BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's foreign minister urged parliament on Tuesday to extend a military mission training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq, saying to withdraw the German force would raise the risk of a new civil war there.
Germany resumed its military mission last month after a brief suspension following a referendum for independence in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. The vote was rejected by Baghdad and triggered an Iraqi military offensive that recaptured disputed areas of the north from the Peshmerga.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who will step down soon as his Social Democratic party returns to opposition after heavy losses in the Sept. 24 election, was appealing to likely participants in the next government, particularly the Greens, not to oppose an extension of Berlin's military mission in Iraq.
Germany has about 150 soldiers training Kurdish forces to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. But the sharp rise in tensions between the Kurds and Iraq's central government has raised concern in Germany about the mission's future.
Gabriel said, however, "The more international groups are active there, the lower the chance of a new escalation.
"A withdrawal would be the wrong signal to the parties to the conflict, as if we were resigned to accepting the danger of a new civil war," he told reporters.
He said the Berlin government had met with a variety of parties recently to urge a political solution to tensions between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad.
"We hope that the very fragile ceasefire holds and that a political solution can be achieved. A new civil war in Iraq would bring unbelievable suffering to this country, which has already suffered too much as a result of political conflicts in recent years."
Iraqi Kurds voted overwhelmingly to break away from Iraq in the Sept. 25 referendum, defying the central government in Baghdad as well as neighbouring Turkey and Iran who have their own Kurdish minorities.
In retaliation, Iraqi government forces and the allied, Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation militia recaptured the oil city of Kirkuk and other disputed territories held by Peshmerga just outside official KRG boundaries.
On Oct. 27 Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared a pause in the offensive, though it was unclear whether there was any official agreement on a ceasefire.The German cabinet has urged the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) to vote to extend the mission by three months to give the next government time to review all foreign missions.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives are trying to form a new coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats and the environmentalist Greens after losing considerable support to the far right in the Sept. 24 election.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Reuters TV; editing by Mark Heinrich)