Merkel defends decision to arm Iraqi Kurds with German weapons

HK G-36 rifle [Wikimedia]

Speaking to the Bundestag on Monday (1 September), German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the government’s controversial decision to supply Kurds in northern Iraq with arms to aid their fight against the extremist Islamic State (IS). EURACTIV Germany reports.

“Now, we have the chance to help save lives and prevent any further mass murder in Iraq. We must use this chance,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said before the Bundestag on Monday (1 September).

A meeting of the federal ministers, chaired by the Chancellor, agreed to send weapons to arm Kurdish forces in northern Iraq late Sunday (31 August) evening. The supplies are meant to help the Kurds in their fight against the terror organisation known as the “Islamic State” (IS).

Merkel defended the controversial decision before the Bundestag on Monday, saying the expansion of ISIS terror must be stopped. Iraq is threatened by a humanitarian crisis, she emphasised. “We have bared witness to unbelievable brutality,” Merkel told the members of Germany’s lower house.

IS not only threatens minorities, the Chancellor warned. Everyone who attempts to defend themselves against IS must fear the worst. “The IS proceeds with inconceivable brutality,” Merkel said in Berlin.

For the German government, it is clear that no conflict in the world can be solved militarily, Merkel indicated. However, it has become clear that in many cases, it takes military intervention to enable a political solution.

“Every conflict has its own character,” the Chancellor explained.

The Bundestag did not have a say in the decision, but governing coalition factions from the centre-right and social democratic blocs voted to back the decision in a parliamentary vote on Monday.

>>Read: Germany debates role of Bundestag in approving arms shipments to Iraq

The Kurdish fighters are exposing themselves to a high amount of risk, in order to achieve something that is also in Germany’s interest, Merkel said. To a certain extent, and in close agreement with international partners, the German government is prepared to make weapons available in the fight against terrorist movements.

Merkel warned against destabilising the region, which she said could have negative effects on Germany and Europe. If a basis is created for religious fanatics, as is the case in Iraq, “the risk that our security interests will be compromised also increases”.

The Chancellor emphasised that weapons shipments are taking place with the consent of Iraq’s central government. This demonstrates that the German government does not intend to support “centrifugal forces” in Iraq. Berlin is much more focused on supporting the Iraqi government with current challenges and facilitating a process of reconciliation.

Still, the decision to supply arms has far-reaching implications, said the Chancellor. “We have weighed the situation very carefully, taking into account all aspects of foreign and security policy.”

We were faced with a choice and we have chosen to support those who need our help, she said, and we are aware of the associated risks. “But, can we really wait and hope that somebody else will see it as his or her responsibility?”, she asked.

Alongside Germany, weapons shipments to the Kurds have also been pledged from many other countries including the United States, France, Great Britain, and Italy.

IS has taken over wide stretches of land after a rapid advance in Syria and northern Iraq and has set up a caliphate in the region.

A coordinated effort

It is Germany’s humanitarian responsibility and in the country’s security interest, to help those who are suffering and to stop the terrorist group IS, said Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday in Berlin.

The German government plans to send the Kurds hand grenades and machine guns, as well as old and new assault weapons (type G3 and G36), pistols and munitions. Germany has also allocated various military vehicles to the Kurdish forces: off-road vehicles and unimogs as well as five Dingo 1 armoured patrol vehicles. The weapons shipments will be enough to equip 4,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.

In coordination with the German Foreign Office, a military liaison element with six soldiers has been stationed at the consulate general in Erbil since the 27th of August. The soldiers are assigned with coordinating further aid from Germany on the ground in Iraq.

The German military supports the Foreign Office by distributing civil relief items and military equipment, in cooperation with the Iraqi government and the Kurdish regional government.

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.

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