Germany said on Wednesday it will halt its training mission in northern Iraq as it seeks unity in a country that has seen tensions soar between the government and the Kurds in the past few days.
Germany has been a major partner of the Kurdish peshmerga forces and has supported its war efforts against the "Islamic State" (IS) since September 2014.
It has supplied 2,000 assault rifle and machine guns, as well as other weapons valued at around 90 million euros. Some 130 German soldiers are stationed in Erbil (in picture above) to train the Kurdish fighters.
"We had agreed last Friday with the foreign office to pause the training so no wrong signal would be sent," German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters on Wednesday.
Tensions have escalated between the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Kurds, two allies in the campaign against the IS jihadists, since September 25 when the Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence in a non-binding referendum.
Responding to the referendum, the Iraqi army, supported by Iranian-backed Shiite militias known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), launched an operation to push back the Kurds to positions they held in northern Iraq in June 2014, before they nearly doubled territory under their control following the collapse of Iraqi army during an IS advance.
Read more: Kirkuk: What you need to know about the Kurdish-Iraqi dispute
Germany had warned the Kurds against holding the "one-sided" referendum and had called on the two sides to avoid any steps that could lead to a further escalation of the situation.
A government spokesman on Wednesday said the suspension of the training was temporary and any decision on resuming it will be subject to daily examination of the situation in Iraq, which faces the possibility of a new civil war.
Kurdish forces withdraw
Iraqi government forces said on Wednesday they had successfully confined the Kurds to their long-standing three provinces in northern Iraq that make up the constitutionally recognized autonomous Kurdistan region.
On Monday, Iraq's Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi ordered troops and PMU forces to retake Kirkuk and reassert Baghdad's control over the oil-rich province.
Baghdad government forces then on Tuesday retook control of all of Nineveh province, which includes the major city of Mosul, after the Peshmerga pulled back. The Mosul hydro-electric dam, northwest of the city, was among the positions recaptured.
"As of today we reversed the clock back to 2014," the Iraqi army commander, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters news agency.
The largely bloodless military advance has dealt a major blow to the finances of the autonomous Kurdish region, which had derived much of its revenues from exports of oil from Kirkuk's rich oil and gas resources.
ap/rc (Reuters, dpa, AFP)