Seeing Iraq horror, Europe pledges aid and arms

By From page A10 | August 16, 2014

BRUSSELS — The European Union on Friday forged a unified response to the rapid advance of Islamic militants in Iraq and the resulting refugee crisis, allowing direct arms deliveries to Kurdish fighters battling the Sunni insurgents. Several EU nations pledged more humanitarian aid.

The emergency meeting of the bloc’s 28 foreign ministers in Brussels marked a shift toward greater involvement in Iraq, following weeks during which the Europeans mainly considered the situation an American problem because of the 2003 U.S.-led Iraq invasion.

EU ministers pledged to step up efforts to help those fleeing advancing Islamic State militants, with several nations announcing they will fly dozens of tons of aid to northern Iraq over the coming days.

“First of all, we need to make sure that we alleviate humanitarian suffering,” Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told reporters. “Secondly, I believe we need to make sure that (Islamic State) is not in a position to overrun the Kurds or to take a stronger hold on Iraq.”

France has pledged to ship weapons to the Kurds and Britain is delivering ammunition and military supplies obtained from eastern European nations and is considering sending more weaponry. Germany, the Netherlands and others said they would also consider requests to arm the Kurds.

Europe’s initiative came as Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed to step down after weeks of insisting on a third four-year term. His departure could pave the way for a more inclusive Iraqi government and strengthen Baghdad’s position in battling the Sunni insurgency.

A veteran Shiite lawmaker, Haider al-Abadi, now faces the challenge of forming a stable government in Iraq and engaging Sunni politicians, who say their disenfranchisement under al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government fueled support for the insurgency among the Sunni minority.

The EU foreign ministers called on al-Abadi to urgently form a government that will be “inclusive and able to address the needs and legitimate aspirations of all the Iraqi citizens.”

U.S. and EU officials have said they can beef up their support for Iraq once a stable government is in place.

“It is not simply Iraq or Syria that find themselves threatened, it is the world,” French President Francois Hollande said in a speech marking the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Provence. “France decided to come to their aid, both humanitarian and military. And today another initiative emerged — Europe decided at last to do the same, because it is our duty. … It is there that the future of our continent is being decided.”

The IS militants’ advances have brought danger closer to European shores: Officials say about 1,700 radical Muslims from France, Britain and Germany alone are believed to have joined the fighting. And there are fears those militants could bring their radicalism home: A radical French Islamist who had fought in Syria is suspected of killing four people at Brussels’ Jewish Museum in May.

The decision to send arms to the Kurds is an attempt to deal with an immediate crisis “in a defensible way, which is relying overwhelmingly on sympathetic local forces,” said Jeffrey Anderson, a Georgetown University analyst. But he added the long-term consequences could be far-reaching.

“You’re strengthening the centrifugal forces within the country. You’re making it more likely that what you’re emerging with is not a unified Iraq,” he said. “That’s the price you have to pay for solving this crisis.”

The IS group swiftly advanced across northern and western Iraq in June, routing the Iraqi military and taking the country’s second-largest city, Mosul. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.5 million have been displaced.

The plight this month of thousands of Yazidis, a religious minority who fled from advancing IS militants and were trapped on a forbidding mountain range, was key to pushing Europe toward taking action.

In New York, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said close to 80,000 people are now estimated to have reached Kurdistan arriving from the Sinjar mountains.

France, Britain, Italy and Germany have stepped up humanitarian aid and are delivering dozens of tons of aid to the refugees in Iraq, including food, drinking water and medical supplies.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was flying to Iraq over the weekend to meet with Kurdish leaders and the government in Baghdad to discuss what support is most needed.

Kurdistan, which took in tens of thousands of refugees over the past weeks, will not only need short-term humanitarian aid but also long-term support to accommodate the displaced, Steinmeier said.

“This will very quickly challenge and probably overwhelm the infrastructure in Irbil and the region,” he added.

In a joint statement, the EU foreign ministers also endorsed the decision by some member nations “to respond positively to the call by the Kurdish regional authorities to provide urgently needed military material” as long as it is done in concert with Iraq’s central government.

Some had cautioned before the meeting that arming the Kurds could eventually strengthen their bid for independence from Iraq — and those European-provided weapons eventually could be used against Baghdad’s own soldiers.

Steinmeier said it was still unclear what arms the Kurds would request or get, but acknowledged there was “no decision without risk in that regard.”

The Islamic State is acting “with a military force and brutality that has surprised almost everybody worldwide,” Steinmeier said.


The Associated Press

The Associated Press


Discussion | 14 comments

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  • rlw895August 16, 2014 - 9:57 am

    Just waiting for al-Maliki to step down. It didn't take long. It was well orchestrated. Kerry is doing a good job.

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  • Mr. SmithAugust 16, 2014 - 10:16 am

    Putting lipstick on a pig would be more rational, rlw895. What will mister "Lead from Behind" do now that Maliki is gone? There goes his excuse for doing little more than converting our military into an arm of the Red Cross. By the way--that didn't work out so well either. Eighty more of those unfortunate Christians were slaughtered by ISIS (remember when Obama referred to ISIS as "the JV team?") a day or so after Obama declared the rescue mission a success.

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  • rlw895August 16, 2014 - 12:17 pm

    Mr.S: Obama will do what he planned to do; he orchestrated al Maliki stepping down. What did you think?

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  • rlw895August 16, 2014 - 12:26 pm

    Mr.S: What do you want us to do to rescue Iraqis? Put boots back on the ground? Thousands were rescued due to US military intervention, while we lost no one and didn't assume the load from the Iraqis where it rightfully belongs. Putting boots on the ground again would be a major setback to progress we've made and where we want to go. Getting allies engaged is a major positive development, and that couldn't happen without al Maliki stepping down.

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  • Mr. SmithAugust 16, 2014 - 3:11 pm

    Rlw: I believe the situation in the Middle East has been allowed to deteriorate to the point where only American boots on the ground will rectify it. I do not want American boots back on the ground--nobody does, and it probably won't happen. Therefore, no permanent solution in the Middle East. Americans and Europeans will suffer greatly for years to come and in various ways because we sat back and allowed ISIS to become a formidable army, much more dangerous than Al Queda was and is. It should not have been allowed to happen. Historians will eventually agree that our lack of foreign policy leadership led to this tragic ending. When America sits on the sidelines and the POTUS "leads from behind," the world becomes a much more dangerous place in short order. The Kurds won't save us. We let them twist in the wind for too long while Obama played footsie with an incompetent and sectarian thug like Maliki. Again I ask you--what's Obama gonna do when the new Iraqi government says,"Save us, Obama!" He put them in there,right? So he now must be their pillar of strength.

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  • rlw895August 16, 2014 - 4:06 pm

    Mr.S: The Middle East is a big place and "rectify" is pretty vague. It would help if you could be more specific. What do you want? It's clear to me that your irrational opposition to Obama causes you always to leave room criticism not matter what happens. I don't understand what you don't like about the present course of things. Obama has orchestrated al-Maliki stepping down, engagement by the European Union, and at least a chance for Iraq to reform itself. If that doesn't happen, Iraq can fly apart. Who cares? I don't. The Islamic State will be short-lived in any case; no terrorist state will be allowed to form in today's world, and it's the beginning of the end for it now. It's one thing to be a terrorist organization, it's another to try to hold territory and form a new country. OBL knew that; the new fools are so radical and suicidal they don't. In a year you won't remember what you were worried about. Watch the Turks.

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  • Mr. SmithAugust 16, 2014 - 4:37 pm

    Rlw: How many times must I say that I am unhappy about the way we got to this point--that would be lack of leadership and an anemic foreign policy. I am not the only one who thinks like this. I am in good company. Before you ask who else--just Goggle (sic) it:>)

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  • rlw895August 16, 2014 - 6:35 pm

    Mr.S: Yes, non-president McCain and Sen. Graham, I'm sure. Should we have doubled down with troops in Iraq?

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  • Mr. SmithAugust 16, 2014 - 7:07 pm

    You left your next Dem presidential candidate off the list, rlw. Not to mention various military experts, but what do they know? Admit it, your hero has blown this presidency. Too many fatal flaws--personal and in preparation for the job. Muslim terrorists are running amuck. The economy is nearly in the tank, and the ACA's full debilitating effect is yet to be felt. Our lack of border security is a world-class joke. Race relations are at an all-time low. The middle class has lost ground under this administration. Obama has kept his promise of fundamentally changing the USA alright. And how.

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  • rlw895August 16, 2014 - 7:22 pm

    Mr.S: Deflecting AGAIN? But let's stay on topic. HClinton thinks we should still have troops fighting in Iraq?

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  • Mr. SmithAugust 16, 2014 - 7:36 pm

    C'mon, rlw. Keep up with the news. Look up her recent comments. Try using "don't do stupid stuff" as some of your key words. You're stuck on this "troops in Iraq" thing. I didn't reference that. I don't believe Hillary referenced that. It's much broader than that. Quit playing dumb.

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  • rlw895August 16, 2014 - 9:08 pm

    Mr.S: If playing dumb means not being able to read your mind, I confess. All I can do is ask clarifying questions. So, you mean the "organizing principles" thing?

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  • Tired-of-itAugust 16, 2014 - 10:27 pm

    Are you sure he's playing?

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  • rlw895August 16, 2014 - 9:59 am

    Expect Turkey to weigh in soon.

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