EU ministers agreed today to back the arming of beleaguered Iraqi Kurd fighters by key member states, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after three hours of talks. One diplomat said the agreement was “strong and sends the desired political message.” VoR’s Brendan Cole has more.
In the strongest statement of British support for the Iraqi Kurds yet, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said today that the UK would consider any request for British arms from Kurdish forces. Downing Street said no such request has yet been made.
It comes as European Union ministers agreed to helping arm Iraq’s Kurds to halt the relentless advance by Islamic State (IS, or ISIS) militants.
The United States and France have already begun to supply weapons to the Kurds and the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius criticised a lack of action by the West.
He said: “The objective is to rebalance the fight, because the terrorists have highly sophisticated weapons that they took from Iraqi forces, and these are weapons of US origin. And so we don’t want to wash our hands of this we want to help the Kurds, the Iraqis, to avoid massacres.”
Amid warnings of a genocide, several European countries as well as the United States have dropped aid to the imperiled Yazidi population which is being targeted by the IS militants.
US President Barack Obama said the US had broken the siege on Mount Sinjar and saved many lives.
Mr Obama said: “The bottom line is the situation on the mountain has greatly improved and Americans should be very proud of our efforts. Because of the skill and professionalism of our military and the generosity of our people, we broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar, we helped vulnerable people reach safety and we helped save many innocent lives.”
Amid the debate for arming Kurds fighting in Iraq came support from all around the world.
Jabar Hassan is director of the Iraqi Association in London and he believes that arms would be welcomed.
He told VoR: “It does enable the Kurdish forces that can be depended on. What sort of weapons they will get I don’t know, it seems they are in desperate need of air cover and light tanks to defend themselves.”
But there is doubt as to whether simply arming Kurdish forces would be enough to stop ISIS.
Shoshank Joshi is a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. He told VoR: “Depending on the nature of the support the Kurds, receive it could upset the balance between Kirbil and Baghdad.”
“Mission creep is part of the mission”
The West claims it would not contribute to boots on the ground but already there are more than 1,000 US military personnel deployed to Iraq.
But the ability of the West to withdraw from Iraq is of course key.
Joshi said: “To some extent, mission creep is part of the mission. The US has said we are not going to step in and save Iraq until there is political reform. We are now seeing that more inclusive government taking place before our eyes.”
Hopes have grown for a more inclusive Iraqi government after the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki resignedand conceded power to Haider al Abadi.
Washington-based Kurdish affairs analyst Mutlu Civiroglu told VoR: “I am not optimistic, the problem was not Maliki, the problem is one of democracy. The picture is more serious, it is a culture of democracy.”
The Peshmerga fighters currently used dated Soviet weapons and would welcome an influx of hardware and expertise from the west.
Its long term goal however – in addition to seeing off the threat of the Islamic State – could be seen as a desire to strengthen its resources for an independent Kurdistan.
Mutlu Civiroglu told VoR: “The Kurds are trying to create a joint front. As far as Kurdish independence is concerned, Kurds want it, it is no secret, they have the right to demand an independent state. They fear that the Iraqi state is not capable of protecting their interests.”
The offensive by the self-styled Islamic State, has drived an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis from their homes.
The UN has declared the situation in the country a “level three emergency”, its highest level of humanitarian crisis.