Iraq welcomes US plan for coalition against militants

Syrians inspect damaged houses following a Syrian government airstrike in the north-eastern city of Raqqa, on Saturday. Syria launched a series of airstrikes targeting Raqqa on Saturday, killing dozens people, most of whom died when one of the missiles slammed into a crowded bakery, activists said. Raqqa Media Center of ISIL / AP Photo
Syrians inspect damaged houses following a Syrian government airstrike in the north-eastern city of Raqqa, on Saturday. Syria launched a series of airstrikes targeting Raqqa on Saturday, killing dozens people, most of whom died when one of the missiles slammed into a crowded bakery, activists said. Raqqa Media Center of ISIL / AP Photo

BAGHDAD // Iraq on Saturday welcomed the US president Barack Obama’s plan for an international coalition to fight ISIL as a “strong message of support”, after repeatedly calling for aid against the militants.

Mr Obama said the coalition aimed to “degrade and ultimately defeat” the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which has overrun parts of five Iraqi provinces since June.

He said there was “unanimity” among Nato members that the group “poses a significant threat”.

Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, praised Obama’s remarks at a Nato summit on Friday as a strong response to Baghdad’s long-standing appeals for aid.

“We welcome that, and we have repeatedly called on our international partners for help and support because this threat is a very deadly threat ... not only to the people of Iraq or the region, but to Europe, to America, to Nato,” Mr Zebari said on Saturday.

“This is basically our fight... but we need the support – our capacity is limited, and we need the support to enhance our capacity.

“Nobody’s thinking of any ground troops at this stage – they are calling for air support, for tactical support, for arming the forces on the ground, like the peshmerga, the Iraqi security forces, and also to provide ... intelligence, reconnaissance,” Mr Zebari said.

ISIL, which has carried out atrocities including killings, kidnappings and attacks on minorities in areas it controls, also holds significant territory in neighbouring Syria, where it has become the most effective of a numerous rebel groups seeking to ovethrow president Bashar Al Assad.

Syrian government jets on Saturday carried out strikes in the ISIL-held northern city of Raqqa, killing 31 people including 15 militants, a monitoring group said.

While Washington has said that operations in Syria will be needed to defeat ISIL, it has so far ruled out any cooperation with the government in Damascus.

International concern has been building for some time over ISIL, but its targeting of Iraqi minorities and beheadings of the American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff provided increased impetus for action against it.

The US has sent military advisers to Iraq and launched a campaign of airstrikes against ISIL in early August after advances by the group in northern Iraq sent tens of thousands of people from minorities fleeing and threatened US interests in the autonomous Kurdish region.

The US and several other Nato members have promised to supply arms to the region’s peshmerga forces battling ISIL, and the UK has said it would consider joining in the air campaign after the militants threatened to kill a British aid worker they are holding hostage.

Mr Obama also said regional involvement was “absolutely critical” for the anti-ISIL effort, although the US state department said there were “no plans” for military coordination with Iran in the fight.

American officials were quick to distance the process of forming an anti-ISIL coalition from the heavily-criticised “coalition of the willing” that was formed ahead of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

“When we talk about what we are doing today, in no way do we want to resemble anything that was done in 2003,” spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “We’re certainly not using that playbook.”

In Iraq on Saturday, ISIL militants shot dead two doctors who allegedly refused to treat its fighters, as well as a woman who ran for parliament earlier this year in the northern city of Mosul, a morgue employee and witnesses said.

Mosul was the first city to fall to the initial ISIL-led militant drive in June, which swept Iraqi security forces aside.

Baghdad won its first major victories of the conflict when federal troops, Shiite militiamen and Kurdish fighters broke a months-long siege of one town on August 31 and then retook other nearby territory.

In the town of Sulaiman Bek, which had been held by ISIL since June but was retaken on Monday, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militiamen discovered mass graves containing 35 bodies, an officer and a doctor said on Friday.

It was not clear when the killings took place, as the government has lost control of the town north of Baghdad several times this year.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: September 6, 2014 04:00 AM

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