Major General Usman Mohammad Mustafa is the Director General of Media and Awareness in the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs effectively serving as the official spokesperson of Peshmerga forces. The Peshmerga are the military forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and one of the most capable forces in the region which pushed back ISIS from its strongholds. In an exclusive interview with Manish Rai, Editor, ViewsAround (VA) Maj Gen Mustafa speaks about planned reforms of Peshmerga, the threat of ISIS, and military relations with Baghdad.
Question 1– The reforms for Peshmerga forces have been talked about for a long time now. What is the current status of the reforms?
Maj Gen Mustafa: We have taken up these reforms very seriously and for that, a separate Directorate was established under the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs which is responsible for overseeing 35 points of planned reforms. In the reforms, many important areas were included like media and awareness, peshmerga military unification, logistics, training of forces, and operations and they are being worked upon. We hope by the year 2025 we will be able to complete the process of reforms.
Question 2- Still many units of Peshmerga are affiliated with the political parties of Kurdistan. Will all the units be unified under the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs anytime soon?
Maj Gen Mustafa: As I said regarding the unification of all the peshmerga units under the ministry this is a work in progress and by 2025 we expect all the units to be unified and integrated under the ministry including Units 70 and 80, which are the largest units.
Question 3- How is the Peshmerga modernization progressing? It is often stated that Peshmerga forces lack heavy weaponry and air power. Is there any plan in place to address these issues?
Maj Gen Mustafa: Any military force in today’s modern time has to regularly undertake the modernization process to keep it effective and relevant. Likewise, we also put a lot of attention towards modernization. For air support we expect the international coalition to assist us as they have very credible air capabilities. In regard to heavy weapons for sure Peshmerga forces require them and we expect the Iraqi Defense Ministry to provide these weapons to us.
Question 4- How imminent is the threat from ISIS? Do you think they still have the capability to capture large territories?
Maj Gen Mustafa: Yes the threat posed by ISIS is far from over and this extremist group still remains the most prominent threat to the stability and peace of the region. Islamic State is still carrying out its operations very frequently and even after losing the large territory it once controlled we are observing very high military activities from ISIS. They are doing large recruitment in Syria of children and young teenagers to carry out suicide attacks which is like a ticking time bomb.
Question 5- What assistance do you expect from the US-led coalition in the fight against ISIS?
Maj Gen Mustafa: We request an international coalition to help us with all the resources at their disposal. And we are very optimistic about receiving assistance from them.
Question 6- Peshmerga and Iraqi forces often conduct joint operations. Do you think both parties are having an optimum level of coordination and cooperation among themselves?
Maj Gen Mustafa: Yes, both the forces i.e. Peshmerga and Iraqi security forces are cooperating with each other and carrying out joint operations against ISIS. To achieve better coordination and cooperation we regularly have meetings and the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs maintains constant communication with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense in Baghdad.
Question 7- Right now the Ministry of Peshmerga doesn’t have a minister or even an acting minister. What are the reasons responsible for this and when can we expect a full-time minister?
Maj Gen Mustafa: This is not right we have a minister but because of some political reasons he has stopped functioning. But we hope this problem will be solved soon and the minister resumes work.