BERLIN: Germany is ready to send weapons to support Iraqi Kurds in their battle against the “barbaric” jihadist militants of the Islamic State, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Wednesday.
After other European countries said they would send arms to help the embattled Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, “we are ready to do the same,” Steinmeier said at a joint press conference with Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen.
He called the onslaught of the IS “barbaric”, the suffering of refugees “unimaginable”, and warned that the sweeping advance of the radicals spells an “existential threat” to Iraq and threatens a regional “conflagration”.
The ministers said Germany would first send more humanitarian aid and non-lethal equipment such as helmets, night-vision goggles and explosives detectors while it checked what weapons shipments would make sense, in coordination with EU partners.
Von der Leyen said “the breathtaking speed and incredible brutality” of the militant group had “triggered a humanitarian catastrophe” and, using its former name, said that “ISIS must be stopped”.
Sending military hardware is unusual for Germany which, burdened by its past aggression in two world wars, often shies away from foreign military engagements and as a rule does not export weapons into live conflict zones.
Critics oppose the idea of sending weapons to a war zone where fighters and arms can quickly change sides.
– ‘Impacts our security’ –
Alarming images of Iraqi minorities, including Christians and Yazidis, under siege by jihadists have struck a chord in European capitals, and the radicals’ apparent beheading of a US journalist has further stoked outrage.
Last Friday EU ministers agreed at an emergency meeting to back the arming of Kurdish fighters. France has already begun to provide weapons, and Britain said it was ready to do so.
Chancellor Angela Merkel last week signalled she may shift her stance from a flat refusal when she told a local newspaper that the crimes of IS militants were “appalling” and the task of halting their advance was up to “the entire international community”.
Her spokesman Steffen Seibert said Wednesday that “the IS advance has a different quality because of the world region in which it is taking place, it impacts our own security”.
Steinmeier also warned: “A collapse of the Kurdish defence lines, or even a collapse of the Iraqi state system, a military conflagration throughout the Middle East: all this is threatening if the international community does nothing.
“Such a catastrophe, were it to happen, would affect us directly in Germany and in Europe. The consequences — of this we are all certain — would be devastating.”
Steinmeier said Germany was already sending humanitarian aid worth 25 million euros ($33 million) to Iraq, adding however that this was “important but not enough”.
A defence ministry spokesman said a decision on when arms might be shipped was possible next week.
The government shift is politically difficult in Germany, where recent opinion polls have shown broad opposition to arms shipments to Iraq.
A total of 63 percent of respondents were against the idea, and only 30 percent in favour, in a Forsa institute poll for Stern news weekly taken on August 14 and 15.