Kerry drums up Arab support in fight against Islamic State

The US Secretary of State received promises of help in Obama's new war against the Islamic State group yesterday from 10 Arab states. 

Brendan Smialowski/AP
Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir (r.) listens while Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (c.) and US Secretary of State John Kerry (l.) talk before a meeting at the Royal Palace in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia,Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014.

The United States enlisted the help of 10 Arab countries in its fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) after foreign ministers met Thursday in Saudi Arabia with Secretary of State John Kerry.

The communiqué issued said members discussed “a strategy to destroy ISIL [another acronym used for IS] wherever it is, including in both Iraq and Syria.” The states in attendance said they would take steps to stop the flow of foreign fighters and financing to IS, provide humanitarian aid, and, “as appropriate,” join the US military campaign.

Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all offered their support. Turkey did not sign the communiqué and Mr. Kerry is scheduled to travel there today. Forty-nine Turkish citizens, including diplomats, are currently being held hostage by IS, complicating the country’s decision.

Iran and Syria were both excluded from the talks, highlighting complicated US relations in the region.

He [President Barack Obama] must try to confront the group without aiding Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, or appearing to side with Mr. Assad’s Shiite allies, Iran and the militant group Hezbollah, against discontented Sunnis across the Arab world.

The New York Times reported that the US is receiving “tepid support” as it returns to military action in the region.

The Obama administration is eager to have the campaign against ISIS be seen as a broad international effort that includes prominent Sunni states, rather than as a clash of civilizations that pits the United States against radical Islam.

“He’s [Kerry] also going to ask them to use their nationally owned media,” said a senior State Department official who previewed Mr. Kerry’s strategy. Two Middle Eastern news channels, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, were mentioned specifically, the official said, adding that Mr. Kerry would also ask the Arab states to “encourage their religious establishments to speak out against extremism.”

Reuters reported that Kerry has also asked for permission from Arab states to use their military bases. The US has already carried out more than 150 airstrikes against IS in Iraq.

A Syrian minister told NBC News that his government was ready to talk with the US and had “no reservations” about airstrikes against IS as long as they were coordinated with the Syrian government.

Another former Syrian diplomat told the Guardian that Syria would still view the airstrikes as a violation of international law, but would most likely look the other way.

“As long as airstrikes only hit Isis, they will be condemned as a violation of international law but won't be dealt with as aggression that requires retaliation.”

As the Monitor reported, arming the Syrian opposition is fraught with difficulties, and has raised many questions about the ultimate outcomes and alliances in the region.

If the US military destroys IS in Syria, for example, that is sure to strengthen the standing of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his brutal regime. What then? 

And if IS is pushed out of Iraq, will the Sunnis turn their ire against the Shiite-led government there?

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