Converted tank seized from ISIS part of Kurds' makeshift arsenal against terrorists

The Kurds are enjoying increasing success against ISIS, and not only are they doing it without the U.S. weapons they seek, they often find themselves going up against American-made equipment.

In Syria, Kurdish Peshmerga forces captured the key city of Tal Abyad from ISIS on Monday, the latest in a string of Kurdish victories over the black-clad jihadist army in Iraq and Syria. Leaders of the ethnic army told recently that they could be even more effective if U.S. weapons went to them instead of the enemy, which has seized massive amounts of American weaponry from the Iraqi forces it has defeated in battle.

“We are fighting for all the world, for all civilization.”

— Peshmerga Gen. Sirwan Barzani

“What America has given to Iraq in the past, what Iraq borrowed from Russia and U.S., ISIS has,” said Peshmerga commander Kemal Kerkuki. “They are using many, many, mines, C4, TNT, snipers, mortars; they have Humvees, they have tanks, they have different kinds of weapons.”

U.S. military aid is distributed through Baghdad, which has an arm’s length relationship with the semi-autonomous Kurds in the north. Without direct aid, the Kurds have largely made do with aging equipment and weapons they seize from ISIS.

“The weapons of [ISIS] are 10 times that of the Peshmerga,” said Maj. Gen. Sirwan Barzani, another Kurdish commander whose forces are based southwest of Erbil.

Much of the weaponry the Peshmerga are currently using consists of old, worn-out munitions from the Iran-Iraq war more than 30 years ago.

One other weapon the Peshmerga have is improvisation. With no anti-mine vehicle to pave their way into ISIS-held territory, Barzani had a tank captured from ISIS re-engineered to roll through mined areas where it squashes IEDS before they can harm troops. Barzani told the vehicle is crucial for making retaken land safe to once again inhabit.

Kurdish leaders have long been at odds with Baghdad, largely over their well-known desire for full autonomy. The Iraqi government has previously barred the Kurds from buying weapons, fearing that directly arming them could strengthen the Kurdish separation movement and undermine Baghdad’s desire for national unity.

Kurds say now is the time for both to focus on the common enemy, especially as Iraq plans to retake Iraq’s second-biggest city, the northern metropolis of Mosul. Any such plan would likely benefit greatly from cooperation.

“If ISIS stays in Mosul, then it is a danger for everyone,” said Kerkuki. “If we can push them out, then it is a benefit for all.”

With Iraqi forces largely bogged down closer to Baghdad, where ISIS has captured key parts of Anbar province, the Peshmerga say they could retake Mosul themselves if they had the weapons.

“We ask the democratic lands to help Kurdistan pass these things [munitions] direct through Kurdistan and not thru Baghdad,” said Kerkuki. “We cannot trust Baghdad.”

Kerkuki, like other Kurds, reasons that in the fight against ISIS, the Peshmerga are the tip of the world’s spear. Given that, why shouldn’t they have modern and plentiful weapons instead of facing a de facto arms embargo?

“We ask all the Canadians, and the Americans and the whole coalition and NATO, please send good weapons to us to fight against this biggest terrorist group in the world,” said Barzani. “We are fighting for all the world, for all civilization.”