30 countries
30 countries

The foreign ministers of close to 30 countries agreed at a meeting in Paris Monday to support Iraq “by any means necessary” in fighting the Islamic State jihadist group.

30 countries
30 countries

Using an Arab acronym for the group the ministers from the US, Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries agreed on “the urgent need to remove Daech” from the areas it controls in Iraq and promised Baghdad military assistance.

Opening the conference with his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Masum, French President Francois Hollande said there was “no time to lose” against the Sunni extremists, who released a video at the weekend showing the beheading of British aid worker David Haines.

“Iraq’s struggle against terrorism is also our struggle,” he said, referring to fears that the thousands of European citizens estimated to be fighting in Iraq and Syria for Islamic State could return home to stage attacks.

Around 40 countries have agreed to play some part in a US-led campaign to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State in the words of US President Barack Obama.

Two US journalists have been executed by Islamic State in recent weeks.

Like Haines, the US hostages were beheaded by a hooded executioner who spoke with a British accent.

Masum told the ministers that the only hope of keeping the extremists at bay was to take the fight to them “wherever they are.”

“Militarily we don’t need troops on the ground but rather air cover and the expertise of countries like France,” he told Europe 1 radio in an interview.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has spent the past week travelling the Middle East to try drum up support for a new US-led offensive in the region, 11 years after the start of the last war in Iraq.

Several Arab states, like Saudi Arabia, have agreed to support the operation.

NATO’s outgoing Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday that the alliance could play a role in coordinating the campaign as it did with the 2011 air campaign against Moamer Gaddafi’s forces in Libya.

That mission proved controversial, with some countries – notably Russia and China – accusing NATO of having overstepped its United Nations mandate.

“At this stage I won’t exclude anything,” Rasmussen said at a seminar in Brussels.

The Paris conference focused on Iraq, where the jihadists made lightning gains in early August before being stalled by US airstrikes.

Obama last week vowed to expand the bombardments to the jihadists’ positions across the border in Syria.

Speaking during a visit to a French airbase in Abu Dhabi Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France would begin military reconnaissance flights over Iraq on Monday.

France, like Britain, is reluctant, however, to join in any air campaign in Syria.

While Iraq’s government requested Western assistance against Islamic State, Western governments have said they will not work with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, meaning any airstrikes there would lack an international legal framework and be fraught with risk.

Hollande, in his speech to the conference, proposed instead bolstering the moderate Syrian rebels, who rose up against al-Assad’s regime in 2011 only to be shunted aside by Islamic State and other fundamentalist groups over time.

Saudi Arabia has agreed to train the moderate rebels.

Notably absent from the conference was Iran, which supports al-Assad against the rebellion in Syria as well as the government in Iraq.

French media said Paris was in favour of inviting Iran but that Washington was against, despite rumours of Iran and the US cooperating against Islamic State in Iraq.

Annoyed at the snub Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei criticised the US-led alliance, calling it “partisan and therefore useless.”

Meanwhile, on the ground in Syria, the Kurdish forces who have been combatting Islamic State since its formation over a year ago were reported to have gained ground near the north-eastern city of Qamishli.

The Hawar news agency, which is close to the dominant Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), said the Kurdish People’s Protection Units had wrested 14 villages in the Tel Hamis area from the extremists. There were reports of heavy civilian casualties.

GNA

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