BERLIN (AP) — Germany will send high-end rifles, tank-busting weapons and armored vehicles to aid Kurdish fighters battling Islamic extremists in Iraq, officials said Sunday.
Germany's defense minister said the arms would be sent in three shipments, starting next month, and would initially be enough to equip a brigade of 4,000 Peshmerga fighters.
"This is in our security interest," Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Berlin.
Germany joins other European countries who have pledged to provide arms to the Kurds fighting the Islamic State group that has swept into northern Iraq in recent months.
In total, the shipments will include 8,000 G36 assault rifles and the same number of G3 rifles, as well as ammunition; 200 Panzerfaust 3 and 30 MILAN anti-tank systems; and five heavily armored Dingo infantry vehicles.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the arms would complement humanitarian aid that Berlin is sending to help civilians uprooted by the fighting. The decision to send weapons had been criticized by some in Germany as a return to militarism 75 years after the start of World War II
"This isn't an easy decision for us, but it's the right decision in a situation that is difficult in every way," Steinmeier said.
He voiced hope that Iraq's new government would seek to bring together all ethnic and religious groups in the country, including the Sunni minority, to fight the extremist threat.
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — An Islamist-allied militia group in control of Libya's capital now guards the U.S. Embassy and its residential compound, a commander said Sunday, as onlookers toured the abandoned homes of diplomats who fled the country more than a month ago.
An Associated Press journalist saw holes left by small-arms and rocket fire dotting the residential compound, reminders of weeks of violence between rival militias over control of Tripoli that sparked the evacuation.
The breach of a deserted U.S. diplomatic post — including images of men earlier swimming in the compound's algae-filled pools — likely will reinvigorate debate in the U.S. over its role in Libya, more than three years after supporting rebels who toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi. It also comes just before the two-year anniversary of the slaying of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya.
A commander for the Dawn of Libya group, Moussa Abu-Zaqia, told the AP that his forces had been guarding the residential compound since last week, a day after it seized control of the capital and its international airport after weeks of fighting with a rival militia. Abu-Zaqia said the rival militia from Zintan was in the compound before his troops took it over.
A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said the department is seeking additional information but believed the embassy compound "remains secure."
The official said the U.S. had moved embassy staff from Tripoli to Valletta, Malta, because of "ongoing fighting between militias occurring very close to our compound." Those personnel "remain engaged," the official said, while the State Department continues to work with the Libyan government.
Some windows at the compound had been broken, but it appeared most of the equipment there remained untouched. The AP journalist saw treadmills, weight benches and protein bars in the compound's abandoned gym. Forks, knives and napkins set for a banquet sat on one table, while a cantina still had cornflakes, vinegar, salt and pepper sitting out.
Some papers lay strewn on the floor, but it didn't appear that the villas in the compound had been ransacked.
Hassan Ali, a Dawn of Libya commander, said his fighters saw "small fires and a little damage" before they chased the rival Zintan militia out of the residential compound.
"We entered and put some of our fighters to secure this place and we preserved this place as much as we could," he said.
Abu-Zaqia said his militia had asked cleaners to come to spruce up the grounds.
He added that the U.S. Embassy staff "are most welcome in God's blessing, and any area that is controlled by Dawn of Libya is totally secure and there are no troubles at all."
Another Dawn of Libya commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to speak by his leaders, told the AP that the U.S. Embassy, about a kilometer (half a mile) away, also was under guard by his militiamen.
"We've secured the location and the assets of the embassy," he said. "We've informed our command ... immediately after entering the place following the exit of the rival militia. The place is secure and under protection."
The commander did not elaborate and the AP journalist could not reach the embassy. The Dawn of Libya militia is not associated with the extremist militia Ansar al-Shariah, which Washington blames for the deadly assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed Stevens and the three other Americans.
A video posted online Sunday showed unarmed men playing in a pool at the compound and jumping into it from a second-story balcony. In a message on Twitter, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones said the video appeared to have been shot in at the embassy's residential annex, though she said she couldn't "say definitively" since she wasn't there.
"To my knowledge & per recent photos the US Embassy Tripoli chancery & compound is now being safeguarded and has not been ransacked," she wrote on Twitter. She did not immediately respond to a request to elaborate.
Typically, local forces provide security for diplomatic posts, but Libya's government has largely relied on militias for law enforcement since Gadhafi's ouster, as its military and police forces remain weak. In the past several weeks, the security vacuum in Tripoli deepened as militia violence worsened and the diplomatic security provided by Libya's Interior Ministry in the area apparently fled as well.
It remains unclear who the U.S. left in control of guarding its facilities after its personnel evacuated under military escort on July 26. The State Department has said embassy operations would be suspended until the security situation in Libya improved.
Libya's militias, many of which originate from rebel forces that fought Gadhafi, have become powerful players in post-war Libya. Successive governments have put militias on their payroll in return for maintaining order, but rivalries over control and resources have led to fierce fighting among them and posed a constant challenge to the central government and a hoped-for transition to democracy.
The militia violence began after Islamist candidates lost parliament in June elections and a renegade general began a military campaign against Islamist-allied militias in Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city. Now, Libya has two competing governments and two parliaments, deepening divisions and escalating the political struggle that's torn the country apart.
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen Sunday broke a 6-week siege imposed by the Islamic State extremist group on the northern Shiite Turkmen town of Amirli, as a suicide bombing killed 14 people in Anbar western province, officials said.
Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the operation started at dawn Sunday and the forces entered the town shortly after midday.
Speaking live on state TV, al-Moussawi said the forces suffered "some causalities," but did not give a specific number. He said fighting was "still ongoing to clear the surrounding villages."
Breaking the siege was a "big achievement and an important victory" he said, for all involved: the Iraqi army, elite troops, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias.
Turkmen lawmaker Fawzi Akram al-Tarzi said they entered the town from two directions and were distributing aid to residents.
About 15,000 Shiite Turkmens were stranded in the farming community, some 105 miles (170 kilometers) north of Baghdad. Instead of fleeing in the face of the Islamic State group's rampage across northern Iraq in June, the Shiite Turkmens stayed and fortified their town with trenches and armed positions.
Residents succeeded in fending off the initial attack in June, but Amirli has been surrounded by the militants since mid-July. Many residents said the Iraqi military's efforts to fly in food, water and other aid had not been enough, as they endured the oppressive August heat with virtually no electricity or running water.
Nihad al-Bayati, who had taken up arms with fellow residents to defend the town, said some army units had already entered while the Shiite militiamen were stationed in the outskirts. He said residents had fired into the air to celebrate the arrival of the troops.
"We thank God for this victory over terrorists," al-Bayati told The Associated Press by phone from the outskirts of Amirli. "The people of Amirli are very happy to see that their ordeal is over and that the terrorists are being defeated by Iraqi forces. It is a great day in our life."
State TV stopped regular programs and started airing patriotic songs following the victory announcement, praising the country's security forces. They have been fighting the militants for weeks without achieving significant progress on the ground.
On Saturday, the U.S. conducted airstrikes against the Sunni militants and air-dropped humanitarian aid to residents. Aircraft from Australia, France and Britain joined the U.S. in the aid drop, which came after a request from the Iraqi government. The U.S. Central Command said another airstrike on Sunday damaged a tank used by Islamic State fighters.
The Pentagon's press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said military operations would be limited in scope and duration as needed to address the humanitarian crisis in Amirli and protect the civilians trapped in the town.
The Islamic State extremist group has seized cities, towns and vast tracts of land in northeastern Syria and northern and western Iraq. It views Shiites as apostates and has carried out a number of massacres and beheadings — often posting grisly videos and photos of the atrocities online.
The U.S. started launching airstrikes against the Islamic State extremist group earlier this month to prevent the insurgents from advancing on the Kurdish regional capital Irbil and to help protect members of the Yazidi religious minority stranded on Mount Sinjar, in Iraq's northwest, where U.S. planes also dropped humanitarian aid.
The U.S. also launched airstrikes near Mosul Dam — the largest in Iraq — allowing Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake the facility, which had been captured by Islamic State fighters.
The U.S. Central Command said another airstrike on Sunday near Mosul Dam destroyed an Islamic State armed vehicle. The latest airstrikes, carried out by fighter aircraft and unmanned drones, brought to 120 the total number of airstrikes across Iraq since Aug. 8.
German officials said Sunday that their country would soon begin sending enough high-end rifles, anti-tank weapons and armored vehicles to equip a brigade of 4,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters battling Islamic extremists in Iraq.
On Sunday night, Iraqi police officials said a suicide driver rammed an explosives-laden car into a police checkpoint in Ramadi city, killing 14 people, including nine policemen. About 27 people were also wounded in the attack.
Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar province, is 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad.
Hospital officials confirmed the casualties. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.