and also fortified defensive positions in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.

(Source: US Dept of Defense)

The United States congratulates the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi Air Force on the reopening of its Air Force Air Academy, which took place at Balad Air Force Base today.

The United States and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS will support the new Academy by providing mentoring to the Academy’s first class of cadets on topics ranging from aviation safety and flight discipline to officer professional development and familiarity with aircraft technical orders.

Following Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi’s announcement in December 2017 on the full liberation of Iraqi territory from ISIS, the Iraqi government took steps to reopen the Academy’s ahead of schedule, establishing an expeditionary training site at Balad Air Force Base until a final main campus is established.

“In coordination with the Iraqi government, the Coalition will help establish standardized upgrade training programs with deliberate development of aviation airmen and maintenance technicians,” said Brig Gen. Andrew Croft, Director of the Coalition Aviation Advisory and Training Team. “Air advisors with the Coalition will also work with these cadets and future students to provide conversational English practice as part of their training.”

The Iraqi Air Force Air Academy will focus on developing maintenance officers as well as fighter, reconnaissance, and mobility pilots. Iraqi aviators will train on the Cessna 172, Cessna 208, T-6, and T-50 aircraft.

The first 40 cadets will begin their coursework in March. Upon graduation from the Academy, pilots will focus on specialized training at various locations in Iraq.

Through this support to the Government of Iraq, the United States and the Coalition are helping to build a sustainable aviation institution for Iraq’s future security and defense needs. The Academy is another step in Iraq rebuilding its military institutions, and will give them a structure that will continue the professionalization of their Air Force.

(Source: US Embassy in Baghdad)

The owner and chief executive officer of an armored vehicle company was sentenced today to 70 months in prison for his role in orchestrating a scheme to defraud the United States by providing the U.S. Department of Defense with armored gun trucks that did not meet ballistic and blast protection requirements set out in the company’s contracts with the United States.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Rick A. Mountcastle of the Western District of Virginia, Special Agent in Charge Adam S. Lee of the FBI’s Richmond, Virginia, Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Craig Jr. of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) Mid-Atlantic Field Office made the announcement.

William Whyte, 72, of King City, Ontario, the owner and CEO of Armet Armored Vehicles of Danville, Virginia, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jackson L. Kiser of the Western District of Virginia, who also ordered Whyte to serve three years of supervised release following his prison sentence and to pay restitution in the amount of $2,019,454.36.

On Oct. 9, 2017, after a two-week trial, Whyte was found guilty of three counts of major fraud against the United States, three counts of wire fraud and three counts of criminal false claims.  Whyte was charged by an indictment in July 2012.

Evidence at trial demonstrated that Whyte executed a scheme to defraud the United States by providing armored gun trucks that were deliberately under-armored.  Armet contracted to provide armored gun trucks for use by the United States and its allies as part of the efforts to rebuild Iraq in 2005.

Despite providing armored gun trucks that did not meet contractual specifications, Whyte and his employees represented that the armored gun trucks were adequately armored in accordance with the contract, the evidence showed.  Armet was paid over $2 million over the course of the scheme, the evidence showed.

The case was investigated by the FBI and DCIS.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Caitlin Cottingham of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Carlton of the Western District of Virginia.

(Source: US Dept of Justice)

By Jack Detsch for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The Trump administration’s budget proposal for next fiscal year does not include peshmerga salaries even as the Pentagon aims to continue training the Kurdish force.

The Department of Defense had requested $365 million in stipends for the year that ends Sept. 30 but did not spend the money after negotiations to extend an expiring memorandum of understanding broke down in September. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had agreed to pay the peshmerga wages in October, but a US Inspector General report released earlier this month said the Kurdish fighters still hadn’t been paid

“Those documents do not specifically refer to training/stipends for the peshmerga,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Al-Monitor in an email today. Lawmakers have yet to weigh in on the $716 billion Pentagon request for fiscal year 2019.

Instead, President Donald Trump’s budget request for the year starting Oct. 1 seeks $850 million to train and equip Iraqi troops with a focus on bolstering the Iraqi Security Forces with Ranger brigades. As part of that amount, the peshmerga force of about 150,000 could still be eligible for up to $290 million in so-called operational sustainment funds aimed at preventing the Iraqi government from becoming more reliant on Iran and Russia, according to budget language.

The shift in focus by the United States comes as the Iraqi Kurds have been marginalized by Baghdad following the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) controversial independence vote in September. As a result, US and peshmerga officials are at odds over how much assistance is actually getting through to Erbil since Baghdad has to sign off on any weapons shipments to the Kurdish troops.

“Right now, the Iraqis are stopping a lot of stuff,” said Michael Knights, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Though the Pentagon acknowledges that the peshmerga proved helpful to the US-backed coalition until the beginning of the Mosul fight in 2016, the Kurdish force has faced difficulties in assimilating US equipment, experts say, in part because the peshmerga relies on its own training structures and tactical formations. The US-led coalition said in December that 5,200 American advisers in Iraq had stopped advising the peshmerga as the Pentagon appears set to draw down its presence.

Over the past year, the United States also sold the Iraqi government nearly $300 million worth of military equipment to outfit two infantry brigades with M-16 rifles, .50 caliber machine guns, up-armored Humvees and mine-resistant vehicles. That was cut down from an initial effort to outfit four peshmerga brigades — each typically between 4,000 to 8,000 troops — including a border unit.

“Peshmerga brigades didn’t fit a US brigade set,” Knights told Al-Monitor. “A lot of the German equipment went everywhere. Gucci German assault rifles got given to commanders and bodyguards.”

The US-led force has trained 26,000 peshmerga over the course of the anti-IS mission that began in 2014. Even though the funding stream appears to be in a winnowing process, the United States and the KRG remain engaged in high-level dialogues, with the peshmerga still playing an important role as the Pentagon aims to curb the influence of Iran-backed Shiite militias that are enmeshed in the Iraqi Security Forces.

In meetings in Washington in November, the head of the KRG’s Department of Foreign Relations called for the United States to do more to encourage talks with Baghdad and keep tenuous supply lines open on the border, including the Fish Khabur crossing, a critical lifeline for the 2,000 US troops serving in Syria.

“We already have border guards,” Falah Mustafa told Al-Monitor in a November interview. “Border guards are wearing Iraqi uniforms, they are on the payroll of the Iraqi government, they are getting instructions and directives from the Iraqi government in Baghdad.”

(Picure Credit: David B. Gleason)