With German Weapons

BERLIN/ERBIL (Own report) - Berlin's long-standing support for the Kurdish Autonomous Region has helped lay the groundwork for the referendum on the secession of Iraq's Kurdish-speaking regions, scheduled to be held on Monday. For decades, the Barzani clan, which controls the regional government, has maintained good relations with leading German politicians of the CDU and CSU parties. Since 2005, Berlin has systematically sponsored the autonomous region - through economic aid and establishing German institutions. Most recently, Germany was even training and upgrading the Kurdish Peshmerga into a powerful military force - officially to strengthen an ally in the war against IS. However, today the Peshmerga could use its German weapons for the secession of its region, if necessary, imposing it by armed force. In plain sight of the Bundeswehr, and under cover of the war against the IS, the Peshmerga has been carrying out so-called ethnic cleansing in towns, previously outside the Kurdish Autonomous Region to secure the desired pro-Kurdish majority in the upcoming referendum. Up to now, Berlin has voiced no objections to the date of the secession referendum.

Dramatic Tensions

The referendum on the Kurdish region's secession from Iraq, scheduled to be held next Monday, is dramatically aggravating the already existing tensions in this war-torn region. Categorically rejecting the region's secession, the Iraqi government has demanded that the referendum be suspended, because it is in violation of the Iraqi constitution, which is also binding on Erbil's Kurdish Regional Government. Masoud Barzani, who is still acting as President of the Kurdish Regional Government, even though his term ended two years ago, is insisting on holding the referendum. It is expected that a firm majority will be in favor of secession. Experts are predicting a fierce - and possibly even - deadly power struggle, which could plunge Iraq into a new civil war. Berlin and Washington, who are currently focused on defeating IS, reject holding the referendum at this time. Massive opposition is also coming from other countries in the region, particularly from Iran. It is not yet clear, whether Turkey, which, over the past few years, has cooperated closely with Barzani, can find a modus vivendi with a state controlled by his clan.

Close Ties

Germany has repeatedly supported Barzani in the course of his organizing the secession referendum. His clan has had contacts to the Federal Republic of Germany for a very long time, particularly to the conservative parties. Franz-Josef Strauß, CSU Chairman and longtime Finance Minister, had already had relations with Masoud's father Mustafa Barzan, since the early 1960s.[1] Masoud, himself, allegedly met with Chancellor Helmut Kohl in the latter half of the 1980s. The Kurdish-speaking Iraqis' first regular representation abroad was opened in Bonn in 1992. On November 2, 2005, just before taking office, designated Chancellor Angela Merkel invited Masoud Barzani, who happened to be in Berlin, at that time, to talks - not without reason. Soon, Merkel's government promoted the establishment of German institutions in Erbil, such as a cultural institute und supported German business activities in the Kurdish speaking regions of Iraq. It was reported in 2014 that Merkel is "regularly" meetings with the Kurdish Regional Government's envoy to Germany, Masoud's brother, Dilshad Barzani.[2] In the wings of the March 2013 CDU/CSU Bundestag parliamentary group congress, Chancellor Merkel welcomed Masoud's nephew, Nechirvan Barzani.

Oil and Gas

In fact, great efforts were made to back the Kurdish Autonomous Region not only by the grand coalition, beginning in 2005, but also by the conservative-liberal government coalition, beginning in 2009. Germany opened a general consulate in Erbil, at the beginning of 2009, and simultaneously the German financed "European Technology and Training Center" began training specialists and ministerial administrators in German standards. In 2010, a "German trade office" was founded. The Kurdish Autonomous Region has always been the focus of German business activity in Iraq. Only the war against the IS has appreciably hindered German companies' activities. Berlin has always kept its eye on the immense oil and gas deposits in northern Iraq. In August 2010, the RWE Group entered a cooperation agreement with Erbil that would give the German company access to northern Iraq's natural gas deposits. The deal was later annulled, because it had been concluded with the exclusion of the competent government authorities in the capital Baghdad. Since then, no other German energy company has been able to have access to Iraq's deposits. On the other hand, Russia's Rosneft Oil Company was able to conclude oil supply and production agreements in February 2017, with Erbil. Rosneft will also be supplying Germany with northern Iraqi oil in the future.[3] This week, Rosneft concluded another agreement with the Kurdish Autonomous Government for the construction of a new natural gas export pipeline. This enhances the economic foundation for secession. Moscow is thereby also enhancing its influence in northern Iraq.[4]

Military Cooperation

The fact that Germany had been systematically training and arming, the Peshmerga, the Kurdish Regional Government's troops, is also particularly significant in the context of the referendum. Though this was carried out in the framework of the war against the IS, Berlin has, however, consistently supplied Erbil, but not Baghdad, and helped the Kurdish Autonomous Region to develop a powerful military - also for entirely different purposes. Already in the fall of 2016, the Bundeswehr announced that since 2014 - when it began its training mission - 3,400 Kurdish militiamen had been trained and a large quantity of weapons delivered to the Peshmerga - including 20,000 G3 and G36 assault rifles, 20,000 hand grenades, 440 rocket-propelled anti-tank weapons, 1,000 guided missiles, 50 machineguns as well as more than 13 million rounds of ammunition. In the spring of 2017, it was announced that the total volume of the supply of material had grown to nearly 3,100 tons. In Erbil, the Bundeswehr not only trains simple soldiers, but also officers and, in the meantime, has formed a three-member advisory group in Erbil's Peshmerga Ministry. The Bundeswehr reports that, whereas the training of the Peshmerga "is carried out at the tactical level, so to speak," the "advisory panel makes theoretical proposals at the ministerial level, for the improvement" of training measures. After all, the Peshmerga "will be providing its own training in the future."[5]

Ethnic Cleansing

The serious accusations repeatedly raised by human rights organizations in the course of the past few years against the Peshmerga have had no effect on German military cooperation with Erbil. According to these organizations, in localities recaptured from the IS by the Peshmerga, the homes of Arab-speaking inhabitants have been deliberately destroyed, thereby robbing them of their means of survival - with the obvious intention of forcing them to flee, leaving these villages and towns to Kurdish-speaking residents. Between September 2014 and May 2016, this was proven in 21 localities, and there is sufficient grounds for suspicion in numerous others. As early as the summer of 2015, US experts have openly spoken of a "campaign of ethnic cleansing" on behalf of "a future Kurdish state."[6] Similar measures have affected not only Arab-speaking but Yazidi-Iraqis as well. At the beginning of March, for example, Kurdish and Yazidi militias clashed, when the Peshmerga sought to capture Yazidi-controlled areas to expand their autonomous region. That the Peshmerga were using German weapons, originally intended for war against the IS, for their operations against the Yazidis, has been confirmed. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[7])

[1] Irakische Kurden hoffen auf die neue Bundesregierung. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03.11.2005.
[2] See In the Wake of the War.
[3] See German-Russian Oil Cooperation.
[4] See Vom Krisenstaat zum Gestalter and A Remarkable Comeback.
[5] Die Bundeswehr im Nordirak: Teil VIII - Die Beratergruppe im Peschmerga-Ministerium. www.einsatz.bundeswehr.de 02.08.2017.
[6] Sara Elizabeth Williams: Destroying Homes for Kurdistan. foreignpolicy.com 23.07.2015. See Breaking Up Iraq.
[7] See With German Weapons against Yazidis.