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Steinmeier promises Kurds more military support to fight 'IS'

Germany's foreign minister has pledged further military support to the Kurdish peshmerga forces in northern Iraq in their fight against IS militants. He has also called for more political unity within Iraq.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier pledged further German military support to the Kurds in northern Iraq on Tuesday. The pledge of support, which came

on day two of the foreign minister's visit to Iraq,

seeks to help Kurdish forces in their fight against "Islamic State" (IS) militants.

"We have decided to continue our cooperation with you and the peshmerga," said Steinmeier during a meeting in Erbil with Masoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region. He stressed, however, that the fight against IS must be integrated into a "larger overall political strategy."

Although Steinmeier did not give exact details concerning the scope of future military support in Iraq, it is believed that the number of Bundeswehr trainers will increase from 100 to 150. Kurdish forces hope to receive more anti-tank missile launchers and G3 and G36 assault rifles.

The foreign minister also praised the Kurds for their contributions in retaking key Iraqi cities such as Sinjar and Tikrit. Barzani assured Steinmeier that German efforts to arm Peshmerga forces helped "to turn around the military situation in the region."

Last year, Germany decided to go against its principles and send weapons to the conflict-ridden area due to IS advances in Iraq. Steinmeier said he is "retrospectively glad" about the decision and that "it was necessary to stop IS."

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Unity in Iraq

Steinmeier also emphasized that the offer of support must still be approved by the Iraqi central government in Bagdad.

"We see no point in making the relationships here in Iraq more complicated than they already are by aggravating Bagdad," he said. So far, Germany has not supplied weapons to the Iraqi army, which is viewed by some as partially corrupt and inefficient.

The four million Kurds who live in northern Iraq enjoy a relatively high degree of autonomy, but they still strive for independence. When answering a question about the possibility of succession, Barzani replied: "We have always said that we want to be independent. Only, it must be done through dialogue and not through violence, also at the right time."

Steinmeier urged that the Kurds and the central government in Iraq need to unify, especially if IS is to be stopped. The terror group has overrun swathes of territory in the country and has support from Iraqi Sunnis who live in the northwest.

Steinmeier will visit with Bundeswehr trainers and tour a refugee camp

before concluding his trip to Iraq.

rs/jil (dpa, Reuters)

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