Germany ready to train Iraq's Sunnis as well as Kurds to fight IS

TEMPLIN Germany (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday that Germany was ready to help train Sunni Muslim soldiers in Iraq to fight Islamic State insurgents in addition to aid it is already giving to Iraqi Kurdish fighters.

Merkel praised Baghdad for appointing a Sunni defense minister alongside Shi'ites and Kurds as part of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's efforts to improve national unity and loosen the grip of Islamic State militants on Sunni areas of the country to the north and west.

Some Sunnis have felt so marginalized by majority Shi'ites in Iraq since the 2003 fall of the Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein that they have sided with Islamic State (IS), which follows an ultra-hardline version of Sunni Islam.

"If we were asked, we would consider training Sunni soldiers, not just Kurds," Merkel said at an event in a church in her eastern German home town Templin. "We are now doing all we can to strengthen the structure of the state in Iraq."

"The IS would not have had so much of a following if the Sunnis had not been so badly treated by the (previous) government in Baghdad," said Merkel.

The threat posed by IS has pushed some Shi'ites and Sunnis to overcome sectarian differences to face a common enemy. The U.S.-led coalition trying to defeat IS hopes the new Baghdad government can rebuild a shaky alliance with Sunni tribes.

Germany, which has for decades been cautious about deploying troops and weapons to conflict zones, has already sent military aid to the Kurds in northern Iraq but is not taking part in the U.S.-led air strikes against the Islamic State insurgents.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Stephen Brown; Editing by Tom Heneghan)