Berlin: In a major departure from its long-standing policy of not exporting arms to a conflict region, Germany on Wednesday decided to supply weapons to Kurdish forces battling the "barbaric" IS militants in northern Iraq.
Germany is prepared to provide "substantial military assistance" to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which will put them in a better position to defend themselves against the "barbaric IS terrorists," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
The decision to arm the Kurdish forces after several weeks` debate was taken at a special meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel had with some of her cabinet colleagues in Berlin.
It also follows an agreement among the EU foreign ministers in Brussels last week to allow member nations to deliver arms, and military equipment to the Kurdish forces.
"Britain, France and Italy have already decided to supply weapons to the Kurdish forces and we are prepared to do the same," Steinmeier told a joint news conference with Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen.
The Islamic State militants` advance in Iraq and in Syria in the past months and their brutalities against the Yezidis, Christians and other minorities are matters of "great concern" for the German government, Steinmeier said.
The jihadists posed a threat not only to the existence of the Kurds and the Iraqi state but also for the entire region and a collapse of Kurdish defences and Iraqi administration would have far-reaching consequences for Europe and for Germany, the minister said.
Steinmeier said details of the kind of military assistance needed and their extent are still being worked out and they will be finalised by the middle of next week.
He gained a first-hand impression of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the region when he visited northern Iraq last week.
He held discussions with Iraq`s Prime Minister-designate Haidar Al-Abadi in Baghdad and also met President of Kurdish regional government Massoud Barzani in Erbil.
"We are prepared to make available such assistance to the Kurds as speedily as possible," Steinmeier said.
It will be done in close consultation with Germany`s European and International partners, he said.
Von der Leyen said the IS militants unleashed a "humanitarian catastrophe" in the region and those forces, which confront their terror "must be supported by providing military equipment, if necessary with effective weapons."
Her ministry is currently examining what kind of weapons are urgently needed by the Kurdish forces and the military hardware Germany is in a position to supply, she said.
Media reports said the Kurds are seeking from Germany first of all anti-tank weapons, especially "Milan" rockets, which can be used effectively against the IS militans` armeda of US-made tanks stolen from the Iraqi army.
As announced earlier, the German government will start supplying non-lethal military goods such as protective clothing, night vision equipment and generators to the Kurdish forces in the coming days.
All German military deliveries to the Kurdish forces are being organised with the approval of the Iraqi government, von der Leyen said.
On the humanitarian side, a German military transport landed in the Kurdish capital Erbil on Monday with additional relief supplies for thousands of displaced persons, who have taken refuge in the Kurdish territory, the minister said.
Last week, three transport aircraft airlifted 36 tonnes of food, medicines, blankets and other items to Erbil.