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Iraq

EU ministers back arms for Iraqi Kurds

The European Union has agreed to back individual EU governments who wish to send weapons to Iraqi Kurds who are fighting against IS militants. Historically reluctant Germany surprises in providing arms abroad.

The European Union agreed on Friday to back the arming of the Pashmerga - Kurdish Iraqis who are fighting against IS militants. Individual EU governments now have the go-ahead to send weapons as long as they have the consent of national authorities.

According to a statement from the EU, the ministers have welcomed the decision by individual member states to "respond positively to the call by the Kurdish regional authorities to provide urgently military material."

Ministers said the EU was also developing ways to ensure the IS terrorist group cannot benefit from oil sales after overrunning some oil fields in Iraq and Syria.

Dire humanitarian situation

The decision comes after alarming images of Iraqi minorities, including Christians, under siege by jihadists are said to have struck chords across European governments, causing ministers to have great concern at the "dire humanitarian situation" and massive civilian displacements caused by IS assaults.

Britain and France have already begun plans to provide weapons to Iraqi forces. French President Francois Hollande confirmed on Thursday that Paris would send military equipment to Kurdish fighters - without specifying the type or amount of equipment.

During Friday's emergency talks, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also pushed for the mobilization of an EU-wide response to the crisis in Iraq.

Desired political message

Most surprising was the support from EU member states who are historically less inclined to supply military arms abroad, such as Germany.

Following three hours of emergency talks, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, "We have found a common position, the sprit of which says the EU commends the fact that certain countries have responded favorably to the request made by Kurdish Iraqi forces."

"It is not clear what equipment will be used and is necessary," Steinmeier added.

A diplomat said the agreement was "strong and sends the desired political message."

Earlier in the week German Chancellor Angela Merkel said sending weapons was not out of the question.

"When it comes to arms exports, the government always has some political and legal leeway, and if necessary we will exhaust it," Merkel said in comments published by the Hannoversche Allgemeine newspaper on Wednesday.

"Here we will coordinate closely with our partners and, above all, with the United States," she added.

The first of four German air force cargo planes to deliver aid also took off from an airbase in the northern town of Hohn on Friday morning, bound for Irbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Speaking at the air base on Friday, Defense Minister von der Leyen implied that any military aid from Germany would be non-lethal.

"We are also working on the question of whether equipment is needed, such as protective helmets and vests," she said.

Call for caution

Not all EU ministers, however, were convinced that sending weapons to an unstable war zone was appropriate. The main fear is that fighters and weapons can quickly change sides.

Before Friday's talks, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz warned that arms can "fall into the wrong hands" and urged "caution."

Islamist "Islamic State" (IS) insurgents have swept across parts of Iraq and Syria in recent weeks, driving tens of thousands of minority Yazidis and Christians from their homes.

The United Nations has declared the highest-level state of emergency due to the humanitarian crisis, sparked by the advance of the IS fighters.

ksb/sb (AFP/Reuters)

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