Speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier during the debate in the German Bundestag on the Bundeswehr training mission in northern Iraq
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We all remember very well how we held an extremely earnest debate just four months ago here in this House on our responsibility in the fight against ISIS. During your speeches, you were visibly moved as you recounted the trail of blood left behind by ISIS in what seemed to be its unstoppable advance in Iraq.
Four months ago, the terrorist mobs had already brought a third of the country under their bloodthirsty control. It seemed that it was just a matter of time before all of Iraq would fall into their hands. On their path to conquering the country, they burnt down everything and slaughtered everyone who stood in their way. Villages were systematically razed to the ground, male villagers were murdered and women were raped and sold on newly established slave markets or taken to Syria to sexually service ISIS troops during lulls in the fighting – an unimaginable ordeal.
It is just four months since we received a cry for help from the people of Sinjar. Day by day, ISIS’ barbaric campaign was advancing further into the mountainous region of northern Iraq. Valley by valley, village by village, the region was falling into its hands. Thousands died. The rest had no protection. The Iraqi army was not on the ground or did not fight. The Kurdish Peshmerga were barely able to defend themselves against well‑equipped ISIS troops.
The people in Sinjar, mainly Yazidis – those who were still alive – had no option but to flee. This was a perilous undertaking, during which many fell victim to ISIS or died of dehydration on mountain paths in searing heat and with no water. Those who managed to use the last of their strength to save themselves survived because there was a place of refuge in the Kurdish city of Erbil, in refugee camps, churches or relatives’ homes.
The fact that Erbil has remained a place of refuge, that the Region of Kurdistan‑Iraq has not fallen into ISIS’ hands and that the terrorist group’s advance has been halted in this very region is primarily thanks to the Peshmerga. It is thanks to their courage and their willingness to oppose the ISIS mobs, even if they are ill‑equipped.
However, I am glad that we in Germany were also able to play a role in this achievement.
I am glad that we took on responsibility, in full awareness of the risks and in the midst of uncertainties. I have not only been thanked for this in Erbil, but also in Baghdad. But I am not saying this because we have a reason to pat ourselves on the back or to feel complacent – because nothing has been resolved.
Nothing has been resolved in terms of humanitarian aid, as tens of thousands of refugees are in overstretched camps and in need of basic supplies.
Particularly now during the winter, these people need to be protected against freezing to death. Thank God, we are in the vanguard as regards humanitarian aid. We have provided 100 million euros. But our help is still needed. And I think I may say that we will be able to provide further help thanks to the way this House voted on the budget. Thank you very much for this.
Nothing has been resolved in political terms either. The new political start under Prime Minister al‑Abadi was good. He was right to reach out to those who were excluded from Iraqi politics. The agreement with northern Iraq on the distribution of oil revenues was necessary.
But all this is not enough. The support for ISIS by many Sunni tribes will only end when Sunnis are granted a visible role in the government and army. Only in this way will ISIS be deprived of support for its criminal policies. This must be the priority in Iraq at the moment.
And nor has anything been resolved in military terms either. The Peshmerga – as you know – are not an offensive army. They will scarcely be in a position to take control of large areas. What counts now is protecting the territories currently held, even if this doesn’t seem like much to some people. We have played a role in this. I want to take this opportunity to say that this is vital for Erbil, for the people in the region and for the safety of the refugees, as humanitarian aid, too, will only reach those in need if we ensure that the parts of northern Iraq not held by ISIS remain safe and peaceful.
Both Baghdad and Erbil have asked us for further support in order to achieve this, as the fighting of the past months in particular has shown clearly that not only is there a lack of equipment, but also that training is needed.
I promise that we will leave no stone unturned in the search for solutions as regards our humanitarian duty and our political responsibility. However, I also strongly urge that we do not refuse to give the Iraqis the training support they have requested of us.
The German Government decided to meet this request and to provide training support in the Region of Kurdistan‑Iraq with the help of up to 100 servicemen and women and in partnership with other Europeans – no more and no less. This is not a combat operation, nor does it involve the type of partnerships we undertook in Afghanistan. It is purely about providing needs-based training and advice, ranging from treatment of the most severely wounded to mine clearance and dealing with improvised explosive devices.
We are cooperating with international – primarily European – partners, but everything remains the overall responsibility of the Kurdish authorities. I believe this is justifiable and we should be willing to do it – and this is why I am asking for your support.
In conclusion, esteemed colleagues, I would like to say the following:
The question as to whether a Bundestag mandate is needed in the first place for this mission is occasionally raised in the public debate. There may well be reasons for the legal interpretation behind this question. Nevertheless, we decided to go down this route and to table a motion for a Bundestag mandate.
You are aware that under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, authorisation is not required for the training and advice mission we have decided to undertake in northern Iraq. Firstly, Baghdad and Erbil have expressly requested this support in writing. And secondly, the Security Council has noted that ISIS poses a threat to global peace and international security.
The Security Council did not only adopt a resolution to protect countries through measures to halt the influx of foreign fighters to the conflict regions and to pursue those financing radical Islamist groups. It also called on the international community to support Iraq in its fight against ISIS.
We are meeting this request as far as legally possible. We have thus met the requirements of international law and the Basic Law. I ask this House for its support. Thank you very much.