PARIS: The world’s top diplomats pledged yesterday to support Iraq in its fight against Islamic State militants by “any means necessary”, including “appropriate military assistance”, as leaders stressed the urgency of the crisis. Representatives from around 30 countries and international organisations, including the United States, Russia and China, gathered in Paris as the savage beheading over the weekend of a third Western hostage raised the stakes in the fight against the marauding jihadists.
In a joint statement after the talks, diplomats vowed to support Baghdad “by any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance, in line with the needs expressed by the Iraqi authorities, in accordance with international law and without jeopardising civilian security”. They stressed that IS extremists were “a threat not only to Iraq but also to the entire international community” and underscored the “urgent need” to remove them from Iraq, where they control some 40 percent of the territory.
However, the final statement made no mention of Syria, where extremists hold a quarter of the country and where Bashar Al-Assad’s regime still had friends around the Paris conference table, including Russia. Opening the conference, French President Francois Hollande said there was “no time to lose” in the fight against the jihadists. “The fight of the Iraqis against terrorism is our fight as well,” Hollande said, urging “clear, loyal and strong” global support for Baghdad.
Co-hosting the meeting, Iraqi President Fuad Masum also underlined the urgency of the crisis, warning that the militants could overrun more countries in the region. “We are still asking for regular aerial operations against terrorist sites. We have to pursue them wherever they are. We need to dry up their sources of finance,” the Iraqi leader added. The international community is scrambling to contain the IS jihadists – who have rampaged across Iraq and Syria and could number as many as 31,500 fighters, according to the CIA.
As if to stress the urgency of the campaign, France’s defence minister announced just hours ahead of the conference that Paris was joining Britain in carrying out reconnaissance flights in support of the US air campaign against the jihadists. Shortly afterwards, two French Rafale fighter jets took off from the Al-Dhafra base in the United Arab Emirates, an AFP correspondent reported. And in Brussels, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for military action, calling IS “a group of terrorists with whom there is no chance whatsoever to negotiate.”
The meeting was the latest in a series of frantic diplomatic efforts to build a broad coalition against the jihadists and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said meetings would come “thick and fast” in the coming days ahead of a UN general assembly next week. US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been crisscrossing the region to drum up support, said over the weekend that “all bases were covered” in terms of implementing US President Barack Obama’s strategy to destroy the jihadists.
Ten Arab states including Saudi Arabia are also among the countries backing the coalition, and Australia has pledged to deploy 600 troops to the United Arab Emirates, a regional Washington ally. The goal of the conference was “to agree on a strong political message to the new Iraqi government, to get ourselves ready for the fight,” said one French diplomat who declined to be named. Obama’s plan includes air strikes in Syria and expanded operations in Iraq, where US aircraft have carried out more than 160 strikes since early August. The US leader has also mooted training “moderate” Syrian rebels to take on IS and working to reconstitute the Iraqi army, parts of which fled an IS blitzkrieg across northern and western Iraq.
Kuwait’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah said the international community bears the responsibility of assisting Iraq to maintain its security and stability in the face of terrorist groups. “It is pleasure that these countries gather here to affirm support to Iraq and keenness on the country’s security, stability and territorial integrity,” he said. It is essential to maintain Iraq’s security and stability and it is the responsibility of the international community to provide all possible assistance to achieve this goal, the Kuwaiti foreign minister said. He also underlined the importance of collective work to “fight extremist groups and eliminate their financing and training”.
Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled noted that the peril is not confined to Iraq and Syria “but extends to the region and the whole world”. He urged the international community to provide humanitarian aid to allay the suffering of the Iraqi people. Kuwait has providing $10 million through coordination with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), he said. On bilateral ties with Iraq, Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled said: “We have achieved a lot for the interests of the two countries, and we are ready to carry on regarding all other issues of common concern for the region’s security and stability.”
While there was no mention of Syria in the final statement, Hollande said the international community “needs to find a durable solution in the place where the (IS) movement was born. In Syria.” Hollande said the moderate opposition should be “backed by all means”. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said strikes on Syria would be a far more complicated matter than in Iraq but stressed: “We haven’t ruled it out.”
However, Iran, which was not invited to the conference, said it had rejected US overtures to help in the fight against the militants. “Right from the start, the United States asked through its ambassador in Iraq whether we could cooperate,” supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a statement on his official website. “I said no, because they have dirty hands,” said Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state in Iran.
“Secretary of State (John Kerry) personally asked (Iranian counterpart) Mohammad Javad Zarif and he rejected the request,” said Khamenei, who was leaving hospital after what doctors said was successful prostate surgery. He accused Washington of seeking a “pretext to do in Iraq and Syria what it already does in Pakistan – bomb anywhere without authorisation.”
The United States insisted yesterday that it was opposed to military cooperation with Iran but was open to further talks. And Hammond struck a conciliatory note saying: “I think we should continue to hope that Iran will align itself broadly with the direction that the coalition is going.” The gruesome beheading of British aid worker David Haines increased the urgency of the Paris talks. Haines was the third Western hostage to be beheaded by the militants in less than a month. IS released a video Saturday showing his killing and issued a death threat against another British captive, Alan Henning.