Foley execution boosts European support for intervention in Iraq

Journalist James Foley reporting for GlobalPost from Benghazi, Libya in mid-March. Foley, along with three other foreign journalists, was detained by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on April 5.

BERLIN, Germany — European leaders reacted to the execution of an American journalist with shock and horror Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “horrified” by the video depicting James Foley's beheading by members of the militant group Islamic State, or IS, released on YouTube on Tuesday.

Foley was freelancing for GlobalPost and other outlets in Syria when he disappeared nearly two years ago.

The German government extended its “deepest sympathies” to the Foley family, spokesman Steffen Seibert said Wednesday.

“This is a barbaric act that plays on fear,” spokesman for the French government Stephane Le Foll told reporters.

Far from intimidating European leaders, however, Foley's beheading appears to be galvanizing support for military intervention in Iraq, with France, Germany and Italy deepening their commitment to supporting Kurdish rebels fighting IS.

"I think we are in the most serious international situation since 2001. ... I will therefore propose an initiative on security in Iraq and the fight against Islamic State, from September," French President Francois Hollande told Le Monde.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Germany can now “imagine providing further equipment, including weapons” to Kurdish forces — doubling down on a commitment to provide non-lethal military supplies that was already seen as a departure from Germany's usual reluctance to engage in foreign conflicts.

A similar commitment came from Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who made a one-day visit to Iraq on Wednesday.

"Europe must be in places like Iraq where democracy is endangered," he said in Baghdad.

Italy is prepared to provide light arms and ammunition for self-defense, as well as logistical support for weapons supplies, Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said.

However, Germany’s reaction is perhaps the most significant.

Although Steinmeier and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen have been pushing for greater involvement in the fight against IS for the past week, a recent poll conducted by the Forsa Institute before Foley's execution suggested that only one in three Germans favored weapons deliveries.

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Judging from the emotions expressed by ordinary Germans and in the German media, however, that could be set to change.

“At the moment Germans see ISIS as a barbaric, terroristic warrior tribe, in a way, shedding blood everywhere,” said Alexander Buehler, a German reporter who has covered the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria. He was referring to IS by one of its previous names.

In an uncharacteristic editorial for the German press, the deputy editor of Die Welt called Foley's execution “a declaration of war on Western civilization,” and called not only for Germany to aid in the fight against IS but also for the institution of sanctions against countries that allegedly provide them with financial support, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.