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Foreign Minister Steinmeier on supporting northern Iraq

31.08.2014

At a joint press conference he gave with Defence Minister von der Leyen on 31 August, Foreign Minister Steinmeier spoke about the German Government’s decision on support for northern Iraq:

Supplying arms is not the first undertaking in our help for Iraq and our action against ISIS, nor will it be the last.

The Foreign Minister’s detailed statement was as follows:

The terrorist group “Islamic State” poses a mortal danger to hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yazidis and Muslims. Most of those who have managed by the skin of their teeth to escape murder, massacre and enslavement and make their perilous way to safety in the Erbil area have done so with little more than the clothes they stand up in.

Not only is this a human tragedy of unforeseen proportions. It is also an existential threat both to the region of northern Iraq and to the weak Iraqi state as a whole. If the ISIS terrorists are not pushed back, it could shake the fragile order in the Middle East to the core and even tip the whole region into chaos. The consequences would be incalculable, not only for the immediate area but also for Europe, meaning Germany too.

We cannot stand on the sidelines while others try to meet that danger. Germany is also called on to stop the spread of ISIS. The United Nations has paved the way, especially with its resolution on the funding of radical groups like ISIS and al‑Nusra.

The international community needs to support those in northern Iraq who are prepared and in a position to stand up to ISIS – supplying both humanitarian aid and military equipment.

As Minister von der Leyen has pointed out, we are doing this not in isolation but in close liaison with our partners, above all with the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq and with the central Iraqi Government in Baghdad.

This was not an easy decision but we consider it to be the right one in an entirely exceptional situation.

Yet it is clear that supplying arms is not the first undertaking in our help for Iraq and our action against ISIS, nor will it be the last.

Emergency assistance is well under way for the innumerable refugees who have had to flee from the ISIS mob. We have made 26 million euros available to date alongside the aid supplies from Bundeswehr stockpiles. If the figures I have heard are correct, the relief flights have brought more than 170 tonnes of food, medical supplies, tents and blankets to Erbil to make sure victims and refugees there have access to the essentials. We will of course be continuing and expanding that exercise.

Humanitarian means alone will not suffice to combat the threat ISIS poses; we will also need to put the Kurdish security forces in a position to defend themselves. This will take an internationally agreed strategy that goes beyond the military.

I see four main elements we need to work on here.

Firstly, we need a functioning Iraqi Government to fully integrate all groups within the population, including the Kurds and above all the Sunnis, many of whom have been left disappointed. After my visit to Baghdad, my impression is that the current Prime Minister is going to do exactly that.

Secondly, and this will be difficult enough, we need clear agreement among the countries of the region on confronting IS together.

We also need offensive action at the ideological level within the Muslim world, to rob ISIS and similar groups of their veneer of religious legitimacy.

Finally, we need an international package of measures – now made possible by the Security Council resolution – to stop the influx of fighters and funding to those groups, including ISIS.

Diplomatic efforts are in full swing on that score, as we saw when the EU Foreign Ministers met in Milan during the last two days. The subject is also on the agenda in preparations for the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Together with our G7 partners, we will be using the German Presidency of the G7 to make it a focus there too.

Humanitarian support remains a priority. However, we cannot avoid supplying the security forces with military equipment. The main thing, though, is that this must always be embedded within a political strategy, in which the above elements all play their part.

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