Germany to stop training Kurdish peshmerga fighters in Iraq

Germany will temporarily stop training Kurdish peshmerga forces in Iraq in the wake of the conflict between Baghdad and the Kurds. Germany has been a major partner of the peshmerga, providing them weapons and training.

Germany said on Wednesday it will halt its training mission in northern Iraq as it seeks unity in a country that has seen tensions soar between the government and the Kurds in the past few days.

Germany has been a major partner of the Kurdish peshmerga forces and has supported its war efforts against the "Islamic State" (IS) since September 2014.

It has supplied 2,000 assault rifle and machine guns, as well as other weapons valued at around 90 million euros. Some 130 German soldiers are stationed in Erbil (in picture above) to train the Kurdish fighters.

"We had agreed last Friday with the foreign office to pause the training so no wrong signal would be sent," German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters on Wednesday.

Tensions have escalated between the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Kurds, two allies in the campaign against the IS jihadists, since September 25 when the Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence in a non-binding referendum.

Responding to the referendum, the Iraqi army, supported by Iranian-backed Shiite militias known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), launched an operation to push back the Kurds to positions they held in northern Iraq in June 2014, before they nearly doubled territory under their control following the collapse of Iraqi army during an IS advance.

Read more: Kirkuk: What you need to know about the Kurdish-Iraqi dispute

Kirkuk: Who's fighting in Iraq's Kurdish-controlled province?

Battle for Kirkuk

Only a few shots were fired, but Iraq's decision to send in armed forces into the Kurdish-controlled province of Kirkuk and bring it back into the fold has heightened tensions in the Middle East nation. Who's on who's side? And where is the territorial dispute going? DW takes a look at the actors and their motives.

Kirkuk: Who's fighting in Iraq's Kurdish-controlled province?

Iraq's army

In 2014, Kurdish forces went into Kirkuk to fill in the void left behind after Iraq's army collapsed from the "Islamic State's" military campaign. But three years later, the Iraqi military has been rebuilt and ridden a wave of victories against the notorious militant group. They're the main instrument of hard power for the Iraqi government as Baghdad fights for control of the oil-rich province.

Kirkuk: Who's fighting in Iraq's Kurdish-controlled province?

Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization Units

Even during the liberation of Mosul, the Iraqi army was backed by the Popular Mobilization Units – an alliance of mostly Shiite militias. The Popular Mobilization Units joined the Iraqi army when it advanced on Kurdish-controlled positions in and around the city of Kirkuk. Kurdish politicians have lashed at the units, saying they're serving Iran's goal to destabilize the region.

Kirkuk: Who's fighting in Iraq's Kurdish-controlled province?

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is one of the main opposition political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan. Since the first Gulf War, the PUK has jointly administered Iraqi Kurdistan with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Both the PUK and KDP have their own peshmerga forces. In Kirkuk, PUK peshmerga fled the city, leaving it virtually unopposed to Iraqi forces.

Kirkuk: Who's fighting in Iraq's Kurdish-controlled province?

Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani is the ruling political party in Iraqi Kurdistan's parliament. Despite warnings from the central government, it was the KDP's Barzani who vowed to move forward on the independence referendum, infuriating Baghdad. KDP peshmerga fighters – like the PUK fighters – fled Kirkuk when Iraqi forces advanced on the city.

Kirkuk: Who's fighting in Iraq's Kurdish-controlled province?

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) was born in the 1970s out of an ambitious dream to create a Marxist-Leninist state in the Middle East to be called Kurdistan. In the 1980s, the group launched a bloody insurgency against the state of Turkey. While considered unwelcome in Iraq, the PKK has links with Iraq's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) – and likely appeared in Kirkuk to back them.

Germany had warned the Kurds against holding the "one-sided" referendum and had called on the two sides to avoid any steps that could lead to a further escalation of the situation.

A government spokesman on Wednesday said the suspension of the training was temporary and any decision on resuming it will be subject to daily examination of the situation in Iraq, which faces the possibility of a new civil war.

Kurdish forces withdraw

Iraqi government forces said on Wednesday they had successfully confined the Kurds to their long-standing three provinces in northern Iraq that make up the constitutionally recognized autonomous Kurdistan region. 

Related Subjects

On Monday, Iraq's Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi ordered troops and PMU forces to retake Kirkuk and reassert Baghdad's control over the oil-rich province.

Baghdad government forces then on Tuesday retook control of all of Nineveh province, which includes the major city of Mosul, after the Peshmerga pulled back. The Mosul hydro-electric dam, northwest of the city, was among the positions recaptured.

"As of today we reversed the clock back to 2014," the Iraqi army commander, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters news agency.

The largely bloodless military advance has dealt a major blow to the finances of the autonomous Kurdish region, which had derived much of its revenues from exports of oil from Kirkuk's rich oil and gas resources.

ap/rc (Reuters, dpa, AFP)