BERLIN/BAGHDAD/AL AZRAQ (September 18) – Berlin is considering the establishment of a permanent Bundeswehr base in the Middle East, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said during her recent visits to Jordan and Iraq. German Armed Forces could be stationed at Jordan’s Al Azraq Airbase for an extended period in relative proximity to Iraq – similar to the US Persian Gulf bases. Despite the military victory already achieved over the IS, the Bundeswehr’s deployment will, for the time being, be continued within the framework of the Anti-IS Coalition, to help rebuild Iraq, the German minister announced in Baghdad. Berlin has been seeking new influence in Iraq, for quite some time, also because Iran has been able to enhance massively its position in the country over the past few years. German Tornados taking off from Al Azraq Airbase, have already furnished reconnaissance data leading to the bombing of a school. Their flights over Syria are possibly in violation of international law.
The Bundeswehr will be stationed in Iraq on a long-term basis, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced Sunday, during her visit at the Tajj military camp northeast of Baghdad.
Since August 11, German soldiers have been training Iraqi soldiers in ABC defence at the camp – the Bundeswehr’s first activity in Iraq outside that country’s Kurdish Autonomous Region. Training in mine-clearing, logistical issues and paramedics will follow.
During her visit to Erbil, yesterday, von der Leyen confirmed that the training of Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq will be continued. Berlin had been arming them over the past few years for the fight against IS. The Bundeswehr will, however, downsize its Erbil contingent.
For the minister the extension of the Bundeswehr’s deployment is justified because even after the IS was defeated, the jihadis are continuing their underground fight. This is a fact. Over the past few weeks and months, the IS has repeatedly launched attacks in Iraq, such as in early May against Tarmiya, only a few kilometers north of the Tajj military camp.
Influence in Baghdad
As the German minister’s declarations indicate, Berlin’s goal is not restricted to the immediate support of the battle against IS. During her visit to the country, Minister von der Leyen confirmed that the Bundeswehr will also “advise the Iraqi Defence Ministry.” The Bundeswehr should also help in the country’s “reconstruction” necessitating “staying power.” The urgently needed rebuilding will, in fact, offer Berlin the possibility of achieving new influence in Iraq.
Iran, in particular, has been able to enhance significantly its position in that country – with the help of segments of the majority Shiite population. In the meantime, however, protests against Teheran are growing more frequent in Iraq. Just a few days ago, protests against the growing Iranian influence on Baghdad’s government policy had erupted in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, with the protesters setting fire to the Iranian consulate.
While the battle over the country’s foreign policy orientation rages, German companies are seeking to procure their share in Iraq’s reconstruction. Siemens has just landed a contract to modernize a power station in Baghdad and will play a key role in the modernization of the country’s electricity grid, as the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi recently announced. With the Bundeswehr having an influential position in Baghdad, Germany could enhance its influence in Iraq.
Gaining a strategic foothold
Aside from all this, on Saturday, Defence Minister von der Leyen had already indicated the establishment of a permanent German military base in the Middle East. This could, under the circumstances, be referring to the Jordanian Al Azraq Airbase, near the border of Saudi Arabia and relatively close to Iraq, where the Bundeswehr has a current presence of around 290 soldiers, four “Tornado” surveillance jets and a tanker aircraft from where they participate in the anti-IS war.
The Bundeswehr had already begun building structures for permanent use at Turkey’s Incirlik base, before having to evacuate in the course of a fierce clash with the host country.
Now, deployment in Jordan is being comprehensively incorporated into a political framework. In answer to the question, whether it is being “considered” gaining a “strategic” foothold in the Middle East, von der Leyen responded: “I would put it this way, I do not want to rule out the idea.”
More than merely a hub, Al Azraq is being considered as a possible permanent base of operations for the Bundeswehr, from where all of Germany’s future operations in the region – especially those for Iraq – will be commanded. This will somewhat correspond to the US bases at the Persian Gulf.
Possibly in violation of international law
The Bundeswehr began its deployment at Al Azraq in the context of a mission that possibly was in violation of international law. According to a statement by the Reference and Research Service of the German Bundestag, dated June 28, 2018, the war waged by the Anti-IS Coalition in Syria is at least of questionable international legality. The United States invokes the right of self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter as its justification for waging that war, notes the paper. It is however at least debatable, whether this can apply. The fact must be considered that Syria’s government is itself fighting IS; that terrorist attacks carried out by IS can not be blamed on the Syrian territorial state. In addition, the IS – as of June 2018 – has “largely lost” its reign over several portions of Syria, making “reference to the right to self-defence” even “more difficult to justify.”
Therefore, the war waged by the Anti-IS Coalition in Syria must at least be seen as “questionable in terms of International Law.” This assessment of this Bundestag document pertains not only to the United States – as a member of this coalition – but also to the Bundeswehr – as a member of that same coalition.
In the context of the anti-IS war, German “Tornado” reconnaissance jets have absolved more than 1,500 sorties, with a total of more than 4,500 flight hours. The proportion of flights made over Syrian territory – therefore, in possible violation of international law in the fight against IS in Syria – is unknown.
However, it is known that German pilots had provided the data for at least one attack that killed dozens of civilians. On March 19, 2017, Luftwaffe Tornados prepared aerial photographs of a school, wherein more than 40 refugee families had found refuge for the night, in Al Mansura, near Raqqa. Pilots of the Anti-IS Coalition used these photos to guide their raids in the night from March 20, – 21, 2017, when they bombed and extensively damaged the building, killing, according to the pro-western Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 30 civilians in the attack. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) The often quoted by western media, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has its headquarters in London. It cannot be excluded that there are other such cases that remain unknown to the public due to the German government’s excessive policy of secrecy.
In violation of the terms of the mandate
It is also known that German pilots have prepared surveillance data of Syrian territory, which is outside the letter of their mandate for the Anti-IS Coalition. One example is a photo published by the Bundeswehr to document its activities in Syria, which, according to the “Bild” daily tabloid, shows a portion of the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor prior to September 2017. It shows the frontline of combat between Syria’s military and the IS militias. The German Tornados have the task of only carrying out reconnaissance over IS territory and only in the context of the Anti-IS Coalition. According to the Anti-IS Coalition, however, it was not engaged in operations in the area in question. If this is true, the Bundeswehr’s reconnaissance activities over Deir ez-Zor served “only the purpose of intelligence gathering on the course of combat” between the IS and the Syrian Armed Forces, notes “Bild.” “Such a task was nowhere mentioned in the text of the mandate.”
Violation of the terms of a mandate is no marginalia. Just a few days ago, it was made known that in Mali, as well, the Bundeswehr is suspected of having violated its mandate guidelines. It is reported to have supported France’s Opération Barkhane combat troops with transport as well as reconnaissance activities, using helicopters and drones. German drones had provided French units with information on potential targets. Officially, the Bundeswehr is not involved in combat missions in Mali.
 Shelly Kittleson: IS targets rural area near Baghdad. al-monitor.com 27.08.2018.
 Von der Leyen will einen langfristigen Bundeswehreinsatz im Irak. handelsblatt.com 16.09.2018.
 Iraq wants to partner with Siemens to improve electricity: Abadi. rudaw.net 28.08.2018.
 See also Operationsstützpunkt Türkei (II).
 Von der Leyen will einen langfristigen Bundeswehreinsatz im Irak. handelsblatt.com 16.09.2018.
 Völkerrechtliche Bewertung der russischen, amerikanischen und israelischen Beteiligung am Syrienkonflikt. Deutscher Bundestag, Wissenschaftliche Dienste. Berlin, 28.06.2018. WD 2 – 3000 – 029/18.
 Meilenstein: 1.500 Aufklärungsflüge über dem Irak und Syrien. einsatz.bundeswehr.de 13.08.2018.
 See also Die präzisen Luftangriffe des Westens.
 Julian Röpcke: Überschritt die Bundeswehr ihr Syrien-Mandat? bild.de 08.06.2018.
 Florian Flade, Thorsten Jungholt: Bundeswehr unterstützt französischen Anti-Terror-Krieg in Mali. welt.de 15.09.2018.