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Merkel speaks of IS 'genocide'

August 27, 2014

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that the actions of the "Islamic State" in Iraq can be called "genocide." The German government is about to break its own rules on sending weapons to conflict zones in response.

Angela Merkel PK 18. Juli 2014
Image: Reuters

In an interview with her Christian Democrats' online video channel, CDU.tv, Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday found unusually strong words to describe the actions of the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (IS) group in Iraq.

Angela Merkel said that the "awful" treatment of minority groups and non-Sunni Muslims by "IS" was such that, "one can speak of a genocide."

Merkel said that was why "above all else we have first offered humanitarian aid" for the north of Iraq, before gradually leading towards one of the main points of debate in Berlin in recent weeks: the sending of military equipment - and probably some weaponry as well - to a conflict zone. Ordinarily, the German government opposes this as a point of principle, but Berlin is set to make an exception in northern Iraq.

"Considering the atrocities, the barbarism happening there, I think that it is justified for us to say that - to a limited extent - we will also help with weapons deliveries," Merkel said on her Christian Democrats' CDU.tv online channel. "What exactly? That will be decided in the coming days, and the Bundestag [the lower house of German parliament] will debate this at the beginning of next week."

Deutsche Hilfe für Irak 16.08.2014 Erbil
German aid deliveries to the Kurdish region of Iraq began last monthImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Exceptional measures

"We should be helping with certain supplies, according to our capabilities, so they can fight and prevent ISIS from taking over the whole region and creating a caliphate," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a news conference during a visit to Prague on Wednesday.

"The German government has not reached a decision yet today but I believe that a decision should be made on Sunday on concretely what should be supplied," the German minister added. On Monday, parliament will debate the government decision, at the request of the opposition Green and Left parties, both avid opponents of weapons exports. Some members of Merkel's ruling coalition have also voiced concerns, mainly concerning the possibility of weapons ending up in the wrong hands.

The parliamentary debate would be primarily symbolic; all German arms exports must be approved by a special government panel, but not parliament. Domestic news agency dpa reported on Wednesday that the coaliltion was considering allowing a symbolic vote - sure to pass with ease - on the break from normal German policy.

Pressekonferenz von der Leyen Steinmeier zu Waffenlieferungen an irakische Kurden
Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Defense Minister von der Leyen will be part of the team deciding what to sendImage: Odd Anderson/AFP/Getty Images

Germany's decision to provide military aid to the Kurds has been seen by much of the German public to undermine the country's post-war ethos of not sending arms to conflict zones. In a poll conducted by German opinion poll company Forsa last week, 63 percent of Germans said they were against arming the Kurds.

Ethnic cleansing

Over recent months, IS has established control over territory it calls a "caliphate" across extensive areas of northern Iraq and Syria, where they have been accused of carrying out ethnic cleansing.

“They are systematically targeting men, women and children based on their ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation and are ruthlessly carrying out widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control. Such persecution would amount to crimes against humanity,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Sunday.

Several other countries have already provided the Kurdish forces with arms to fight against IS, including Canada, France and the United Kingdom. According to the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Massud Barsani, Iran was amongst the first countries to provide military aid.

ksb/msh (dpa, Reuters)