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German Defense Minister Meets Kurdish Leaders

Michael Johnson

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen met with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani on Tuesday, during her second official visit to Northern Iraq. While in Erbil, the Defense Minister promised continued humanitarian and military support for the war against Islamic State.

At a news conference, Leyen praised the head of the largely autonomous Kurdish region saying that, “In one year, the trust between two sides has grown dramatically.” The German government has been a strong backer of the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters with the Defense Minister wanting to “hear exactly what is still needed” to support local allies.

Defense Minister Leyen visiting Peshmerga fighters. (Photo DPA)

So far 95 German soldiers deployed to Iraq have helped to train over 4,700 Peshmerga since 2014. Berlin also supplied 1,800 tons of weapons including 20,000 assault rifles and approximately 1,000 anti-tank missiles, with total aid worth $143 million. The Kurds also hope to receive 2,000 masks and 3,000 uniforms for their fighters.

For their part, the Germans hope that an investment in Kurdish fighters will push back Islamic State territory and return contested areas to more stable governance. In doing so, Peshmerga advances would partly alleviate the tide of refugees fleeing the region into Europe, many of whom seek asylum in Germany. The Defense Minister also meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad, urging unity among the country’s different religious and political factions as an “important factor in the fight against IS” and to alleviate conflict in the region.

With a high level German visit to Iraqi-Kurdistan, and close military ties with the U.S. exemplified during a recent joint ground operation against a Islamic State detention facility, the Kurds have demonstrated themselves to be one of the most reliable Western allies in the region.