An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter poses for a picture on the front line on Aug. 9 in Makhmur during clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants. (Safin Hamed / AFP)
WASHINGTON — The United States has begun urgently shipping weapons to the Iraqi Kurdish forces battling an advance by extremist Islamic State militants, a State Department spokeswoman said Monday.
“We’re working with the government of Iraq to increasingly and very quickly get urgently needed arms to the Kurds,” Marie Harf told CNN.
“This includes the Iraqis providing their own weapons from their own stocks, and we’re working to do the same thing from our stocks of weapons that we have.”
Separately, the US military confirmed that it had carried out another air strike late Sunday against an IS convoy it said was preparing to attack Kurdish forces protecting their capital Arbil.
Harf said the effort had been underway since last week, but did not say which US agency was leading the effort or how many and what type of weapons had been sent.
The United States has a consulate and other facilities in Arbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region, and last week President Barack Obama ordered air strikes to protect the city.
Efforts to support Kurdish peshmerga forces could complicated the United States’ ties to the Iraqi government in Baghdad, which is also fighting the Islamic State but has tense relations with Arbil.
But Harf insisted that, in the current crisis, the two sides are working together.
“We have seen an unprecedented level of cooperation between the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish forces. We hadn’t seen that in the past. They’re helping each other out,” Harf said.
“So any way we can get the very urgently needed arms to the Kurds we are actively working on,” she said.
“We’ll work with the government of Iraq to do that, but we believe again there is such an urgent situation that we need to do this.”
US Central Command said that at 2000 GMT Sunday “US fighter aircraft struck and destroyed several vehicles that were part of an ISIL convoy moving to attack peshmerga forces defending Arbil.
“All aircraft exited the strike area safely,” it added.
Obama authorized air strikes on Thursday, warning that IS extremist militants were in a position to threaten US personnel in Arbil and commit “genocide” against minority religious groups.
The first US action was confirmed on Friday, part of what the White House insists will be a “limited” campaign to protect Arbil and Yazidi refugees.