Germany’s armed forces, the Bundeswehr, plagued by a chronic shortage of everything from combat vests to submarines, is about to launch a new mission in Iraq that will deploy up to 800 soldiers to train local forces and clear mines.
The draft mandate for the new mission, which Handelsblatt has seen, gives an official assessment of the situation in the Middle Eastern country for the very first time.
“The Bundeswehr mission in northern Iraq was successful, IS has been largely forced back militarily,” it reads. The report adds that the rest of the country still suffers attacks launched by Islamic State (IS) from Syria.
A previous German operation, arming and train Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq, is about to run out. Since September 2014, the Bundeswehr has provided thousands of assault rifles and machine guns to Kurdish fighters. About 130 German soldiers are based in Erbil where they are providing training.
The plans however follow reports that the German military, which spends a smaller proportion of its GDP on its military than other big powers such as France and Britain, lacks tanks, spare parts, bulletproof vests, tents and winter clothing. Critics have said the shortages cast doubt on Germany’s pledges to take on more responsibilities in NATO and to forge joint EU military capabilities.
The mandate follows a request for help from the Iraqi government and is based on a 2015 UN resolution backing an anti-IS mission by 71 nations. In addition to providing training and helping with mine clearance, German forces will continue to support the anti-IS coalition with Tornado reconnaissance aircraft based in Jordan.
“The threat posed by IS isn’t over yet, that applies to Europe as well as to Iraq,” German lawmaker Fritz Felgentreu, defense policy expert for the Social Democratic Party (SPD), told Handelsblatt.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet is due to agree on the mandate on Wednesday, while the Bundestag lower house of parliament will vote on it this month.
The mandate is expected to amount to a long-term commitment although it initially runs only until October 31 when its continuation will be reviewed. Success will hinge in part on the outcome of Iraqi elections in May.
German government sources said a victory of moderate Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, who has been trying to maintain stable relations between ethnic and religious groups, would be good for Iraq. But if he is beaten by pro-Shiite rival Nouri al-Maliki, the country will face a prolonged period of instability, sources warned, adding that Shiite Iran was already trying to increase its influence in Iraq. In the worst case, IS could resurface if the Sunnis once again see themselves being discriminated against.
The German government will also seek a parliamentary mandate to prolong its existing Afghanistan mandate and increase the deployment there by a third to 1,300.
Military mandates are likely to be voted on in March and April by Germany’snew “grand coalition” government of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD).
“This isn’t going to be easy for the SPD,” said Mr. Felgentreu. He said that even though there were solid reasons for deploying troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the junior ruling party has qualms about sending troops there. “We will have a lot to discuss.”