Brief overview of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq (KRI)

The name "Kurdistan" itself is often misinterpreted, indicative of the complex situation in that region of the world. "Kurdistan" as a country, or even as an independent region where the Kurdish people live, does not exist. And probably never will, for the desired Kurdistan would have to be formed from parts of not only Iraq, but also Syria, Türkiye and Iran. It is obvious these country are not willing to give up territory for the creation of Kurdistan as a country. The ongoing struggle of Türkiye against the Turkish Kurds of the PKK are but one indication of this. Only Iraq recognizes the northern part of the country as a semi-independent region belonging to the Kurds, thus forming a Federation with the rest (Arab) parts of Iraq.
One would think that all Kurds are united, striving for an independent Kurdistan. But as so often seen in the region: the truth couldn't be much farther from that. One example: although a politically sensitive matter, the Iraqi Kurds have little love for Turkish Kurds, and even allow Türkiye to have troops based in the Iraqi part of the border region, and allow offensive operations against the PKK on Kurdish / Iraqi soil.
The political – and thus by proxy the military – situation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) is far from straightforward. The region roughly stretches across three Iraqi provinces: Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, each with their own major political affiliation and ambitions. In effect, the region can be divided based on the power-sharing arrangement between the two political dynasties of the Barzani and Talabani families. Constitutionally speaking these are all part of a federal Iraq. To make matters more complicated, Kurdistan comprises or several other regions which are outside of the northern Iraqi borders: southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, and northern Syria, which all play a role in the way Kurdistan is ruled, politically and militarily. As a result of the two ruling families, the KRI has two major political parties with its own military (and therefore aviation-related) affiliations:
  • KDP/PDK = Kurdistan Democratic Party (Partiya Demokrat a Kurdistanê, affiliated to the Barzani family) and is mainly ruling over Erbil and Dohuk. The party is in general more oriented  in maintaining good relations with the Turks, because of the economical ties to that country.
  • PUK = Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (Yekêtiy Nîstimaniy Kurdistan, affiliated to the Talabani family) and is mainly ruling over Al-Sulaymaniyah province. The party is in general more oriented to Iran, and was in the past known to be more friendly to the Turkish Kurds (PKK).
Over the years much effort has been expended in trying to bring these two parties closer together, or even forming a single Kurdish political (and thus military) entity. Despite sometimes outspoken good intentions this has been set back over and over again. In essence, both parties' leadership strive to accomplish a truly independent Kurdistan, but only if their clan are the ones in power when this is accomplished, and not the other; a situation that is not expected to change any time soon, and a unified “Iraqi Kurdistan” seems unfeasible under these conditions.
An omnipresent term during the fight against ISIS is “The Peshmerga“. The Pershmerga - in Kurdish Pêşmerge, is the Kurdish military forces of the KRI. According to a U.S. Department of Defence report of 4 November 2021, the Kurdistan security forces are divided into three categories:
  • Forces of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs which include 18 regional guard brigades, two independent Shingal battalions, and 1st and 2nd Support Force Commands;
  • Forces of the Kurdish Ministry of Interior which comprise the Zeravani forces (KDP affiliated) and the Emergency Response Force (PUK affiliated); and
  • Other Kurdistan Regional Government forces which include Parastin (Protection) and the Counter Terrorism Division which are KDP affiliated, and the Zanyari forces and the Counter Terrorism Group (CTG) which are PUK affiliated. Asayish (Security and Intelligence services of the KRI) forces fall within this category and both the KDP and PUK have Asayish forces affiliated with them. 


Armed forces and Police forces

Now, back to aviation. Because of the rather complex political situation, the armed forces and police forces of the KRI are sponsored by their respective political parties. To make matters worse, some of the aviation assets seem to have changed hand over time. For example, the three Eurocopter AS350B Ecureuil helicopters were initially operated by and for the PUK affiliated Lexoman Parastin forces were later seen to be operating for the "Zanyari Aviation Department". Although this is PUK affiliated, when two of them crashed on 15 March 2023, it turned out it was operating for the YAT, the counter terrorism unit of the YPG (see below) that reportedly has close ties with the PKK. Needless to say that this crash was politically very sensitive and it shows the complex web of alliances in the region.

EAHK Counter Terrorism Unit
The Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) - in Kurdish Encumena Asayîşa Herêma Kurdistanê (EAHK) was established on 2 May 2011 and is responsible for (among other things) a unified security policy and coordination between security services, military intelligence and existing intelligence agencies. The council has its own Counter Terrorism Unit, operating Eurocopter EC135 / EC635 helicopters, some of which were sponsored by the Royal Jordanian Air Force, after being upgraded by Paramount in South Africa. They also operate some AutoGyro Europe MTO Sport. The unit is stationed at Erbil International airport. In late 2022, two Bell 427 helicopters were imported by 7 Group from Hungary. They are most probably operated by this unit.
KRI Police
In 2013, the Kurdistan Regional Government ordered twelve MD530F helicopters for “police and fire-fighting duties” but they are clearly serving in a paramilitary role. They were augmented by two MD902s Explorer helicopters that are used for VIP transport. All were delivered in April 2014 and are operating out of Erbil International Airport. They are known to operate from the small helipad near the Peshmerga HQ in Duhok as well.
In May 2015 one MD500E was delivered by Red Air Helicopters LLC, Nevada (USA) although this might also be operated by and for the Americans at Erbil. The MD530F played a vital role in tactically transporting troops to and from the battle field as well as in Medical Evacuation (MedEvac) roles.
Notes: The MD500E was not seen at Erbil in 2021. Red Air Helicopters had however three Mi.17's there for use by US SOCOM, so it is plausible the MD500Ewas at one time used there by the US.
In 2021 the VIP MD902's (both flying without markings) were augmented by a leased AW139 from Gulf Air, believed via 7 Group.
KRG Traffic Police and The 7 Group
The KRG Traffic Police is basically run by Ras al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, based company “The 7 Group”. The Traffic Police force was formed in 2009 when The 7 Group owner and Entrepreneur Andi Siebenhofer delivered a number of Gyrocopters. In 2011 the Gyrocopters, fourteen AutoGyro Europe MTOsport and two Calidus 09, were augmented by four EC120B helicopters. All are operating out of the airports of Erbil and Arbat, south-east of Sulaymaniyah. They also operate out of the helipad near the Peshmerga HQ next to the Barzan Highway in Duhok.
Until early 2015 the aircraft operated by the KRG Traffic Police were either wearing former ASC registrations (for the Gyrocopters) or the previous civilian registrations (for the EC120B). In 2015 they were, however, assigned official Iraqi civilian registrations in the YI-DAx range. The unit operating the Colibri helicopters and AutoGyros goes by the name of “Ministry of the Interior Aviation Team”, making it clear to which ministry it reports.
The 7 Group seems to supply aircraft to both major KRI parties (KDP and PUK) since they also supplied (and temporary operated) the Sulaymaniyah-based AS350B3 Ecureuil helicopters.
Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG)/Lexoman Parastin - Dzha Tirorr
In 2015 three Eurocopter AS350B3 helicopters were delivered to the CTG that operates out of As Sulaymaniyah. Besides these helicopters, it also operates a number of AutoGyro Europe MTO sport. The Counter-Terrorism Group is a governmental agency that was established by the Lexoman Parastin intelligence service of the PUK with support from the United States (CIA) and the United Kingdom (MI6). The CTG conduscts operations and is trained by the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and  works alongside the YAT. This unit received an Eurocopter EC225 helicopter in late 2022 and is also operating at least two Italian Blackshape Prime ultralight aircraft. They might also be operating the former Iraqi Ikarus C42As out of Arbat.
Other (para)military forces and political parties that play a role in the Kurdish regions:
  • PKK = Kurdistan Workers’ Party - in Kurdish Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê. The PKK is on the European Union’s list of designated groups which have been involved in terrorism, as well as being listed as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the United States, and Australia. The People's Defence Forces - in Kurdish: Hêzên Parastina Gel, or HPG, is the military wing of the PKK. 
  • PJAK = Free Life Party – in Kurdish Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistanê, PKK’s Iranian offshoot.
  • YPG = People's Defense Units – in Kurdish Yekîneyên Parastina Gel. This is a mainly Kurdish group in Syria and the primary component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The group is active in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (locally called Rojava). The YPG has its own Anti-Terror Unit named YAT (Yekîneyên Antî Teror) which is regularly conducting joint exercises and operations alongside the PUK-affiliated Counter Terrorism Group (CTG or Lexoman Parastin). The YPG is reported to have close ties with the PKK so obviously, Türkiye and the KDP are against this unity.
  • PMF/PMU = Popular Mobilization Forces or Popular Mobilization Units, also called al-Hashd al Shaabi in Arabic. The PMU are an umbrella of Iraqi state-sponsored armed groups and militias under the command of Iraq’s prime minister; some of the prominent militias overtly oppose the US presence in Iraq and answer to Iran despite being part of the Iraqi state’s security apparatus. The more militant PMF militias form the main thread to the US-led coalition forces in the region, much more than ISIS.
  • DPI = Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, also known as PDKI – Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, an Iranian Kurdish opposition group operating from Iraq.
Sources: Wikipedia, European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) Iraq Security Situation report January 2022.

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