BERLIN (AFP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday hailed US air strikes against Islamist militants in Iraq, as her government prepared to send non-lethal military aid to the conflict-torn country.
The United States has targeted positions of the Islamic State jihadist group in the area of Mount Sinjar, where tens of thousands of members of the Yazidi minority have been besieged.
Dr Merkel told the Thuringia newspaper group there was "no doubt that the terrorist group Islamic State (IS) is committing unspeakable crimes and atrocities and that hundreds of thousands of people are in great distress and on the run."
"I consider very important the military strikes against the IS decided by President (Barack) Obama in order to push back the terrorists," she added.
"This reinforces my belief that, given the major global challenges, the partnership with the United States - despite our profound differences about the activities of the American intelligence services - is of paramount importance to us."
Dr Merkel was angered by news the US National Security Agency had eavesdropped on her mobile phone and by other suspected American spying activities on German soil, which led Berlin last month to expel the CIA station chief in an unprecedented move.
Dr Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert earlier spoke of the "advance of blood-thirsty extremists" in Iraq, and a foreign ministry spokesman called the IS "an existential threat" for the state of Iraq.
The German government has voiced no intention to support the military effort with troops or weapons, but is preparing to send non-lethal military goods such as armoured vehicles, night-vision equipment, booby-trap detectors, helmets and flak vests.
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday that "we are working at full speed right now on a coherent European package and on what the German contribution could look like".
Ms Von der Leyen reiterated her government's position that Germany as a rule does not send arms into conflict zones but added that, if a "genocide" loomed in Iraq, this question should be "debated intensively" in Germany.
Several German politicians across the party spectrum, including Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, have suggested the rule on arms shipments may have to be reviewed in light of the IS onslaught across vast areas of northern Iraq.