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Germany and Italy to arm Kurds

Published August 20, 2014 8:20 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Berlin • Chancellor Angela Merkel's government Wednesday cleared the way for Germany to supply Iraqis with weapons to fight Islamic State militants, dropping a post-World War II taboo on arms shipments to conflict areas.

Germany's reversal of its postwar arms doctrine reflects the revulsion felt across Europe at the brutal advance by Islamist fighters in Iraq. It also shows governments' determination to halt the violence perpetrated by Islamic State from spilling back into Europe's heartland.

Hours after the German decision, Italian lawmakers also approved arms for Kurdish forces battling the militants in northern Iraq, as governments in Britain and France met to weigh what more action they will take. The deliberations were given added impetus after Islamist militants released a video showing the beheading of a man they said was kidnapped U.S. journalist James Foley.

Humanitarian aid for the Kurdish forces isn't enough and "we can in addition imagine providing further military equipment aid," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters in Berlin. "That can include arms. We're ready to get this kind of aid to the Kurds as soon as possible."

Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his vacation to return to London to discuss Iraq with British officials, his office said Wednesday. The video of Foley, if genuine, is "shocking and depraved," it said.

Strengthened with weapons seized from the fleeing Iraqi troops, the Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, has inspired terror with reports of beheadings and crucifixions. The group has also seized strategic assets such as dams and oil fields in Iraq and Syria.

The video purporting to show Foley's murder ends with the threat to kill a second American citizen if U.S. airstrikes continue against Islamic State.

"Dealing with Islamic State requires a global reaction," Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington, said by email. "The Germans and others sending weapons is a first and cautious reaction. More will need to be done by them and others in the future."

French President Francois Hollande, in an interview with Le Monde newspaper Wednesday on his return from vacation, said he plans to propose an international conference on Iraq and the struggle against the Islamic state. He said Aug. 13 that France would begin sending weapons directly to the Kurds that day.

Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, addressing a parliamentary commission in Rome, also stressed the need to act. The committee later approved a resolution on weapons to Kurds in a majority vote.

"It's a political but even more so a moral duty," Mogherini said Wednesday. "The stability of a region that is strategic for us is at risk."

In Berlin, officials are reviewing which weaponry Germany could supply and what the Kurds need, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said at a joint news conference with Steinmeier. That could include arms and ammunition, she said. Germany's military has anti-tank weapons it could possibly contribute, ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff later told reporters.

Germany is coordinating with other European powers, Steinmeier said.

Merkel's governing coalition made the decision today at a meeting comprising the chancellor, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, Steinmeier and von der Leyen. It follows days of public debate in Germany about balancing postwar restraint in global affairs with helping stave off a possible victory by Islamic State, whom Steinmeier described as "terrorist hordes" at the news conference.

"We do have to listen very carefully to what the Kurdish security forces need for a sustainable defense" against the Islamist militants, Steinmeier said yesterday in an interview on ZDF television. "Patting them on the back isn't enough."

Iraqi forces, along with Kurdish fighters and U.S. fighter jets, are trying to reverse gains made by the insurgents, who have rampaged through OPEC's No. 2 crude oil producer since taking Mosul in June. Kurdish and Iraqi forces seized control of the Mosul Dam this week with American air support after losing the structure to the militants.

President Barack Obama said that the U.S. will continue "limited" airstrikes against the militants. The U.S. acted after Islamic State fighters forced the Kurds to retreat as they swept toward Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan.

In Tikrit, about 150 kilometers (95 miles) north of Baghdad, the Iraqi government is struggling to dislodge Sunni- Muslim militants who overran the city after taking Mosul. The army halted the offensive it started yesterday, Sheikh Mahmoud al-Nqeeb, a resident of the city, said by telephone.

Residents of the city were forced to flee Tikrit, Ahmed Salim, a 28 year-old resident said by phone.

"Life here is miserable," he said. "We can hardly get gasoline for the car, and all businesses have stopped. The city's streets are planted with bombs."

— Carey reported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Contributors: Rainer Buergin and Tony Czuczka in Berlin, Khalid Al-Ansary in Erbil, Aziz Alwan in Baghdad, Sarmad Khan in Dubai, Andrew Frye and Alessandra Migliaccio in Rome and Robert Hutton in London.





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