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US begins arming Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga in fight against Islamic State

Officials refuse to specify which agency is supplying autonomous province with weapons

US officials said yesterday that the Obama administration had begun directly providing weapons to Kurdish peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.

The US had previously insisted on only selling arms to the Iraqi government in Baghdad, but peshmerga fighters defending the autonomous zone capital Irbil had been losing ground to Islamic State (Isis) fighters in recent weeks.

The Kurds have been fighting along a 600-mile-plus front and have been hampered by lack of resources.

The officials wouldn’t say which US agency is providing the arms or what weapons are being sent, but one official said it wasn’t the Pentagon.

The CIA has historically carried out similar quiet arming operations.

A senior State Department official would only say the Kurds were “getting arms from various sources. They are being rearmed.”

To bolster that effort, the government is also very close to approving plans for the Pentagon to arm the Kurds, the official said.

The effort to directly aid the Kurds underscores the level of US concern about Isis fighters’ gains in the north.

In recent days the US military has been helping to deliver weapons from the Iraqis to the Kurds, providing logistic assistance and transport to the north.

The additional aid came as Kurdish forces took back Gwer and Mahmour, both of which are within half an hour’s drive of Irbil, aided by US air strikes in the region.

US President Barack Obama authorised the air strikes to protect US interests in the region. Many US oil companies have bases and offices in Irbil.

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