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Foreign Minister Steinmeier visits Iraq Iraq

18.08.2014 - Article

On 16 August Foreign Minister Steinmeier travelled to Baghdad and Erbil for political talks. His aim was to get an idea of just what help is needed on the ground.

Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier travelled to Baghdad and Erbil for political talks. In northern Iraq he also met people who have fled from the ISIS terrorists. His aim was to see for himself the situation on the ground and to get an idea of just what help is needed.

The pilot gives Foreign Minister Steinmeier information about the flight
The pilot gives Foreign Minister Steinmeier information about the flight© Photothek/Imo

Only last Friday (15 August) EU Foreign Ministers held intensive discussions in Brussels on Iraq and the aid they would give the country, currently under threat from Islamist ISIS terrorists. That same evening, shortly after returning to Berlin from Brussels, Foreign Minister Steinmeier flew off again, saying that he wanted to talk to partners in Baghdad and Erbil to “get an impression of the situation on the ground”.

The Foreign Minister described the crisis in Iraq as a “real catastrophe”, with a million people fleeing the ISIS terrorists. It was essential, he went on, that Europe face up to its responsibilities and “stand ready to help ease the suffering”. Steinmeier continued:

For weeks we have had to watch as the ISIS killers displace and murder countless innocent people. Now even the last remaining place of refuge, the Kurdistan‑Iraq region, which has thus far remained stable, is under threat.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Prime Minister‑designate Al‑Abadi
Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Prime Minister‑designate Al‑Abadi© Photothek/Imo

It was therefore important to him, as he stressed in Baghdad and Erbil, to send a signal of solidarity with and support for the people of Iraq. Foreign Minister Steinmeier met his counterpart Hussein Ibrahim Al‑Shahristani, President Fuad Masum and Prime Minister‑designate Haider Al‑Abadi in Baghdad in the morning.

Signal of solidarity and support

From Baghdad Steinmeier travelled on to Erbil, where he not only met the President of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, Masoud Barzani, but also talked with Yazidi and Christian refugee families to get a direct insight into their situation.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier meets refugees in Erbil
Foreign Minister Steinmeier meets refugees in Erbil© Photothek/Imo

While Steinmeier was visiting an emergency aid project run by Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe in a school in the suburb Ankawa, food parcels were being distributed to around 100 families. This aid had been put in place at very short notice for the people, most of them Yazidis, who had fled from the ISIS offensive, but it was clear just how professionally it was organised and how it reached those in need directly. Following his talks with the refugee families and those in charge of the project, Steinmeier said:

Everyone who was with me just now in the refugee centre knows exactly why help is needed so urgently.

The Federal Foreign Office recently increased its financial aid for the refugees in northern Iraq to a total of 4.4 million euros. The Federal Government decided last week to make available a further 20 million euros, Steinmeier emphasised during his visit. A first aid flight had arrived in Erbil that morning, and others will follow in the next few days.

Iraq: A real catastrophe

Talking to Christian refugees on the premises of the Chaldaic diocese in Erbil
Talking to Christian refugees on the premises of the Chaldaic diocese in Erbil© Photothek/Imo

Later Steinmeier and the Chaldaic Bishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, talked with Christian families who have found refuge on the premises of the diocese. With temperatures reaching 50°C in the midday sun, the people are gathered on the grassy areas and open spaces – with only a few mattresses and tarpaulins. Mothers with young children have found temporary refuge in a few rooms in the diocesan buildings.

After talking to the refugees, Steinmeier said their main concern had been the question of when they would be able to return to their villages. No one could give a reliable answer to that question just now, the Minister said; rather, it was likely that “many of the refugees will have to spend a long time yet away from home”. Steinmeier stressed that “the international community had to contribute” to this assistance, which went further than emergency measures.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier meets Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, in Erbil
Foreign Minister Steinmeier meets Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, in Erbil© Photothek/Imo

In view of the dramatic situation, Germany’s Foreign Minister has in recent days repeatedly advocated providing help “up to the limits of what is feasible in political and legal terms”. During their discussions in Erbil, Steinmeier and Barzani also talked about the outcome of the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting, at which the Ministers had agreed, among other things, that each member state would decide for itself what help to provide, including military support. Following his talks, Steinmeier emphasised that “Iraq very much welcomed the decision”.

Iraq needs a Government capable of action

During his political talks in Baghdad and Erbil, Steinmeier made it clear that there also needed to be movement in the political process. He said that Iraq needed a new Government capable of action which would integrate all social and religious groups and combine their strength to combat ISIS. Steinmeier stressed that Al‑Abadi’s nomination as Prime Minister gave him hope “at last” that this might happen.

At the end of his visit to Erbil, the German Foreign Minister said:

I am convinced that ISIS can and will only be stopped if all Iraqis – Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds – (...) join together to combat the group’s barbarities.

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