BAGHDAD, Sept 12, (AFP): President Francois Hollande said during a visit to Baghdad Friday that France is ready to step up military assistance for Iraq, as global efforts intensified to defeat Islamic State jihadists. It was the highest-profile visit to Iraq since IS-led militants overran large parts of the country in June and sparked international concern over an expanding jihadist threat. And it came as US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Ankara to try to convince NATO member and key regional ally Turkey to allow its airbases to be used in a campaign against the jihadists.
Hollande touched down hours after Washington secured commitments from 10 Arab states to help stamp out IS, which the Central Intelligence Agency has said has as many as 30,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq. The United States, which pulled its troops out of Iraq in 2011, began a campaign of air strikes against the group last month. President Barack Obama vowed this week to expand operations, including to Syria, and the Pentagon said combat aircraft would soon start flying out of a base in the country’s north. Obama is seeking to build a broad coalition to defeat IS, which has declared a caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria, attacked minorities, posted videos of gruesome beheadings online and vowed to take the fight to the West.
France, which is to host an international conference on Iraq on Monday, has said it is prepared to take part in air strikes against the militants in Iraq “if necessary.” “I came here to Baghdad to state France’s availability in providing even more military assistance to Iraq,” Hollande said at a news conference with Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, whose cabinet was approved by parliament this week but with key security posts unfilled. Hollande later travelled to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region for meetings with officials, and also visited a church sheltering displaced Iraqi Christians. Speaking at a joint news conference with regional president Massud Barzani, Hollande said that arms France provided to the Kurds were “decisive in reversing the balance of power” against IS militants. He also pledged to set up a “humanitarian bridge, and we will also handle the cases of families facing extreme situations who have links with France and who want to shelter with their relatives.” But he earlier said that: “The first duty we have is to fight against terrorism, it is not to give in to terrorism by drawing people” out of their homeland. Ten Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, have “agreed to do their share in the comprehensive fight” against IS, they said after meeting Kerry Thursday in Jeddah.
Agreement Along with the Saudis, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are parties to the agreement, as are Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. The fight would include “stopping the flow of foreign fighters through neighbouring countries, countering financing of (IS) and other violent extremists, repudiating their hateful ideology, ending impunity and bringing perpetrators to justice.” It would also include humanitarian relief, and the US would has pledged an additional $500 million in assistance for victims of the Syria conflict. France, along with the United States and Britain, has pledged to supply arms to the autonomous Kurdish government, whose peshmerga forces play a key role in attempts to recapture the areas IS seized. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said France was prepared to take part in US-led air strikes against the jihadists in Iraq “if necessary” but has stressed that Syria was a different situation. IS now has about 20,000 to 31,500 fighters on the ground in Iraq and Syria, the CIA said, much higher than a previous estimate of 10,000.