German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen gives a press statement on August 31, 2014 in Berlin
Berlin (AFP) - Germany will send anti-tank rocket launchers, rifles and hand grenades to support Iraqi Kurds battling jihadist militants fighting for the Islamic State, the defence ministry announced Sunday.
The move followed a meeting of ministers led by Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin to discuss what Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen described as an "extremely critical" situation in Iraq.
Islamic State (IS) militants are acting with "merciless brutality", she told a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, adding the international community had to support the persecuted.
The equipment, which will be delivered in three stages, will include 30 anti-tank missiles, 16,000 assault rifles, 8,000 pistols as well as portable anti-tank rocket launchers, the defence ministry said.
As well as weapons, Germany plans to send other items such as tents, helmets and radio equipment, according to a list from the defence ministry.
The first deliveries of German weapons will be able to equip about 4,000 soldiers by the end of September, von der Leyen said.
The equipment, which has been taken out of German army reserves, is valued at 70 million euros ($92 million), the defence ministry said on its website.
"The terror group, Islamic State, is a deadly threat for hundreds of thousands," Steinmeier told reporters.
Germany said on August 20 that it was ready to send weapons to support the Iraqi Kurds.
The Sunni IS and its allies control swathes of both northern and western Iraq and neighbouring northeastern Syria, where they have committed a spate of atrocities that have shocked the world.
Sending military hardware is unusual for Germany which, burdened by its past aggression in two world wars, often shies away from foreign military engagements and as a rule does not export weapons into live conflict zones.
Critics oppose the idea of sending weapons to a warzone where fighters and arms can quickly change sides.
Germany's decision follows similar moves by several other countries, including the US, Italy, France and Britain.
Chancellor Merkel will address a special session of the Bundestag lower house of parliament on the issue Monday, after which lawmakers will hold a non-binding vote.
The government shift has been politically difficult in Germany, where recent opinion polls have shown broad opposition to arms shipments to Iraq.
A total of 60 percent of respondents were against the idea, and only 34 percent in favour, in an Infratest dimap poll for ARD public television taken on August 26 and 27, and published Friday.