Germany open to sending military aid to Iraqi government

by Reuters
Tuesday, 12 August 2014 15:44 GMT

* Steinmeier says Berlin must look beyond humanitarian aid

* Defence minister says help could include armoured vehicles

* Concern from head of parliamentary committee

BERLIN, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Germany's foreign minister has raised the possibility of sending military assistance to the Iraqi government, saying he would discuss further steps with European partners following a dramatic push by Islamic State militants through northern Iraq.

His comments, combined with similar statements from two other ministers, mark a shift in tone from the German government which on Monday said it did 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.

"Humanitarian aid for everyone that needs protection is a matter of course ... but we must look whether we can and must do more," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily.

Islamic State insurgents - radical Islamists who have proclaimed a 'caliphate' straddling parts of Iraq and Syria - have swept across northern Iraq in recent weeks, pushing back Kurdish regional forces and driving tens of thousands of minority Yazidis and Christians from their homes.

"This is preparation for a genocide," said Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel after meeting representatives of the Yazidi people in Berlin.

Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani asked the international community on Sunday to provide the Kurds with weapons to help their battle against the Islamic State.

"In light of the dramatic situation, I favour going to the limits of what is politically and legally possible," said Steinmeier, adding it was in German interests that the Islamic State is stopped. Steinmeier is a member of the Social Democrats (SPD) who share power with conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He added that he wanted a united approach from the European Union which would coordinate with the United States. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said Washington will consider requests for military and other assistance once prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi forms a government to unite Iraq.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a conservative, said non-lethal military equipment could include armoured vehicles or booby trap detectors, helmets and protective vests. The Iraqi government would be the recipient, she said.

Germany is a reluctant partner in international military missions due to its Nazi past. Norbert Roettgen, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, told newspaper Die Welt that delivering weapons would violate the government's arms export guidelines.

"Departing from those would constitute a radical change in German foreign policy which cannot simply be decided by the government without involving parliament," he was quoted as saying.

Vice-Chancellor Gabriel said no hasty decisions should be made that may be regretted later. But from a legal point of view, arms deliveries to a legitimate government in Iraq were possible if there were special circumstances, he said.

On Monday, Merkel's spokesman had stressed that Germany did not send arms to conflict zones. "This is a principle we feel committed to upholding," he said. (Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold; Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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