21st Oct 2016

EU countries give France green light to arm Iraqi Kurds

  • Erbil, the Iraqi Kurds' capital: France wants to redress the 'imbalance' in Kurdish vs. IS military capabilities (Photo: Tom Blackwell)

EU countries have moved a step closer to sending arms to Iraqi Kurds to help them fight the Islamic State (IS).

Ambassadors at a meeting of the bloc’s Political and Security Committee in Brussels on Tuesday (12 August) agreed that individual member states are free to send weapons, but stopped short of launching an EU-level effort to support the Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga.

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The envoys’ joint statement “noted the urgent request by the Kurdish regional authorities to certain member states for military support and underlined the need to consider this request in close co-ordination with the Iraqi authorities”.

In contrast to the EU divisions which marked the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, they “welcomed the efforts by the US ... to stop the IS advance”.

The US began air strikes against the Islamist fighters last week, with the State Department on Tuesday saying US ground forces might be used to break an IS siege on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, where tens of thousands of refugees from the Yazidi minority are facing extermination.

The EU the same day also activated its Emergency Response Co-ordination Centre - a mechanism for pooling humanitarian aid from the 28 member states.

Meanwhile, the European Commission earmarked another €5 million for humanitarian assistance for the more than 200,000 Iraqi people driven from their homes by fighting in recent weeks.

France has led the call for EU arms to Iraqi Kurds after its foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, visited the Kurdish capital, Erbil, on Sunday.

He told French radio on Tuesday that: “There is an evident imbalance between this horrible group [IS] which has sophisticated weapons and the Kurdish peshmergas, who are courageous but don’t have these weapons”.

The German foreign ministry earlier said it is considering shipments of armoured vehicles, mine-detection equipment, helmets, body armour and medical supplies.

Reuters reported that the Czech Republic, Italy, and the Netherlands back the French proposal to send arms.

An EU diplomat told EUobserver on Wednesday that EU foreign ministers might also hold an emergency meeting on Iraq in the coming days to increase the level of European intervention.

But EU differences of opinion, including inside Germany, are causing hesitation.

For his part, Norbert Roettgen, a politician from chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party who chairs the foreign affairs committee in the German parliament, told German media on Tuesday that Berlin should refrain from sending lethal assistance “in such a confusing situation in which we have no real control over the whereabouts of the weapons supplied”.

The IS is the world’s newest self-proclaimed country.

The Sunni Muslim entity began as an armed resistance movement against the Syrian regime. It has attracted Islamist fighters from across the Middle East, north Africa, and Europe and controls large stretches of territory in Syria and Iraq.

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