Anti-Islamic State allies to press Iraq to court Sunni minority

  • Reuters, Paris
  • Updated: Jun 02, 2015 12:11 IST

Ministers from Western and Middle Eastern countries fighting Islamic State will tell Iraq on Tuesday to be more inclusive of its Sunni minority as they reassess their strategy against the jihadists after major setbacks.

The meeting in Paris, which about 20 ministers from countries including Saudi Arabia and Turkey are to attend, will focus on helping Iraq reverse its biggest military defeat in nearly a year - the fall of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, just 90 km (55 miles) west of Baghdad.

"Ramadi was a big blow," said a French diplomatic source. "We're not going to change the fundamentals of our strategy - air strikes and support for Iraqi forces - but it's crucial that everybody in Iraq is part of the fight against Islamic State."

With the jihadists shoring up their positions, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Abadi, a moderate Shia, must try to persuade Sunni Arab tribes to fight Islamic State, a challenge he has struggled to meet despite vows of a more inclusive governance.

Abadi, who co-chairs the meeting with French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, must also show that he can control the powerful Shia militias whose military muscle he depends on, whose earlier abuses have stoked Sunni anger toward his government.

"This is not a business-as-usual meeting," a senior state department official told reporters. "We're coming in the wake of the events in Ramadi. We're coming to discuss with Prime Minister Abadi his plan ... for liberating Ramadi and Anbar province."

The official, who confirmed US secretary of state John Kerry would take part in the meeting - albeit remotely, after breaking his leg in France on Sunday - said one of the focal points would be a discussion with Abadi about efforts to mobilise Sunni tribal fighters against Islamic State. "Since this plan was announced (after the fall of Ramadi), 800 tribal fighters have been enrolled as volunteers to serve, with pay cheques from the state, with a weapon to go out and join the fight alongside Iraqi security forces," the official said.

The meeting also intends to review how the coalition is meeting its goal of "asphyxiating" Islamic State with measures including air strikes in Syria, stopping the flow of foreign fighters, cutting off financing, providing humanitarian aid, countering the group online and stabilising Iraqi areas hurt by the fighting.

Before the meeting with Abadi, Fabius is convening a smaller group of ministers to discuss Syria in the wake of Islamic State's seizure of the city of Palmyra, as President Bashar al-Assad appears to be losing ground.

That meeting will discuss efforts to relaunch stalled peace talks, and to help Turkey to secure its frontiers with parts of Syria that are under the control of Islamic State.

"There is no military solution without a political solution," Fabius told lawmakers last week.

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