2018-09-17 16:21:00

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday arrived in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region to meet with German soldiers, military trainers, and senior Kurdish officials.

The visit follows her recent one to German troops at the Taji military base, about 30 kilometers north of Baghdad.

The minister conveyed the message that German forces would be needed in Iraq “for a long time” to help rebuild the country’s military as it struggles to ensure that Islamic State (IS) militants do not re-group in underground cells.

Germany, which has about 125 soldiers in Iraq, is committed to supporting Baghdad in rebuilding the country after a three-year-long war against the jihadist group, von der Leyen told reporters at Taji base.

“The fight against IS left deep wounds and scars in the country. It will take patience ... to strengthen Iraq again,” she said when asked why Germany decided on a longer-term engagement in Iraq. “This is about the reconstruction of a country in all areas.”

The German official also mentioned that Iraq needed not only stability but also economic growth and cooperation, with the European ally having already invested about 1.4 billion euros ($1.63 billion) in Iraq since the emergence of IS in the country in 2014.

In 2018, Germany began shifting its military training activities to the central part of Iraq after focusing in the past on training Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the Kurdistan Region.

German military advisers will also advise the Defense Ministry of Iraq on matters like mine-clearing and the development of defenses against nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, von der Leyen added.

The German official, whose country is in talks about a possible military role in Syria against the use of chemical weapons, noted that all players in the future Iraqi federal government had said they wished for Germany to commit to a longer term in Iraq.

During her visit to German forces in Jordan on Saturday, von der Leyen said that she could not rule out a longer-term deployment of German troops in the Middle East.

Germany’s Defense Minister also welcomed news that the Iraqi Parliament had elected a new Speaker after days of negotiations, calling it an important step in the right direction.

Editing by Nadia Riva