The Bundeswehr will be helping to train the Iraqi army in Baghdad in 2017, as part of a NATO mission. Up until now, the military has confined itself to helping the Peshmerga Kurds in the north of the country.
The German military will finally be dipping a toe into one of the more hostile areas of the Middle East in the New Year. A spokesman for the German Defense Ministry confirmed to DW that Berlin will be sending a military instructor to Baghdad in January, to advise the Iraqi army on a "ministerial level."
The single instructor, who is likely to spend an initial six months in the Iraqi capital, will be part of an approximately 40-strong NATO team taking part in the alliance's "Training and Capacity Building Activity in Iraq" (NTCB-I).
According to NATO's website, the training program was first agreed in July 2015 at the request of the Iraqi government, and would specifically help the military disarm improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and landmines, as well as provide advice on "security sector reform, military medicine and civil military planning."
The agreement marked the first time that NATO has been active in Iraq since the United States officially withdrew from the country (while leaving private contractors) in 2011. A year later, at a summit in Warsaw in July 2016, NATO allies agreed to augment the plan with a new training and capacity building effort, to run alongside a "train-the-trainers" program for 350 Iraqi officers in Jordan that has been running since April.
No parliamentary approval required
"It's called helping them to help themselves," said the Defense Ministry spokesman, who remained anonymous as per German government policy. "NATO will offer courses to the Iraqi security forces - but that's at a ministerial level, so they won't be on the ground."
Since the mission is not considered dangerous, the Defense Ministry argued, it does not require parliamentary approval. Markus Grübel, state secretary to Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, informed Bundestag representatives as much this week, assuring them that the training officer would not be involved in "armed action." Also, Grübel said, the German military considers the security situation in and around Baghdad to be relatively stable.
Up until now, the Bundeswehr has confined its activities in Iraq to the area surrounding the northern city of Erbil, where 150 German soldiers have been training Peshmerga fighters since last year. Erbil is also considered relatively safe, though it is only around an hour and a half from the area where the Kurds are battling the [so-called] "Islamic State," (IS) a Defense Ministry statement said.
Supplying weapons to Kurds
But Germany is providing the Peshmerga with more than expertise - the Bundeswehr is now regularly providing the Kurdish fighters with thousands of its own standard assault rifle, the G36, plus millions of rounds of ammunition. The latest round of these arms deliveries were confirmed in Defense Ministry statements from December 8 and 14, which said Germany had delivered 1,000 G36s in mid-November, followed by 2.5 million rounds of ammunition, as well as spare parts for weapons that had already been supplied, including rocket launchers.
As German law requires, the weapons come with an "end-user certificate," which obligates the Peshmerga not to pass them on to any third party. Despite this, it is known that "Islamic State" and other extremist factions in the region have acquired German guns in one way or another.
In February this year, the German Foreign Ministry summoned a representative of the Kurdish regional government to explain media reports that some Kurdish fighters, strapped for cash, had been selling on their German weapons.
The Bundeswehr says it has supplied the Kurds in northern Iraq with almost 2,500 tons of military equipment - including more than 20,000 rifles. When the supplies were first delivered in 2014, it was considered a taboo break that was ushered in with an impassioned debate in the Bundestag.
The central Iraqi government, meanwhile, has had to make do with 3,000 protective vests, as well as medical supplies. German peace activists say the deliveries to Kurds violate both the German constitution and international law.