Iraq calls for end to extremist sanctuaries

2014-09-15 20:47
Omar al-Shishani is the face of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, appearing frequently in its online. (AP, militant social media account via AP video)

Omar al-Shishani is the face of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, appearing frequently in its online. (AP, militant social media account via AP video)

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Paris - Diplomats from around the world pledged to fight Islamic State militants "by any means necessary" as Iraq asked allies to thwart the extremists wherever they find sanctuary.

Iran and the United States ruled out coordinating with each other, leaving Baghdad's government caught between two powerful and antagonistic allies.

Neither Iran nor Syria, which together share most of Iraq's borders, was invited to the international conference in Paris, which opened as a pair of French reconnaissance jets took off over Iraqi skies.

But the State Department left open the possibility of new discussions with Iran later in the week, while precluding any military cooperation.

"We are asking for airborne operations to be continued regularly against terrorist sites. We must not allow them to set up sanctuaries. We must pursue them wherever they are. We must cut off their financing. We must bring them to justice and we must stop the fighters in neighboring countries from joining them," President Fouad Massoum said.

With memories of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq still raw, the US has so far been alone in carrying out airstrikes and no country has offered ground troops, but Iraq on Monday won a declaration by the conference's 24 participant nations to help fight the militants "by any means necessary, including military assistance".

An American official said on Sunday several Arab countries had offered to conduct airstrikes, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue, and there were no public commitments on Monday.

"The threat is global and the response must be global," French President Francois Hollande said, opening the diplomatic conference intended to come up with an international strategy against the group. "There is no time to lose."


The killing of David Haines, a British aid worker held hostage by the militants, added urgency to the calls for a coherent strategy against the brutal and well-organised Sunni group, which is a magnet for Muslim extremists from all over the world. The group rakes in more than $3m a day from oil smuggling, human trafficking, theft and extortion, according to US intelligence officials and private experts.

Massoum called for a coordinated military and humanitarian approach, as well as regular strikes against territory in the hands of the extremists and the elimination of their funding.

After the conference ended, US Secretary of State John Kerry met privately with Massoum at the Iraqi Embassy in Paris, telling him that the drive for an inclusive Iraq government had been key to Monday's pledges.

"So I hope you feel that the push and the risk was worth it," Kerry said.

"We are beginning to feel it," Massoum said through a translator.

Fighters with the Islamic State group, including many Iraqis, swept in from Syria and overwhelmed the Iraqi military in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, capitalising on long-standing grievances against the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad.

When the militants arrived in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, the US-trained military crumbled and the militants seized tanks, missile launchers and ammunition, steamrolling across northern Iraq. The CIA estimates the Sunni militant group has access to between 20 000 and 31 000 fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Muslim-majority countries are considered vital to any operation to prevent the militants from gaining more territory in Iraq and Syria. Western officials have made clear they consider Syrian President Bashar Assad part of the problem, and US officials opposed France's attempt to invite Iran, a Shi'ite nation, to the conference in Paris.

Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking on Iranian state television, said his government privately refused American requests for cooperation against the Islamic State group, warning that another US incursion would result "in the same problems they faced in Iraq in the past 10 years".

Massive threat

US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki declined to comment on specifics of any US approaches to Iran, but said "we are not and will not coordinate militarily". Psaki said it was possible that US and Iranian officials would be able to touch on the problem of Islamic State militants later in the week in New York.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted on Monday that Syria and Iran are "natural allies" in the fight against the extremists, and therefore must be engaged, according to Russian news agencies.

"The extremists are trying to use any disagreements in our positions to tear apart the united front of states acting against them," he said.

Iraq's president, who has said he regretted Iran's absence, appeared ambivalent about Arab participation, saying his country needed the support of its neighbours - but not necessarily their fighter jets or soldiers.

Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have some of the region's best-equipped militaries, and they could theoretically provide air support to a broader international coalition. US officials say the Emirates and Egypt were behind airstrikes against Islamic-backed militants in Libya last month.

Speaking in his first interview since becoming Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi told state-run al-Iraqiyya in comments aired on Sunday that he had given his approval to France to use Iraqi airspace and said all such authorisations would have to come from Baghdad.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country would continue offering logistical help to US forces and that counterterrorism efforts will increase, describing the Islamic State group as a "massive" security threat. Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the threat goes beyond just the recent killings.

"This group poses even more of a danger as it risks exporting terrorists to our countries," he said in his outgoing speech as Nato's top civilian official. "It also controls energy assets. And it is pouring oil on the fire of sectarianism already burning across the Middle East and North Africa."

Read more on:    isis  |  nato  |  iraq  |  us

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