Germany debates role of Bundestag in approving arms shipments to Iraq

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. [The Council of European Union]

Frank-Walter Steinmeier [The Council of European Union]

The German government has announced its intention to send weapons to northern Iraq to support the offensive against radical Islamist forces, but the move has sparked debate over the Bundestag’s participation in such decisions. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Iraqi Kurds have welcomed the German government’s expressed willingness to supply weapons in the fight against violent Islamists.

Speaking on Deutschlandfunk radio on Thursday (21 August), Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq Rodsch Schawais said arms assistance should come as quickly as possible.

The Kurdish leader addressed fears that German weapons could end up in the wrong hands or later be used in a possible conflict for an independent Kurdistan. This question is not relevant right now, he said. At the moment it is important to stop the advance of the extremist Islamic State (IS), Schawais explained.

On Wednesday (20 August) the German government announced its fundamental readiness to supply Kurds in northern Iraq with weapons and munitions, aiding their offensive against radical Islamists.

“We are prepared to mobilise help of this kind for the Kurds as soon as possible,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Wednesday in Berlin.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen echoed Steinmeier’s words. “ISIS must be stopped, and the people must be helped,” she said.

Preparation for the shipment is expected to take one week. The time will be used to determine which weapons are useful for the Kurds, selecting models that require only brief instructions and are available in German military inventories. After this, the German government will decide on further steps in close consultation with its European and international partners.

>>Read: Germany open to sending military aid to Iraq government

Prior to Germany’s announcement, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy also declared their willingness to supply the Kurds with weapons.

Germany’s ministers did not indicate which arms in particular could be handed over to Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq. But lately Kurds have been insisting on an urgent need for anti-tank weapons.

The extremist military group IS, previously referred to as ISIS, was able to seize armoured vehicles from the Iraqi army which cannot be pierced by small arms such as assault rifles.

With or without a Bundestag mandate?

But the government’s announcement that it wants to send weapons to Iraq has sparked debate over whether or not the move requires a Bundestag mandate. Under Germany’s Parliamentary Participation Act, military deployment must be preceded by approval from the Bundestag because of the Bundeswehr’s definition as a “parliamentary army”. The question now is whether or not this should apply to weapons shipments as well.

Foreign policy expert from the Green Party Jürgen Trittin said that weapons exports, like the deployment of soldiers, should be mandated by the Germany’s lower house the Bundestag. But conservative Gerda Hasselfeldt, head of the Christian Social Union national committee, shared a different view in the Rheinische Post newspaper.

“In my opinion a Bundestag mandate is not necessary to decide whether to send weapons to the Kurds in Iraq,” Hasselfeldt said. In her opinion it is more crucial that the responsible committees in the Bundestag are informed of all decisions.

In a guest essay for the Rheinische Post, Trittin emphasised that he continues to stand by the principle “no weapons in crisis areas”.

“Shipment of weapons to war and crisis regions has regularly created more damage than the benefits achieved,” Trittin wrote. In light of the situation in northern Iraq there is an urgent need for a large humanitarian aid mission and significant development assistance, he explained.

“Nobody should believe that a few weapons will solve the problem,” he wrote.

But Hasselfeldt is not convinced. “It is right for the federal government to want to contribute towards stopping the barbarity of the terror organisation IS in northern Iraq,” she said.

Bundestag President Norbert Lammert hoped for an adequate participation rate from the members of the Bundestag.

“Even if it is not about a obligatory mandate from the Bundestag under the Parliamentary Participation Act, the political significance of weapons exports is so great that parliamentary consultation seems necessary,” the centre-right politician told Spiegel Online.

Secretary General of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Yasmin Fahimi said she does not expect the weapons export issue to become a tensile test within her party.

“I do not believe it is going to get tough,” she told the newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. In this debate it is important not to accuse anyone of carelessness, she said, referring to criticism from representatives of the SPD’s left camp.

Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani asked the international community on 10 August to provide the Kurds with weapons to help fight the Islamic State (IS). But in a statement in Berlin the following day, Merkel's spokesman stressed Germany would not send arms to conflict zones.

In the last few months Berlin has announced a more restrictive policy on arms exports and a more muscular foreign policy.

Auswärtiges Amt: Bundesregierung sagt Irak umfassende Hilfe zu (20. August 2014)

Bundesministerium der Verteidigung: Ministerin von der Leyen: ISIS muss gestoppt werden (20. August 2014)

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