Monday, September 1, 2014

Germany: In a Strange Departure from the Past, Berlin Opts to Arm Iraqi Kurds

According to AFP, Berlin, Germany will send anti-tank rocket launchers, rifles and hand grenades to support Iraqi Kurds battling jihadist militants fighting for the IS, the Defense Ministry announced Sunday (August 31).

The move followed a meeting of ministers led by Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin to discuss what Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen described as an "extremely critical" situation in Iraq.

IS militants are acting with "merciless brutality," she told a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, adding the international community had to support the persecuted.

The equipment, which will be delivered in three stages, will include 30 anti-tank missiles, 16,000 assault rifles, 8,000 pistols as well as portable anti-tank rocket launchers, the Defense Ministry said.

As well as weapons, Germany plans to send other items such as tents, helmets and radio equipment, according to a list from the Defense Ministry.

The first deliveries of German weapons will be able to equip about 4,000 soldiers by the end of September, von der Leyen said.

COMMENT: The equipment, which has been taken out of German Army stocks,  is valued at 70 million euros ($92 million), the Defense Ministry announced on its website.

"The terror group, Islamic State, is a deadly threat for hundreds of thousands," Foreign Minister Steinmeier told reporters.

The Sunni IS and its allies control swathes of both northern and western Iraq and neighboring northeastern Syria, where they have committed a spate of atrocities that have shocked the world.

Sending military hardware is unusual for Germany which, burdened by its past aggression in two world wars, often avoids foreign military engagements and as a rule does not export weapons into active conflict zones.

Germany's decision follows similar moves by several other countries, including the US, Italy, France and Britain.

Chancellor Merkel will address a special session of the Bundestag (lower house of Parliament) on the issue Monday, after which lawmakers will hold a non-binding vote.

The government shift has been politically difficult in Germany, where recent opinion polls have shown broad opposition to arms shipments to Iraq.

A total of 60% of respondents were against the idea, and only 34% in favor, in an Infratest dimap poll for ARD public television taken on August 26 and 27, and published Friday (August 29).