Updated: Aug 28, 2019
By: Jyoti Pradhan
The polity of Iraqi Kurdistan is dominated by two parties: the KDP and the PUK
Iraqi Kurdistan can be said to have two kinds of armed forces, those supporting the KDP and those supporting PUK. The armed forces and the army of the regional government of Kurdistan is called ‘the Peshmerga.’
The ‘Zerevani’ is one of the forces under the KDP. They fulfil the role of armed police and are in a way similar to the gendarmerie of Italy and France. They are part of the army and are used for policing roles (van Wilgenberg & Fumerton, 2015, p. 3).
Due to the close relationship between the KDP and the present Turkish regime, it is believed that many of the troops of Zerevani have been trained by Turkey at Diyana and Berseve. Both the places are in the Zakho district of Turkey.
The very nature of the Peshmerga, having fulfilled policing roles, and them being one of the praetorian guards of KDP they have been involved in PUK-KDP clashes.
However, in relative terms, they are seen as more non-partisan and a force of the government of Iraqi Kurdistan compared to other KDP forces (Yilmaz, 2018, p. 7) . In its initial days, it was predominantly ex-PKK fighters from the mountainous regions of Turkey who had once waged guerilla warfare against the Turkish state. While most are Kurds, some may be Alevis and Turkmen as well.
The level of understanding between the present Erdogan regime and the KDP is good enough for Turkey to allow members of Zerevani to use Turkey’s territory to reach Northeastern Syria to fight alongside the SDF of Syrian Kurdistan.
This is an accomplishment for Kurds since the Erdogan regime considers the SDF to be linked to Ocalan's PKK in Turkey, which according to them is a terrorist group.
With their Headquarters in Erbil and the strength of 100,000 soldiers belonging to five divisions in Erbil, it is a force to reckon with. It also provides border security between the Kurdistan Region of Iraqi and the rest of Iraq.
They have also had diverse training from the Iraqi army and also from the US special forces. Within Iraqi Kurdistan, they secure important offices, consulates, embassies, major INGOs, international delegations and civil servants. The top brass consists of those who fought Saddam in the 1990s (Fantappie, 2010).
The Zerevani are said to have a much higher ability to gain financial resources for their operational needs when compared to other Peshmerga forces. Their power stems from the fact that they play an internal security role as well.
The KDP’s main army is the Pastani, but the Pastani’s role is usually to fight for Kurdistan and if needed to fight against PUK forces, though the latter appears unlikely in future.
The Zerevani have also been used to tackle issues within the KDP as well. This has allowed them greater access to the leadership and far greater ability to affect political changes.
Fantappie, M. (2010). Armed Forces based in Iraqi Kurdistan. In Lamani, M. Mokhtar, &
Bessma, From Desolation to Reconstruction: Iraq’s Troubled Journey (p. 82). Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press.
van Wilgenberg, W., & Fumerton, M. (2015). KURDISTAN’S POLITICAL ARMIES: THE CHALLENGE OF UNIFYING THE PESHMERGA FORCES. Beirut: Carnegie Middle East Center.
Yilmaz, A. (2018). The changing dynamics of the Kurdish question. (SWP Comment, 45/2018). Berlin: tiftungWissenschaft und Politik -SWP- Deutsches Institut für Internationale Politik und Sicherheit.