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Germany to supply arms to Kurds fighting 'IS' militants

Chancellor Angela Merkel is to address parliament to explain a decision to supply German weapons to Kurdish forces fighting "IS" militants in Iraq. The decision marks a major policy shift and is not universally popular.

Chancellor Merkel is to address a special session of Germany's Bundestag lower house of parliament on Monday, a day after the cabinet agreed to send 70 million euros ($92 million) worth of high-end weaponry to Kurdish forces fighting "Islamic State" (IS) militants.

The decision was announced in a joint press conference held by Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin on Sunday.

"The situation in Iraq is extremely critical," von der Leyen said, adding that the IS, which has captured large swathes of northern Iraq in recent months, had been acting with "merciless brutality."

Steinmeier said the arms shipments would complement the humanitarian aid that Germany has already sent to help civilians displaced by the fighting.

"This isn't an easy decision for us, but it's the right decision in a situation that is difficult in every way," Steinmeier said. "The terror group Islamic State is a deadly threat for hundreds of thousands," he added.

Among the weapons to be delivered are 500 anti-tank missiles, 8,000 G36 assault rifles, 40 machine guns, as well as five heavily armored Dingo infantry vehicles.

Break with tradition

The decision to arm the Kurds in northern Iraq marks a break with Germany's long-standing policy of not sending arms to conflict zones.

A government statement released after Sunday's cabinet meeting argued that the situation in northern Iraq justified the unusual decision.

"The lives of millions of people, the stability of Iraq and the whole region and ... due to the high number of foreign fighters, our 17891034:security in Germany and Europe are being threatened," the statement said.

"It is our humanitarian responsibility and in the interests of our security to help those suffering and to stop the IS" it added.

Non-binding Bundestag vote

Following Monday's Bundestag debate, lawmakers are to hold a non-binding vote on the weapons deliveries. They are expected to approve the measure easily , as Chancellor Merkel's conservatives along with their coalition partners, the Social Democrats, hold a large majority in the legislature.

However, it appears that the chancellor still has a lot of work to do to convince ordinary Germans that it is the right course of action. In a recent Infratest dimap opinion poll conducted for ARD public television, 60 percent of respondents said they opposed shipping weapons to Iraq while only 34 percent supported the idea.

pfd/crh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)