Group of 26 countries vows to support fight against Islamic State

Military aid promised to Iraq at Paris conference for conflict with jihadists

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter launches mortar shells towards Zummar, controlled by Islamic State, near Mosul in Iraq yesterday. Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter launches mortar shells towards Zummar, controlled by Islamic State, near Mosul in Iraq yesterday. Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah

 

Twenty-six countries, including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and 10 Arab states, as well as representatives of the Arab League, EU and UN, yesterday vowed to support the new Iraqi government against the extremist group Islamic State “by any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance”.

The conference on peace and security in Iraq was convened in Paris at the initiative of French president François Hollande, who travelled to Baghdad and Erbil on September 12th. Mr Hollande was the first western head of state to visit Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi, who took office on September 8th.

In their final communique, participants said Islamic State (IS) “is a threat not only to Iraq but also to the entire international community”.

The fleet of black Mercedes outside the French foreign ministry and the foreign ministers conversing in rooms heavy with silk brocade, gold leaf and crystal chandeliers were the response of the “civilised world” to the decapitation of British aid worker David Haines and American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

“Iraq faces a criminal terrorist movement,” said Iraqi president Fouad Massoum, who co-chaired the conference with Mr Hollande. “Its crimes are an expression of obscurantist, bloodthirsty thinking.”

Mr Massoum, who is Kurdish, accused IS of “genocide” and “crimes against humanity”.

Disagreement over name

Laurent Fabius

“The Da’esh movement is not a state, nor are they representatives of Islam,” Mr Fabius said. But US officials persist in calling it by the acronym Isil, signifying Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, one of the group’s former names.

Iraq’s previous prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim, was accused of pushing Iraq’s Sunni minority into the arms of IS. Mr al-Abadi will “implement a policy of inclusiveness, and ensure that all components are fairly represented within the federal institutions and all citizens are treated equally”, the final communique said.

Mr Hollande defined the goal of the conference as “providing the necessary political support to the new Iraqi authorities to fight the major threat called Da’esh”.

On the eve of the conference, US officials said several Arab countries offered to carry out airstrikes against the IS. The conference did not clarify military roles within the US-led coalition.

Mr Massoum asked for “airborne operations against terrorist sites.” The coalition “must not allow them to implant themselves [in northern Iraq]. We must cut their sources of finance and stop fighters travelling through neighbouring countries to join them,” he said.

Airstrikes but no troops

SyriaUnited Arab Emirates

France is also arming and training the Kurdish Peshmerga, who are fighting IS on the ground.

Australia too, has sent eight combat aircraft and 600 servicemen to the UAE. Germany has given the Peshmerga anti-tank missiles. Russia provided combat helicopters and fighter planes to Iraq in July.

Yet with the exception of Iran and Syria, who were excluded from the Paris conference, no one outside Iraq is willing to commit ground troops to fighting IS.

“Syria and Iran are our natural allies in the fight against IS,” the Russian foreign minister, Serguei Lavrov said, regretting their absence.

It is not clear whether the Peshmerga, who seek independence from Iraq, the Iraqi army, or “moderate” Syrian opposition groups have the will or strength to rout IS.

France is reluctant to bomb IS in Syria because it doesn’t want to help Syrian president Bashar al Assad. Mr Hollande vowed that France will help “democratic opposition forces” in Syria.

Countries on the outs

Iraq’s three neighbours – Turkey, Iran and Syria – are crucial to the war on IS. Yet none of their roles were resolved by yesterday’s conference.

Turkey is a Nato ally and attended the conference. But it refuses to contribute militarily, in part because IS holds 49 Turkish hostages.

Foreign recruits to IS have transited through Turkey, There the ruling AKP, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, says the “root cause” – the Assad regime – must be dealt with before IS.

Washington and Tehran yesterday sent mixed signals, after the US and Saudi Arabia vetoed Iran’s participation at the conference. The State Department said it was open to a “diplomatic discussion” with Tehran regarding cooperation against IS.

However, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, accused Washington of having ulterior motives. He called statements by US officials “void of meaning, hollow and opportunistic”.