Iraq allies vow support for plan to defeat IS

Iraq allies vow support for plan to defeat IS
Allies of Iraq from over 20 countries meeting in Paris have pledged support for a strategy to defeat Islamic State and halt its advance.
4 min read
02 June, 2015
The Paris meeting comes after a series of shock battlefield gains by the extremists [Getty]

Iraq's allies in the fight against the Islamic State group on Tuesday pledged their support for an emergency plan adopted by Baghdad after the key city of Ramadi was taken by militants.  

"Coalition ministers pledged their firm support for this plan," read a statement issued after a crunch meeting in Paris to refine the international community's strategy against the extremists group.  

The meeting in the French capital is attended by Iraq's prime minister and international allies.

The coalition, which includes the United States and France but not Russia, Iran or Syria, is meeting after extremists conquered both the Iraqi city of Ramadi and the historic Syrian city of Palmyra. 

More than 4,100 airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition have failed to stem gains by Islamic State.

France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said airstrikes can only be effective if all Iraqis believe "the government is inclusive."

The Obama administration is similarly impatient with what many critics see as the Shia-led government's corruption and sectarianism.  

The US-led coalition of some 60 nations was formed last year after IS went on a rampage across Iraq and Syria, seizing key territory upon which it declared 'a caliphate'. 

The main focus of the meeting will be the situation in Iraq, where IS seized the city of Ramadi two weeks ago in the biggest blow to the coalition since it began bombarding militants positions in August. 

The meeting comes after a series of shock battlefield gains by the extremists, with Iraq under pressure to step up its fight by being more inclusive of the Sunni minority.  

US Secretary of State John Kerry will take part in the talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other diplomats "remotely" after breaking his leg in a cycling accident, the State Department said.   

"We are going to discuss Iraq, how to get Daesh (IS) to retreat," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last week, warning Baghdad over sectarian tensions which experts say are impeding the country's ability to counter the militants.   

"We engaged militarily but with a political condition: that the government be inclusive, that means bringing everyone together, Shia, Sunnis and Kurds."    

"I am saying clearly that this needs to be better respected from now on," Fabius said in separate comments to parliament.   

French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said that while the talks would centre on Iraq, "taking into account the battlefield and the overlapping of the situation, Syria will also be discussed."   

Shia-Sunni tensions

But with no one willing to send troops into battle, the campaign has relied on air strikes and efforts to arm and train Iraqi government troops and Sunni tribesmen.  

However IS capture of Ramadi, followed days later by the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, has raised questions about the efficacy of the coalition's current strategy.  

It has also exposed and deepened sectarian tensions between Shia and Sunnis in Iraq. 

Magdalena Kirchner of the German thinktank DGAP said efforts to include the Sunni politically "are not working at all" due to deeply ingrained suspicion between the two sides.    

The coalition has pushed for Sunni tribal fighters to be trained to fight the largely Sunni IS fighters in their own areas, but Baghdad is reticent to arm a population it fears may turn on it.    

Washington itself has sent thousands of military advisers to train Sunni tribal fighters and help reform Iraq's shambolic army.  

Part of the hope was that better preparing the Sunnis to defend themselves would halt the spread of Shia militias loyal to Tehran.  

But faced with the collapse of security forces during the fall of Ramadi, Baghdad reluctantly sent in the Iranian-backed Hashed al-Shaabi umbrella organisation for Shia militia and volunteers which helped government forces retake an area west of the city on Saturday.  

Observers and politicians have warned that sectarianism in Iraq could be the death knell to efforts to combat IS.  

"A way must be found to achieve what has so far proved most elusive: an end to the alienation of Sunni populations in Iraq and Syria, the most powerful engine of attraction for Islamic State recruits," Middle East expert John McLaughlin wrote in an analysis for the Brookings Institute on Saturday.   

"This latter goal would require a combination of military pressure, persuasion and diplomacy of heroic scale. But the truth is that nothing else will work."