BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany will suspend its mission training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq because of the conflict between the Kurds and the Iraqi government, the German defense minister said on Wednesday.
Germany has been a major partner for the Iraqi Kurds. It has provided 32,000 assault rifle and machine guns, as well as other weapons valued at around 90 million euros since September 2014. About 130 German soldiers are based in Erbil where they are providing training to the Kurdish fighters.
The Kurdish Peshmerga are at the forefront of the campaign against Islamic State and had significantly expanded their influence to bring the oil region under their control.
But responding to a Kurdish vote for independence in a non-binding referendum, Iraqi government forces backed by Iranian-trained paramilitary groups captured the Kurdish-held oil region of Kirkuk on Monday, transforming the country’s balance of power.
The German government, which agreed on Wednesday on three-month extension of seven other foreign assignments for its armed forces, suspended the training of the Kurdish fighters as it sought to “always ensure the unity of Iraq”.
“We had agreed last Friday with the foreign office to pause the training so no wrong signal would be sent,” Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters.
The minister said the German mission of equipping and training the Kurds for their fight against Islamic State was necessary and the right thing to do.
“We haven’t forgotten how it looked like in 2014 when IS tried to commit genocide against the Yazidis and was around 10 km from Baghdad,” she said.
The suspension of the training is temporary and resuming it will depend on daily examination of the situation in Iraq, said the government spokesman on Wednesday.
Germany had warned Iraqi Kurds against holding what it called a “one-sided” referendum and had urged Iraqi and Kurdish officials to avoid any steps that could lead to a further escalation of the situation.
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Tuesday called on all conflict parties in northern Iraq to immediately stop military actions and engage in direct talks. “The conflict between the region of Kurdistan-Iraq and the Iraqi government is giving us the greatest cause for concern,” he said in a statement.
“There is no reason why anyone should believe that there is a military solution to the tensions in Iraq that have flared up in recent days,” Gabriel said.
Reporting by Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Alison Williams