27 October 2016
French President Francois Hollande (right) talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his delegation during a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Tuesday. Photo: AFP
French President Francois Hollande (right) talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his delegation during a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Allies tell Baghdad to repair relations with Sunni minority

Western and Arab states carrying out air strikes on Islamic State fighters pledged support for Iraq’s plan to retake territory from the jihadist movement.

Around 20 coalition ministers met Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Paris on Tuesday, in part to persuade his Shi’ite Muslim-led government to repair relations with Iraq’s Sunni minority to strengthen its campaign against the Sunni Islamic State, Reuters reported.

Despite a show of unity, Abadi appeared to reject suggestions that Baghdad was paying insufficient attention to reconciliation with Sunni.

He said the world had “failed” Iraq, highlighting the significant number of foreign Islamic State volunteers entering Iraq from countries in the coalition.

“The talks allowed us to reaffirm our unity and joint determination to fight the terrorists of Daesh (or Islamic State),” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said after the meeting.

“This military strategy is inseparable to implementing political reconciliation in Iraq,” he told reporters. “There isn’t on one side the military and on the other political.”

Abadi said he was committed to Sunni-Shi’ite rapprochement but accused the international coalition of not doing enough to tackle Islamic State, which swept across swathes of northern and western Iraq in 2014 and now holds about a third of the country.

“We can make sacrifices to fight Islamic State but the international coalition has to support us,” he said.

Abadi said his forces were making headway against Islamic State but that Baghdad urgently needed more intelligence and weapons, including anti-tank guns, from the coalition.

He said Baghdad had received very few arms or ammunition despite coalition pledges to provide more.

“Almost none. We are relying on ourselves,” Abadi said, noting that he was awaiting United Nations approval to buy weapons from Iran and Russia.

“The air campaign is useful for us, but it’s not enough. It’s too little. Surveillance is very small. Daesh is mobile and moves in small groups,” he added.

The Pentagon said the United States had delivered anti-tank rockets to Iraq, confirming an earlier Reuters report.

“We’re giving 1,000 to the Iraqis immediately. The other 1,000 are being held,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told a news briefing.

The US defense department said the other 1,000 were for training Iraqi forces and future contingencies.

Last month, the Iraqi government had its worst military setback in nearly a year when Islamic State seized Ramadi from a weakened Iraqi army. The capital of the overwhelmingly Sunni province of Anbar is 90 kilometers (55 miles) west of Baghdad.

Since then, government troops and allied Shi’ite militia have been building up positions around Ramadi.

Many Iraqi Sunnis dislike the ultra-hardline Islamic State but also fear the Shi’ite militias after years of bloody sectarian strife.

The plan to retake Ramadi includes accelerating the training and equipping of local Sunni tribes in coordination with Anbar authorities, expanding recruitment into the Iraqi army and ensuring all associated forces act under Baghdad’s command.

Abadi, a moderate Shi’ite, can only persuade Sunni tribes to fight Islamic State if he demonstrates control over the powerful Shi’ite paramilitaries whose muscle he now depends on.

Shi’ite fighters have been benefiting from the battlefield expertise of military advisers from top Shi’ite power Iran.

In a sign of persistent factional divisions, Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdistan region criticized Baghdad for “excluding” it from the Paris talks, saying the snub demeaned the sacrifices of its peshmerga forces also fighting Islamic State.

In a further sign of internal tension, a meeting of Sunni tribes in Paris was canceled and Sheikh Jamal al-Dhari, a leader of the prominent al-Zoba tribe, said Abadi could not deliver since he was a puppet of Iran.

“We need real reconciliation that will see the Iraqi people find a political solution to what is going on, then the Sunnis will get rid of Daesh,” he said.

“But we will not get rid of Daesh to replace it with Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad,” he said, referring to the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who has become a familiar sight on the Shi’ite side of Iraq’s battlefields.

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