""We must defeat this terror militia by military means," German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen recently told the mass-circulated Bild newspaper, with regard to Berlin's policy for combating the "Islamic State" (IS). That promise appears to have fallen on receptive ears, as Germany has pledged to deploy some 100 Bundeswehr soldiers in northern Iraq to offer support to peshmerga fighters.
According to Spiegel Online, several dozen soldiers are to begin training peshmerga in Erbil at the beginning of next year. The planned training program is to be coordinated with an international alliance against IS, and it follows German arms shipments to peshmerga in Erbil that began in August.
Berlin's strategy in Iraq is one it has pursued elsewhere, including Afghanistan, Somalia and Mali, which focuses on training local forces so they can provide security on their own. It also comes after statements made by German leaders earlier this year saying the federal republic should take on greater responsibility, both diplomatically and militarily, in international crises.
Germany has pursued a rather cautious foreign policy over the years, and its training missions also reflect the difficulties facing federal politicians with regard to pushing through such measures through parliament and finding acceptance with the German public. The decision alone to ship arms to the peshmerga sparked intense debate over security policy.
This training mission, says Green party politician Agnieszka Brugger, could contribute substantially to stabilizing the situation in northern Iraq. When it comes to the question of whether to arm or train, one must consider "very carefully the danger that offering training and arms could exacerbate the conflict," Brugger warned.
Brugger has criticized the training mission as being too heavily focused on the military. From a political perspective, she says Merkel's Iraq policy is lacking in "ideas and concepts."
A paper published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs also found that "arming and training" was not a necessary avenue to stability. "It is conceivable that increasing finances, training and equipment might not only be ineffective, it could also be counterproductive and decrease security," said the paper.
In Mali, for instance, soldiers who were trained by the US military joined forces with Islamist groups and ultimately fought against the elected government. In Iraq, too, many former soldiers are now fighting under the IS flag.
'Readiness to help'
Former German Bundeswehr General Harald Kujat sees no alternative to offering aid to peshmerga forces. "We find ourselves in an emergency situation," Kujat told DW. "If we aren't ready to send our own troops to fight, then the only ones who are in a position to do so are the peshmerga."
The German government, however, still has the duty to clear up the legal questions that accompany its planned mission in northern Iraq.
The cabinet is set to do just that by the middle of next week. According to government spokesman Steffen Seibert, the cabinet ministers are to have their plans ready by Wednesday. After that, the proposed mission will have to be approved by parliament.