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Iraq

FAQ: Germany ready to deliver arms to Kurdish peshmerga

Germany is likely going to deliver weapons to Iraqi Kurds to help stop the advance of 'Islamic State' fighters in Iraq. DW takes a look at the most pressing questions.

Why is the German government taking action in northern Iraq?

The advance of the terror organization 'Islamic State' (IS) threatens to destabilize the Middle East. IS has seized large parts of Syria and northern Iraq where it has declared a caliphate - a single, transnational Islamic state based on Sharia law. According to the United Nations, IS has installed a reign of terror against non-Arab ethnic groups and non-Sunni Muslims and has engaged in targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking and destruction of holy and cultural sites. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said IS was carrying out "genocide."

What is Germany doing to help Iraqi Kurds?

Germany has shipped more than 100 tons of aid deliveries to help refugees in the country. In addition to humanitarian aid, Germany is also going to send military equipment to help support Kurdish fighters. The first package has already been put together. It contains defensive equipment such as helmets, body armor and walkie-talkies but not weapons.

The government in Berlin is due on Sunday to decide whether Germany is prepared to deliver weapons - assault rifles and armor-piercing weapons such as Milan rockets could potentially be provided. By now, all IS units reportedly have at least one tank at their disposal. The Kurdish peshmerga fighters currently use mainly small arms from the former Soviet Union.

What are the responsibilities of the six German soldiers that have been sent to Iraq?

The six soldiers are based at the German consulate general in Erbil. They have been tasked with delivering military equipment and, if needed, coordinating instructions on site, according to the website of the German armed forces. Erbil, the capital of the largely autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, is relatively safe compared to many other Iraqi cities and attacks are relatively rare. Fighting between Peshmerga and IS takes place some 170 kilometers (106 miles) away.

Soldiers of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Shiite volunteers take position during fighting with Islamic State (IS) fighters (photo: EPA/STR)

Peshmerga fighters still use old weapons from the former Soviet Union

What are other countries doing to help?

Since the beginning of June, the United States has helped peshmerga fighters and the Iraqi army by carrying out air strikes against IS. The United States also supplies military equipment. Other countries have said they intend to send weapons and ammunition as well, including Albania, France, the UK, Canada and Croatia. Denmark wants to provide a cargo plane. Iran was among the first countries to deliver weapons on Tuesday.

Why is it the Kurdish troops that are supported by the international community?

While the army of Iraq's central government wasn't able to stop the advancement of IS, peshmerga fighters have been quite efficient. "Iraq's regular army has been torn apart by religious and ethnic tensions and is not able to provide this form of resistance at this current stage," said Henner Fürtig, who heads the Middle East section of the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA).

Islamischer Staat Propaganda

'Islamic State' fighters control areas in Syria and Iraq

The peshmerga, however, are highly motivated when it comes to defending what they regard as the Kurdish heartland. The estimated 130,000 fighters of the Kurdish autonomous region have to make do without air force and therefore depend on US air strikes.

Is supporting Kurdish fighters a promising tactic?

Observers say the Kurdish army could indeed stop the IS advancement in Iraq. On the other hand, IS controls an area that stretches from Syria to Iraq. It's estimated that about half of the 15,000 IS fighters operate in each country. US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey acknowledged that IS can't be defeated "without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria."

According to media reports, the United States has already started reconnaissance flights over Syria in order to track IS fighters. Nevertheless, Washington has ruled out cooperating with the Syrian regime.

Is Germany's involvement disputed in any way?

There are a few critics in Merkel's government coalition. Opposition Left party is critical of arms transfers to crisis areas; the Green opposition party has not yet expressed a party view on the issue.

The German government has announced to let parliamentarians vote Monday on sending weapons to Kurds in Iraq, even though the government doesn't have to follow this procedure from a formal point of view. It's widely expected to achieve a majority in parliament. According to a recent poll, two thirds of Germans are against weapons deliveries.

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