Kerry to press Arabs to back campaign against Islamic State

Kerry is on a tour of Middle East to build military, political and financial support to defeat IS


Reuters September 11, 2014

JEDDAH: US Secretary of State John Kerry will press Arab leaders on Thursday to support President Barack Obama's plans for a new military campaign against Islamic State militants including help with greater overflight rights for US warplanes.

US officials have cast the campaign against Islamic State as a global fight against Islamist radicals and the threat they pose beyond Syria and Iraq, particularly through foreign fighters drawn from nearly all points of the planet.

While Washington has not identified specific threats within the United States, US officials say they believe its fighters could return to home countries and carry out attacks.

The beheading of two captive American journalists in the past month has also enraged many Americans who want Obama to retaliate.

In a strong measure of support, Saudi Arabia has agreed to host training camps for moderate Syrian rebels who are part of Obama's broad strategy to combat the militants, who have taken over a third of both Syria and Iraq, US officials said.

The agreement, outlined by Obama's aides on the night of his speech to the American people laying out his expanded campaign against the group, appeared to reflect the depth of Saudi concern about Islamic State's threat to the region.

Outlining what Kerry would seek from regional partners at a meeting of Arab powers and Turkey in Jeddah, a senior State Department official said: "We may need enhanced basing and overflights ... there's going to be a meeting soon of defence ministers to work on these details."

Wider overflight permission from regional states would increase the capacity of US aircraft to attack anti-aircraft weaponry operated by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and if deemed necessary impose a no-fly zone.

Saudi Arabia, the richest Sunni Arab country, this year outlawed Islamic State as an extremist organisation, but it is worried that the focus on the group will distract from what it sees as a bigger regional threat stemming from Iran.

The kingdom has long pressed the United States to take a bigger role in aiding moderate Syrian rebel groups, which it sees as the best hope of tackling both Islamic State and the regional ambitions of Tehran.

In a prime-time speech to Americans, Obama announced he had authorised stepped-up US air strikes in Iraq and for the first time would extend the aerial assault into Syria, where he also vowed to beef up support for moderate rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Earlier, in Baghdad, Kerry endorsed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's plans to mend Baghdad's relations with Sunnis and Kurds, and said Abadi's new Shia-led government was "the heart and backbone" of the fight against Islamic State.

Kerry, on a tour of the Middle East to build military, political and financial support to defeat the militants, said "a new and inclusive Iraqi government has to be the engine of our global strategy against ISIL."

Kerry arrived in Jeddah, the summer seat of the Saudi government, to seek support for a number of initiatives that Washington hopes will undermine the militants.

The initiatives include efforts to stop the flow of money to the group by tackling oil smuggling and cracking down on contributions from private donors, a senior US State Department official told reporters travelling with Kerry.

Military campaign

In talks in Jeddah with Sunni nations, Kerry will ask for help including overflight rights and using regional television news outlets, specifically Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, to air anti-extremist messages, said the senior US official.

"They need to get at the clerics because the clerics can get at the mosques in the neighbourhood and they have to expose ISIL for what it is," the official told reporters.

Saudi Arabia is pivotal, say US officials, because of its regional stature and influence with Sunni Arabs.

The White House says it will target the group's "leadership, logistical and operational capability," and attempt to "deny it sanctuary and resources to plan, prepare and execute attacks."

Saudi Arabia's senior clergy have been attacking Islamic State and al Qaeda in a series of messages over the past month,  denouncing the militant groups as heretical and saying it is religiously forbidden to support or join them.

US officials said a critical component of the plan to train and equip the Syrian insurgents, who have received only modest American backing so far and have failed to coalesce into a potent fighting force, was the Saudis' willingness to allow use of their territory for the US training effort.

Saudi Arabia has participated already in some efforts to train Syrian rebels alongside Western partners, but on Jordanian territory, diplomats in the Gulf have said.

They said those efforts were complicated by the difficulty of vetting individual rebels to ensure they did not harbour militant sympathies.

UAE ambassador Yousef al Oteiba, writing in the Wall Street Journal, said his country was ready to join what he termed a coordinated international response that should to be waged not only on the battlefield but also against militant ideology.

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COMMENTS (3)

Anon | 6 years ago | Reply

Violence is in the nature of the people in the region. Why even bother? Let them sort out the problem by themselves.

Sexton Blake | 6 years ago | Reply

The Americans kill millions of people, and then a couple of Mossad agents disguised as US journalists are killed by we don't know who so the Americans pretend to be outraged and start a whole new war agenda.against Islam. Give me a break.

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