Germany's Bundeswehr is getting the first shipment of arms for Iraq ready in a military depot in the northern German town of Waren. DW takes a firsthand look at the arms before they're used to stop "Islamic State."
Sergeant Major Eckhard Block had just been speaking about transport routes and logistics when a crash echoed through the storage depot.
Block shrugs: a few rifles have fallen out of an open crate. That's because of all the coming and going - no reason to panic, he says.
Reporters scurry about in front of the many dark green boxes stacked neatly with rifles, pistols and rocket-propelled grenades. A cameraman films plastic-wrapped sign that reads "Aid shipment Iraq, Part 1." A radio reporter interviews the press spokesman, a photographer tries to get a close-up of a rifle barrel.
The Bundeswehr has invited the media to visit the storage depot in the town of Waren in the eastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
The first German arms shipment to Iraq is being prepared in the gray storage buildings. It includes trucks, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank defense weapons, pistols and field kitchens - 610 tons of material worth a total of 70 million euros ($91 million).
Sometime next week, around September 24, the first of three shipments is set to head for Iraq, Lieutenant-Colonel Klaus Brandel explains - give or take a few days. That, at least, is the plan, he adds.
From Waren, the arms are shipped to Leipzig. Via Baghdad, they are then flown to northern Iraq, where the peshmerga, the fighters in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, are waiting to receive the weapons for their fight against the terrorist militia of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). In the capital, Erbil, the German Consul General is scheduled to hand over the shipment.
"The Kurds sign a piece of paper - 'Goods received' - and then it's not our responsibility any more," says Colonel Thomas Jung.
Last month, the Iraqi government asked Germany for help in its battle against the IS insurgents steadily advancing in Syria and Iraq and getting closer to Baghdad. Initially, Berlin sent humanitarian aid, including food, followed by helmets and protective vests. In late August, following a lengthy political debate, the government decided to add weapons from its Bundeswehr depots to the list.
The weapons, some of which have arrived from all over Germany, are collected and inspected at the Waren depot, Sergeant Major Block says. "Here, we check the quality." Asked whether individual weapons were so old or damaged that they had to be replaced, he shrugs.
There have been miscounts, he concedes. "That can happen to you at home, too."
He avoids addressing the fact that Germany is also sending Iraq weapons that the Bundeswehr has actually scrapped. According to the press kit, the Bundeswehr substituted the g3 rifle for the g36 in 1997.
A soldier without a name tag, who is showing the reporters the weapons, explains that handling the more modern weapon is easier because it weighs less. The reporters are invited to take a closer look at the rifles and pistols destined for Iraq, lined up in a row. And these, he says quickly, function just as well.
Field kitchens in high demand
The peshmerga largely fight with old Russian Kalashnikov rifles. It won't be difficult for them to learn to use a different weapon, a soldier remarks. His recruits, he argues, learn how to handle a weapon in about two weeks. "But of course you learn a lot faster if you're already familiar with rifles."
The next hall houses protective goggles and field kitchens. Huge soup ladles and spatulas hang from a green-brown camouflage tarp above the kitchen. A soldier mentions that this is the first thing the Iraqis asked about: the field kitchens. But apparently, they are not that easy to use. Of the 30 peshmerga expected in Germany this weekend for weapons training sessions, ten are scheduled to be crowded around the field kitchen.
Trucks are lined up in accurate rows in front of the building. At the very back, in the last row, a fat brown spider languidly scrabbles across its web between two big black tires.
A reporter asks Colonel Jung, who stands next to the truck, if this is his nightmare: pictures of German weapons in the hands of the PKK?
Jung shakes his head. He doesn't want to get involved in a debate about whether the Kurdish militia - banned in Germany, but actively fighting the IS in Syria and Iraq - may one day get its hands on German weapons.
That could happen, he says. But he adds that the g3 rifle - 8,000 are being shipped to Iraq - is popular worldwide. You can only prove the weapon is from Germany if you know its serial number, he says, adding the Bundeswehr "keeps close tabs" on those: The serial numbers of all the weapons enroute to Iraq are turned over to the Federal Criminal Office.