Moral Outrage

Germany’s Justification for Arming the Kurds Dubious

james foley_AP2
The death of James Foley symbolizes the atrocities of Iraq crisis. AP
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Armed I.S. insurgents are overrunning parts of Iraq, threatening to destabilize the entire Middle East.

  • Facts


    • This week, Germany’s government said it planned arms shipments to the Kurds.
    • As justification, officials said the move would help prevent a possible genocide.
    • Two dozen Sunni tribes abandoned the Islamic State fighters after Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki stepped down.
  • Audio


  • Pdf

Germany will very likely deliver weapons to war-torn Iraq. In an attempt to convince its skeptical population about the move’s necessity, the German government employed a moral argument. The repulsive video of the execution of the U.S. reporter James Foley by an Islamic State extremist provided the visual aid.

This moralistic justification is, however, extremely problematic: How does the German government justify weapons deliveries to the Iraqi Kurds with reference to a possible genocide but refuse to support Syrian opposition fighters?

In Syria, a presumable slaughter of around 200,000 people has happened without Germany or another country from the West taking action to prevent it. Whoever denounces the atrocities of the Islamists has to also mention the barrel bombs that the Assad regime in Syria threw into residential quarters in Aleppo and other places.

In Iraq, the Kurdish Peshmerga with the help of U.S. air support have already taken much of the punch out of the I.S. offensive and could recapture important positions such as the Mosul Dam. Such successes are important for the morale of the Kurdish fighters, and they show the I.S. extremists can be stopped. Also, given the American engagement, it is doubtful whether there is really the risk of another genocide there in the absence of German weapons.

Moreover, the heated debate over weapons deliveries threatens to divert attention from a key point: The war against I.S. and for the future of Iraq will not be decided in the Kurdish areas, but rather in Baghdad and the Sunni triangle. Only when the Shiites and the Kurds are ready to give the Sunnis political influence and allow them to share in Iraq’s prosperity will Sunnis withdraw support from the extremists. After the fall of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, about two dozen Sunni tribes switched sides to back the new government. That is how the roughly 15,000 I.S. troops will be expelled from Iraq, just like their predecessor al-Qaida once was.

And that doesn’t require German weapons.

The author is Handelsblatt’s parliamentary correspondent. He can be reached at:

We hope you enjoyed this article

Make sure to sign up for our free newsletters too!