Opposition party members say a planned Bundeswehr training mission to Iraq lacks a clear mandate and violates the constitution. The government counters that it's answering calls for aid from Baghdad - and the UN.
The German government plans to initiate a Bundeswehr training mission in northern Iraq, then lawmakers will have to give the plan their approval. But what's the legal mandate for deploying troops to Iraq?
The German government sent weapons to the Kurds in northern Iraq in September, and now it's preparing to send military instructors. Roughly 100 German soldiers are likely to be tasked with training Kurish peshmerga fighters in Erbil, Iraq.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet wants to submit its plans for the mission before the Christmas break so lawmakers can vote on the deployment as soon as they return to work after the holiday.
"We want to help strengthen the peshmerga fighters in their battle against ISIS," read a statement from the German Foreign Office, referring to the "Islamic State" by an alternate acronym.
"Violation of the constitution"
Some, however, have questioned whether lawmakers can legally approve such a mission at all. International missions are par for the course for the Bundeswehr, but before such a deployment can go ahead, they need to fulfill certain constitutional prerequisites. Germany's constitution says the military can be deployed as part of a system of system of reciprocal and collective security. This hurdle, critics have said, has not been met as there is not a UN Security Council mandate for the mission and Germany is participating neither in a NATO alliance mission nor an EU mission in Iraq.
Alexander Neu, a politician from the Left Party and defense policy expert, said he sees a "violation of the constitution" on the horizon, should the Bundestag approve the mission. The Greens are also asking for clarification of the mission's legal foundation.
"No UN mandate necessary"
The government, however, has argued that there is sufficient legitimization for the mission: "Iraq has turned to all members of the United Nations, including Germany, to ask for extensive help in the fight against ISIS," said Martin Schäfer, spokesman for the German Foreign Office, adding that Iraq's call for help to the international community, which 60 nations followed, was basis enough to send the Bundeswehr. A decision by the UN Security Council was "meaningless under international law," according to Schäfer.
Maybe under international law, but not according to the German constitution, said Neu. Declaring a "coalition of the willing" a system for collective security is "adventurous," said the Left party politician, who is also a member of the Bundestag's Defense Committee. He added that the government is bending the constitution by potentially deploying troops in a loose federation or as a response to a singular government's call.
"Covered by the constitution"
Others in Germany, however, have argued that countries like Italy, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands had also agreed to training the Kurdish peshmerga fighters and point out that the Security Council had asked all UN members to participate in the fight against "Islamic State." These requests mean such a deployment is covered by the constitution, said Hans-Peter Bartels (SPD), who heads of the Defense Committee.
Parliament will likely debate the mandate in mid-January. Even though a training mission doesn't necessarily require parliamentary approval, the government has said it decided to request lawmakers' support.