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Flag of Kurdistan.png
The flag of Kurdistan which Peshmerga use as their emblem.
Active Early 1920s–present
Allegiance Iraqi Kurdistan
Branch Army
Size 150,000–200,000[1][2][3]
Headquarters Erbil (Hewlêr)
March Ey Reqîb
("O Enemy!")
Engagements World War I
- The Republic of Kurdistan War
- The First Kurdish-Iraqi War
- The Second Kurdish-Iraqi War
- Iran-Iraq War
- Persian Gulf War
- Iraq War
- Kurdistan Islamist Conflict
- War on Terror
- Iraqi insurgency (2011–present)
- Other battles and wars
Commander-in-Chief Masoud Barzani
Minister of Peshmerga Affairs Mustafa Qadir Mustafa Aziz
Kosrat Rasul Ali
Shaikh Said Piran
Ali Askari
Mustafa Faraj
Mustafa Barzani
Qazi Muhammad
İhsan Nuri Pasha
Jalal Talabani
Mama Risha
Mahmoud Othman
Idris Barzani

Peshmerga (Kurdish: پێشمەرگە Pêşmerge, Kurdish pronunciation [pɛʃmærˈɡæ]; literally "one who confronts death") are the largely improvised military forces of Iraqi Kurdistan.[4][5] The overall formal head of the peshmerga is the President of Iraqi Kurdistan. The peshmerga force itself is largely divided and controlled separately by the Democratic Party of Kurdistan and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, although both pledge allegiance to the Kurdistan Regional Government. Efforts are under way to gather the entire force under the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs.[6] Peshmerga forces are responsible for defending the land, people and institutions of the Kurdistan Region.[7]

Because the Iraqi Army is forbidden by law from entering Iraqi Kurdistan,[8][9] the Peshmerga along with other kurdish security subsidiaries, are responsible for the security of the Kurdish Region.[10][11][12] These subsidiaries include Asayish (official intelligence agency), Parastin u Zanyarî (assisting intelligence agency) and the Zeravani (millitary police).

In 2003 during the Iraq War, the peshmerga are said to have played a key role in the mission to capture Saddam Hussein.[13][14] In 2004 peshmerga forces captured al-Qaeda key figure Hassan Ghul who revealed the identity of Osama Bin Laden's messenger, which eventually led to Operation Neptune Spear and the death of Osama Bin Laden.[15][16]

Following an unexpected large-scale ISIS offensive against Iraqi Kurdistan in August 2014, peshmerga and other kurdish forces from neighbouring countries have been at an all-out-war against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. As of January 2015, around 800 peshmerga have been killed.[17]


Main article: History of Peshmerga
Barzani was the primary political and millitary leader of the Kurdish cause, until his death in 1979

The Kurdish warrior tradition of rebellion has existed for thousands of years along with aspirations for independence, and early Kurdish warriors fought against the various Persian empires, the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire.[18] However the term itself was only coined in the mid 20th century by the late Kurdish writer Ibrahim Ahmad.[19] Historically the peshmerga existed only as guerilla organizations, but under the self-declared Republic of Mahabad (1946-1947), the Peshmerga became the official army of the republic led by Mustafa Barzani.[20][21] After the fall of the republic and the execution of head of state, Qazi Muhammad, peshmerga forces reemerged as guerilla organizations that would go on to fight the Iranian and Iraqi governments for the remainder of the century.[22]

In Iraq, most of these peshmerga were led by Mustafa Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.[21] In 1975 the peshmerga were defeated in the Second Iraqi-Kurdish War. Jalal Talabani, a leading member of the KDP, left the same year to to revitalize the resistance and founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.[23] This event created the baseline for the political discontent between the KDP and PUK, that to this day divides peshmerga forces and much of Kurdish society in Iraqi Kurdistan.

After Mustafa Barzani's death, his son Masoud Barzani took his position.[21] As tension increased between KDP and PUK, most peshmerga fought to keep a region under their own party's control, while also fighting off Iraqi Army incursions. Following the First Persian Gulf War, Iraqi Kurdistan fell into a state of civil war between the two major Kurdish parties, the KDP and the PUK, and peshmerga forces were used to fight each other. The civil war officially ended in September 1998, when Barzani and Talabani signed the Washington Agreement establishing a formal peace treaty.[24] In the agreement, the parties agreed to share revenue, share power, deny the use of northern Iraq to the PKK, and not allow Iraqi troops into the Kurdish regions. By then, around 5,000 Kurds had been killed from both sides, and many more were evicted for being on the wrong side.[25] In the years after, tension remained high, but both parties moved towards each other and in 2003 they both took part in the overthrowing of the Saddam regime as part of the Iraq War. They remained on good terms, forming what is now Iraqi Kurdistan. Unlike other millitia forces, the peshmerga were never prohibited by Iraqi law.[26]


Peshmerga special unit near the Syrian border on June 23, 2014

The exact size of peshmerga forces is unknown as there are different estimates ranging from as few as 80,000 all the way up to 250,000.[27] These forces are organized into 36 millitary brigades, controlled separately with little to no inter-coordination, by the KDP, PUK and Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs.[28]

The peshmerga force, like much of Iraqi Kurdistan, is plagued by frequent allegations of corruption, partisanship, nepotism and fraud.[29][30][31][32][33][34] These allegations include giving high-ranking millitary positions only to fellow clansmen and/or party members, fighting for political parties rather than the kurdish people as a whole, and the use of "ghost soldiers" to gain peshmerga benefits and salary. Much of this is due to the fact that peshmerga forces are still unofficially divided along the main party lines, although with arguably less tension than during the Kurdish Civil War. Peshmerga with ties to the Kurdistan Democratic Party are responsible for the Dohuk Governorate and Arbil Governorate, while those with ties to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan oversee the security in Sulaymaniyah Governorate.[35] Following the June 2014 ISIS invasion of Iraq and the retreat of Iraqi Army, the KRG filled the void and took control of almost all disputed areas.[36] These areas have since also been divided between KDP and PUK peshmerga.

As a result of the split nature of the peshmerga force, there is not a central command center in charge of the entire force, and peshmerga units instead follow separate millitary hierarchies depending on political allegiance.[37] Efforts have since been made to minimize partisanship, including the banning of partisan flags from the battlefield.[38] A political reform is also currently underway to place the entire force under the single command of the regional government.[6] As of January 2015, 12 out of the 36 brigades have reportedly been put under the controle of the KRG, with the remaining 70% of peshmerga forces still controlled by the regions' two main parties.[39]

Due to the limited funding and the vast size of the peshmerga forces, the KRG has long planned to greatly downsize its forces from large numbers of low-quality forces to a smaller but much more effective and well-trained force.[40][41] Consequently in 2009 the KRG and Baghdad engaged in discussions about incorporating parts of the peshmerga forces into the Iraqi Army, in what would be the 15'th and 16'th Iraqi Army divisions.[42][43] However after increasing tension between Erbil and Baghdad regarding the disputed areas, the transfer was largely put on ice. Some peshmerga were already transferred but reportedly deserted again, and there are allegations that former peshmerga forces remain loyal to the KRG rather than their Iraqi chain of command.[44][45]

While the majority of the peshmerga forces are Muslims, there are also Christian and Yezidi units fighting under the direction of peshmerga forces.[46][47]

Although almost entirely made up of men, peshmerga forces have been known to include small numbers of women since its formation, and currently have 600 women in their ranks.[48] These female peshmerga have so far been refused acces to the frontline, and are mostly used in logistics and management positions.[49]

As of January 2015 the Peshmerga forces are still divided amongst three entities. Namely the ministry of Peshmerga affairs, KDP and PUK

  • 15 Regional Guard Brigades (RGB) are under the command of the ministry of Peshmerga.

The units under command of KDP politburo, unoficially called Yakray 80:

  1. Hezakanî Gulan (Gulan Forces) an elite force tasked with defending the president and the presidental compund.
  2. Hezakanî Barzan (Barzan Forces) another brigade formation, consisting of men recruited from the presidents own clan.
  3. Ten additional brigades, constitute a 20.000 strong force [50]
  4. Zerevanî units. Administratively supported by the ministry interior.

The units under command of PUK politburo:

  1. Dizha Tiror (Counterterrorism Group) an elite anti-terror formation.
  2. Two presidental brigades, tasked with defending the Iraqi president.
  3. Hezekanî Kosrat Rasul, another brigades tasked with defending the Vice-president.
  4. 15 brigades consisting of men loyal to PUK. [51]


Peshmerga on a T-55-Tank outside Kirkuk in June 2014

The peshmerga arsenal is limited and confined by restrictions since the Kurdish Region is not an independent state. Due to disputes between the KRG and the Iraqi government, arms flow from Baghdad to Iraqi Kurdistan has been almost nonexistent, as Baghdad fears kurdish aspirations for independence.[52][53] Peshmerga forces instead largely rely on old arms captured from the old Iraqi Army during the 2003 U.S. Invasion of Iraq, in which peshmerga forces were active. Before that, some weapons were also captured during the 1991 Iraqi uprisings.[54] Following the retreat of the new Iraqi Army during the June 2014 ISIS offensive, peshmerga forces reportedly again managed to get hold on some weapons left behind by the Iraqi Army.[55] Since August 2014, peshmerga forces have also captured some weapons from ISIS.[56]

After the ISIS offensive of August 2014, multiple governments decided to arm the peshmerga with some light weaponry such as light arms, night goggles and ammunition.[57][58][59] However Kurdish officials and peshmerga have stressed that what they need the most is heavy weapons such as tanks, armoured vehicles and helicopters. They also stress that Baghdad is blocking even light weaponry from reaching the KRG, emphasizing the need for weapons to be sent directly to the KRG and not through Baghdad.[60][61][62][63]

Small arms[edit]

Name Country of origin Type Caliber Notes
NATO Standard
Walther P1  Germany Pistol 9x19mm 8000 supplied by Germany[64]
MP5  Germany Submachine Gun 9x19mm
M4A1  United States Carbine 5.56×45mm
G36[65]  Germany Assault rifle 5.56×45mm 8000 supplied by Germany[64]
M16A2[66]  United States Assault rifle 5.56×45mm
Heckler & Koch G3  Germany Battle rifle 7.62×51mm 8000 supplied by Germany[64]
Rheinmetall MG 3[65]  Germany General-purpose machine gun 7.62×51mm 40 supplied by Germany
Beretta MG 42/59  Italy General-purpose machine gun 7.62×51mm 100 supplied by Italy [67]
M2 Browning  United States Heavy machine gun 12.7×99mm +100 supplied by Italy, France and the United Kingdom
M-40  United States Sniper rifle 7.62×51mm
M-24  United States Sniper rifle 7.62×51mm
Barrett M82A1  United States Sniper rifle 12.7×99mm
Soviet Standard
Makarov pistol  Soviet Union Pistol 9×18mm
Zastava M92  Serbia Carbine 7.62×39mm
AK-47  Soviet Union Assault rifle 7.62×39mm Standard Assault Rifle (along with AKM) of the Peshmerga
AKM  Soviet Union Assault rifle 7.62×39mm Standard Assault Rifle (along with AK-47) of the Peshmerga
RPK  Soviet Union General-purpose machine gun 7.62×39mm
PK  Soviet Union General-purpose machine gun 7.62×54mmR
DShK  Soviet Union Heavy machine gun 12.7×108mm
Tabuk Sniper Rifle  Iraq Sniper rifle 7.62×39mm
SVD Dragunov  Soviet Union Sniper rifle 7.62×54mmR
Dragunov SVU  Russia Sniper rifle 7.62×54mmR
Zastava M91  FR Yugoslavia Sniper rifle 7.62×54mmR
Zastava M93 Black Arrow  Serbia Anti-materiel rifle 12.7×108mm

Anti-tank weaponry[edit]

Name Country of origin Type Caliber Notes
RPG-7  Soviet Union Rocket-propelled grenade 40mm
RB M57  Yugoslavia Rocket-propelled grenade 44mm
Panzerfaust 3[65]  Germany Rocket-propelled grenade 60mm 200 Units with 2,500 missiles.[68]
AT4  Sweden /  United States Anti-tank weapon 84mm
Carl Gustaf[64]  Sweden /  Germany Anti-tank weapon 84mm 40 Units with 1,000 Shells.
HJ-8[69]  People's Republic of China Anti-tank missile 120mm
BGM-71 TOW  United States Anti-tank missile 152mm
MILAN[70]  France /  Germany Anti-tank missile 115mm 30 Units with 500 missiles.
M40 recoilless rifle[71]  United States Recoilless Rifle 106mm


Name Country of origin Type Caliber
Vasilek  Soviet Union Mobile Mortar 82mm
M224  United States Mortar 60mm
M252  United Kingdom Mortar 81mm
M-29  United States Mortar 81mm
M1938 mortar  Soviet Union Mortar 120mm

Man-portable air-defence system[edit]

Name Country of origin Type Caliber
SA-7 Grail  Soviet Union MANPADS 72 mm
SA-16 Gimlet  Soviet Union MANPADS 72 mm
SA-18 Grouse  Soviet Union MANPADS 72 mm


Armoured vehicles[edit]

Name Country of origin Type Quantity Notes
T-72[72][73]  Soviet Union Main battle tank < 30 Taken during 2003 Iraq War.
T-62  Soviet Union Main battle tank 150-170 100–120 with PUK peshmerga forces, and 50 with KDP peshmerga forces.[74] Ammo is Limited.
T-54/T-55[72]  Soviet Union Main battle tank 95/215 95 in active service as of 2011, and 120 in need of an overhaul.[74]
PT-76  Soviet Union Light tank < 70 Taken during 2003 Iraq War.
BMP-1  Soviet Union Infantry fighting vehicle < 30 Taken during 2003 Iraq War.
MT-LB  Soviet Union Armoured personnel carrier < 80 Taken during 2003 Iraq War.
Dingo  Germany Armoured personnel carrier 5 Delivered by Germany [75]
ILAV MRAP  United States Armoured personnel carrier 45 + 30-40 was seized from the deserting Iraqi Army. Delivered by USA
M1117  United States Armored Car < 45 was seized from the deserting Iraqi Army.
BRDM-2  Soviet Union Armored Car < 10 Taken during 2003 Iraq War.

Logistics and utility vehicles[edit]

Name Country of origin Type Number Notes
Ural-5323  Russia Heavy Transport (8x8 10-tons)
Mack-Granite Axle Back  United States Heavy Transport (4x6 10-tons) 25-40 Purchased from US originally for civilian use.
Mercedes-Benz Atego  Germany Medium Transport (4x4 5-tons) 5-25 Purchased from Germany.
GAZ-33097  Russia Light Transport (4x4 2-tons)
GAZ-66  Soviet Union Light Transport (4x4 2-tons)
UNIMOG  Germany Light Transport (4x4 2-tons) 20 Delivered by Germany.
Humvee[76]  United States Light Utility Vehicle
LKW Wolf  Germany Light Utility Vehicle 60 (includes 20 lightly armored type) Delivered by Germany.
Toyota Landcruiser[71]  Japan Light Utility Vehicle


Name Country of origin Type
2S1  Soviet Union Self-Propelled Artillery
BM-21 Grad  Soviet Union Multiple rocket launcher
Type 63  China Multiple rocket launcher
M-198  United States Howitzer
D-30  Soviet Union Howitzer
M-30  Soviet Union Howitzer
D-20  Soviet Union Howitzer

Anti-aircraft gun[edit]

Name Country of origin Type
20mm Mle F2  France[77] Anti-aircraft gun
ZU-23-2  Soviet Union Anti-aircraft gun
KS-30  Soviet Union Anti-aircraft gun
Type 63  China[78] Anti-aircraft gun


Name Country of origin Type Notes
Bell 206[79]  United States Utility helicopter
Bell OH-58 Kiowa[citation needed]  United States Helicopter
Sikorsky S-333[80][81][82]  United States Utility helicopter
Bell UH-1[79]  United States Utility helicopter Kurdistan Regional Government helicopter
MD 530F[79]  United States Utility helicopter 12 ordered
MD 902 Explorer[79]  United States Utility helicopter 2 ordered
Mil Mi-8[79]  Soviet Union Transport helicopter
Mil Mi-17[79]  Soviet Union Transport helicopter 2 borrowed from Iraq
Eurocopter EC120 Colibri[79]  France Utility helicopter
Eurocopter EC135[79]  Germany Utility helicopter

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Profile: Who are the Peshmerga? BBC News. Retrieved 19 December 2014.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ From the Kurdish pêş (پێش) "before" and merg مەرگ "death".
  5. ^ Many Kurds will say that all Kurds willing to fight for their rights are Peshmerga.
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Ambinder, Marc. "How the CIA really caught Bin Laden's trail". 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "New Statesman". Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ a b c
  22. ^ Meiselas, Susan. "Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History". University of Chicago Press, 2008
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^ Chapman, Dennis. Security Forces of Kurdistan Regional Government, Us Army War College. 2009, page. 3.
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^'th%20and%2016'th%20division%20peshmerga&f=false
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^ Chapman, Dennis. Security Forces of Kurdistan Regional Government, Us Army War College. 2009, page. 112.
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^
  56. ^
  57. ^ Nicholas Watt. "UK prepares to supply arms directly to Kurdish forces fighting Isis". the Guardian. Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  58. ^ "Seven western states join US to arm Iraqi Kurdistan: Pentagon". Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  59. ^
  60. ^
  61. ^
  62. ^
  63. ^
  64. ^ a b c d "ISIS-terror im Nordirak". August 2014. Retrieved 2014-09-08. 
  65. ^ a b c
  66. ^ U.S. Department of Defense, "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" (June 2007) p. 30, 39
  67. ^
  68. ^ [1][dead link]
  69. ^ "Peshmerga use HJ-8". 18 December 2014. 
  70. ^ "Irak: Deutschland schickt Kurden Panzerabwehrraketen". Spiegel Online (in German). 31 August 2014. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  71. ^ a b "Peshmerga Forces Recruit Christian Fighters, says Local Official". Rudaw. Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  72. ^ a b Middle East Military Balance[dead link]
  73. ^ "Iraq’s T-72s: Payment Received". 2005-11-14. Retrieved 2014-08-18. 
  74. ^ a b "shex ja3far puk". YouTube. Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  75. ^ "German reference". 2014-08-31. Retrieved 2014-08-18. 
  76. ^ Holdanwicz, Grzegorz. "Iraqi armed forces get armoured vehicles". Jane's Defence Weekly
  77. ^ "French Giat 53T2 20mm Mle F2 guns delivered to Kurdistan". Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  78. ^ "Type 63 Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun System". Retrieved 4 August 2014. 
  79. ^ a b c d e f g h "Southern Kurdistan army". 
  80. ^ "hurriyet - Kurdish authority buying 16 US-built helicopters from Saudi firm". 2006-07-19. Retrieved 2014-08-18. 
  81. ^ "Contract to Buy 16 Helicopters Signed by Kurdistan R. Govt. - Media monitor". Retrieved 2014-08-18. 
  82. ^ By IWPR - Iraqi Press Monitor. "Contract to Buy 16 Helicopters Signed - Institute for War and Peace Reporting - P224". Retrieved 2014-08-18. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Chapman, Dennis P., Lieutenant Colonel USA, Security Forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers, 2011. ISSN 0026-3141 Reviewed by Michael M. Gunter in Middle East Affairs, Vol. 65, No. 3, Summer 2011.

External links[edit]