The German parliament has met in a special session to debate plans to ship weapons to Iraq. The opposition was critical of the shipments, warning that these arms could easily fall into the wrong hands.
Monday's extraordinary session of the German Bundestag began with a minute's silence. It was on 1 September 1939 that Germany invaded Poland, triggering the start of World War Two. 75 years later, members of parliament met to debate the government's decision to send weapons to northern Iraq in support of Kurdish fighters, as they struggle to repel the advance of the terrorist militia that calls itself the "Islamic State" (IS, formerly ISIS).
It's a decision Chancellor Angela Merkel described as "far-reaching." It means abandoning what has been a fundamental principle of German foreign policy since the end of the Second World War: not to supply arms to war zones or crisis regions. Merkel defended the decision, referring to the "unimaginably cruel" actions of "Islamic State" fighters. The Sunni extremist group has declared a caliphate in the parts of Syria and Iraq it has conquered, where it is threatening, torturing and murdering members of religious minorities and any whose faith does not correspond to theirs.
Merkel said the government had faced the choice of taking no risks and ultimately accepting the spread of IS, or of "supporting those who are fighting against this savage terrorism." Germany now had an opportunity to save people's lives and prevent further mass murders in Iraq, said Merkel. "We have to take this opportunity."
She added that, furthermore, the entire region was threatening to destabilize, and this could also affect Germany and Europe, Merkel stressed: a reference to German jihadists who are fighting with the IS terror group.
Oppermann: Emergency aid to save lives
On Sunday evening the government had decided to supply Iraqi Kurds with, among other things, rocket launchers, guns, hand grenades and ammunition, out of existing German army stocks. The United States is already supporting the Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq with weapons and by making air strikes on the IS fighters. Other Western states are also already sending arms.
Gregor Gysi is critical of weapons delivery to crises areas and said the arms could wind up in the wrong hands.
Thomas Oppermann, a politician with Merkel's coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, said Germany could not simply stand by passively and leave responsibility for the fighting to others. "That wouldn't be right," he commented, describing the arms supplies as "emergency aid to save people's lives."
Gysi: Weapons could fall into the wrong hands
However, Gregor Gysi, the parliamentary party leader of the biggest opposition force, the Left Party, criticized the German arms shipments, saying they were "completely wrong," and if Iraq had enough of anything, it was weapons. He said we could assume that German weapons might also end up in the hands of the IS fighters, "because the Kurdish peshmerga forces often abandoned their weapons to the IS without a fight. "You have no influence on how the weapons are used," he warned. His Left Party colleague Ulla Jelpke also stressed that anyone supplying weapons ran the risk of them ending up with the jihadists.
Gysi's counterpart in the Green Party, Anton Hofreiter, said that the majority of his party members also opposed the weapons shipments. "The risks outweigh the short-term usefulness of the weapons," Hofreiter emphasized. He agreed that no one could control "where the weapons will end up:" German arms could be used to fuel inner-Iraqi conflicts. Hofreiter declared himself in favor of a political solution for the region. The Sunni tribes, some of which are fighting alongside "Islamic State", would, he said, only abandon this alliance if the Iraqi government took all of the country's ethnic groups into consideration.
At the end of the debate, the majority of parliamentarians voted in favor of a motion for a resolution, meaning that the governing coalition parties supported the government's decision to supply the weapons. However, the motion itself is only symbolic: parliament does not have any real say in the matter.