PARIS (AP) — France will send arms to Kurdish forces in Iraq to support their fight against radicals of the Islamic State group, the presidency announced Wednesday.
A statement said the arms shipment will be delivered “in the coming hours” and has been agreed with authorities in Baghdad.
Citing the “catastrophic” situation in Iraqi Kurdistan, it added that “mobilization in support of Kurdistan and of all Iraq must continue.” It did not specify what weapons it was sending.
The surprise announcement comes as the United States has also increased its role in fighting back Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group that is threatening the autonomous Kurdish region in the north of Iraq. Senior American officials say U.S. intelligence agencies are directly arming the Kurds who are battling the militants, which would be a shift in Washington’s policy of only working through the central government in Baghdad.
Other European leaders were also feeling the pressure to respond to the emergency. France called earlier this week for an urgent meeting of European Union foreign ministers to consider Kurdish requests for arms and an aid airlift to northern Iraq.
Earlier Wednesday France had pledged to deliver a second shipment of humanitarian aid to northern Iraq in a bid to help religious minorities persecuted by advancing radicals.
The foreign ministry said in a statement that the airlift of 20 tons of medicine, tents and water treatment material will arrive in the Iraqi Kurdish capital, Irbil, Wednesday.
The shipment is enough to provide assistance to 50,000 people, it said, and it pledged further operations in the coming days “to aid populations in serious danger.”
On Sunday Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius traveled to Irbil to deliver an initial shipment of aid. France has taken a strong stance on the need to protect Christians and other minorities being persecuted in northern Iraq.
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