DOHA: A senior US envoy said yesterday the growth of the Islamic State militant group had global implications and could “wreak havoc on the progress of humanity” if unchecked. Retired Gen John Allen, appointed by US President Barack Obama to build a coalition against Islamic State, told a conference in Qatar the group was not merely an Iraqi problem or a Syrian problem but “a regional problem trending towards global implications”. The group has lost about a quarter of the populated areas it once held in Iraq, but countering its ideology might take a generation or more, he told the Brookings Institution’s US-Islamic World Forum.
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 Muslim province of Anbar is 90 km west of Baghdad. Since then, government troops and allied Shiite Muslim militia have been building up positions around Ramadi. Many Iraqi Sunnis dislike the ultra-hardline Islamic State but also fear the Shiite militias after years of sectarian strife.
Allen said there was no future for Iraq without Sunni support and stressed the need for the government to control the Shiite militias, some of whom have links to Iran. “We said many times that it is critical that all forces in the battle field must be under the command and control of the government of Iraq for the counter-ISIL operation to be successful,” he added, using a common acronym for Islamic State.
Washington remained “very attentive and concerned about extremist militia elements frequently influenced by Iranian leadership, where Iran may play a significant role in their presence,” he said. He added that Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq were the “last line of defense” against foreign fighters coming into the conflict - but other countries also needed to help stop the influx. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad should have no place in a solution to Syria’s war, he added, repeating Washington’s stance on efforts to end the fighting.
Over 10,000 killed
Meanwhile, more than 10,000 jihadists have been killed in air strikes against the Islamic State group over a nine-month coalition campaign, US deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken said yesterday. “We have seen enormous losses from Daesh (IS), more than 10,000 since the beginning of the campaign and this will end up having an impact,” Blinken told French radio, without specifying whether the losses were in Iraq or Syria. Blinken was speaking a day after an international conference in Paris in which 20 or so representatives of the anti-IS coalition pledged support for Baghdad’s plan to claw back territory from the marauding jihadists who have conquered large parts of Iraq and Syria.
The coalition’s strategy has been criticized for relying on air strikes without committing boots on the ground, but Blinken stressed there had been “significant progress”. Islamic State now controls “25 percent less of Iraq after nine months, a lot of their equipment has been destroyed and many Daesh members have been eliminated,” said Blinken. He nevertheless acknowledged the “resilience” of the group after the coalition has launched about 4,000 air strikes on them. In a separate French radio interview, Iraq’s ambassador to France, Fareed Yasseen, said the allies had heeded Baghdad’s calls for more weapons to combat the group. “The Americans have promised us and will shortly deliver missiles that will make the difference against these truck bombs ... which made us lose Ramadi,” a key Iraqi city close to the capital. “The French will be giving us similar weapons, ammunition and we are discussing other cooperation projects,” the ambassador told Europe 1 radio.—Agencies