German FM says new power of insurgents makes Iraq split difficult to prevent

Germany's foreign minister warned Friday that the swift advance of Sunni militants in Iraq demonstrates they have become a powerful force that will make it hard to prevent a division of the country.

The broad offensive conducted by the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in recent days shows the group "has reached a potential that goes far beyond terrorist attacks," Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters in Berlin.

"That's a power factor we will have to deal with, not just in Iraq but in the entire region in future," he added. "And this won't make it any easier to find a solution to the political problem and avoiding a splitting up of Iraq."

Many Sunnis reject Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government, which has struggled to rule in a coherent fashion. Germany has urged Iraq's political parties to set aside their differences for the sake of a functioning government. But privately, German officials have cast doubt on the likelihood that al-Maliki is the right person to bring Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds together.

Steinmeier spoke after meeting with his Moroccan counterpart, Salaheddine Mezouar, who said there is a real danger the conflict in Iraq might spread beyond its borders.

"We need to support neighboring countries, Jordan and Lebanon" Mezouar said. "We need to do everything to prevent this process from spreading."

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said the developments in Iraq couldn't be seen as a precursor of what might happen when international forces soon pull out of Afghanistan, where Germany has been one of the biggest troop contributors.

"What the international community has been doing in Afghanistan is designed exactly to prevent a possible security vacuum," he told reporters.

Still, he said, "nobody can foresee what will happen in 2015 and beyond in Afghanistan."


David Rising contributed to this report.