Germany breaks political taboo by arming Kurds against Islamists in Iraq

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 10:40pm

Germany is to send anti-tank rocket launchers, rifles and hand grenades to support Iraqi Kurds battling jihadist militants fighting for the Islamic State.

The announcement on Sunday followed a meeting of ministers led by Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel in Berlin to discuss what Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen described as an "extremely critical" situation in Iraq.

Islamic State militants were acting with "merciless brutality", she said alongside Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, adding that the international community had to support the persecuted.

The equipment, which will be delivered in three stages, will include 30 anti-tank missiles, 16,000 assault rifles, 8,000 pistols and portable anti-tank rocket launchers. Germany also plans to send other items such as tents, helmets and radio equipment.

The first deliveries of German weapons will be able to equip about 4,000 soldiers by the end of September, von der Leyen said. The equipment, which has been taken out of German army reserves, is valued at €70 million (HK$711.8 million).

Sending military hardware is unusual for Germany, which shies away from foreign military engagements and as a rule does not export weapons into live conflict zones.

Critics oppose the idea of sending weapons to a warzone where fighters and arms can quickly change sides.

Germany's decision follows similar moves by several other countries, including the US, Italy, France and Britain.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Sunday that his government would help deliver foreign arms to the Kurds in Iraq.

"Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster aircraft will join aircraft from other nations including Canada, Italy, France, the United Kingdom and the United States to conduct this important task," said Abbott.