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Germany sends arms to Iraqi Kurds

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is sending 16,000 assault rifles, anti-tank weapons and armored vehicles to Iraqi Kurds fighting Islamic State militants, lifting a German taboo on shipments into war zones.

The hardware, which also includes pistols, trucks and grenades, will equip 4,000 soldiers of the Kurdish regional government in Iraq, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said at a news conference in Berlin late Sunday after leaders of Merkel's coalition met to decide on the shipments. The equipment will be delivered in three batches in September, she said.

"If we don't succeed in pushing Islamic State back, the Middle East's fragile order would be shaken to the core and set the entire region ablaze," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at the joint news conference. "It's not an easy decision for us, but it's the right decision in a situation that's exceptional in every way."

International efforts to beat back Islamic State gained urgency this month after the extremists beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley. France said in August it's arming Iraqi Kurds and Italy cleared the way for military aid. The U.K. wants to look at what role NATO can take in supplying the Kurds with weapons, a government official said on Friday.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and Merkel plan to address their respective parliaments on Iraq on Monday. U.S. lawmakers on Sunday talk shows urged President Barack Obama to devise a more aggressive strategy against the Islamists. The U.S. has flown more than 100 airstrikes against Islamic State positions since the campaign began Aug. 8.

Germany's shipments, which include Heckler & Koch rifles and MILAN anti-tank weapons, are being coordinated with its allies, von der Leyen said. Ultimately, Germany's security is at stake, Steinmeier said.

Cameron, speaking in London on Friday after the U.K. raised the terror threat to "Severe," the second-highest level, said Islamic State in Iraq posed "a greater threat to our security than we have seen before." The battle against Islamist extremism is a "generational struggle" which will probably last decades, he said.

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