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Iraq

Steinmeier considers arming Kurds in Iraq

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says German officials will decide this week whether to arm Kurds battling the "Islamic State" in Iraq. Germany has already sent humanitarian aid to the region.

In an interview Tuesday, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Germany had a responsibility to stand by Kurds in their struggle against the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (IS), which has overrun Iraq's north. Last week, the European Union gave a green light to individual EU governments to supply arms and ammunition to Iraqi Kurds, and some countries have already pledged to do so.

Deutsche Hilfe für Irak 16.08.2014 Erbil

Germany has already dispatched humanitarian aid to Iraq

"We cannot on the one hand praise the Kurdish security forces, pat them on the back for fighting ISIS on behalf of all of us, then when they ask for help just say, 'See how you get on'," Steinmeier said, using an acronym formerly used by the Sunni militants. "I do not consider that a responsible attitude."

Steinmeier told public broadcaster ZDF that he, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen would "draw conclusions from the information we have."

The UNHCR estimates that nearly 1.2 million people have fled their homes across Iraq this year. About 200,000 are temporarily living in Iraq's Kurdistan region. Those fleeing IS forces include minority communities such as the Yazidis.

'Continue their fight'

On Tuesday, government forces advanced on Tikrit, slowed by landmines, roadside bombs and IS snipers. Tikrit, located 140 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of Iraq's capital, Baghdad, on the banks of the river Tigris, is the hometown of executed former dictator, Saddam Hussein.

The city was taken by IS on June 11 and has been controlled since then mostly by the mostly Sunni Muslim militants. Two previous attempts to retake the city have failed. With the US air cover helping Kurdish and Iraqi forces take back territory, some have speculated that arms from abroad could tip the balance in ground battles.

"Imagine (the Kurds) continue their fight and then perhaps in two or four weeks they run out of munitions, which is a possibility many people in northern Iraq made clear to me, and then we are not there to give them the chance to continue their fight," Steinmeier said on Tuesday. "There are some situations in which by failing to do something you make yourself as guilty as if you had done something."

All German arms exports or deliveries require government approval; Berlin has historically opposed sending any weaponry to conflict zones as a point of principle. This is part of the country's highly pacifist constitution drawn up in the aftermath of World War II.

The United States itself has intervened in Iraq for the first time since withdrawing its troops in 2011.

mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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