In Paris, a renewed determination to fight ISIS
Paris - Behind closed doors there was clearly a feeling of frustration in Paris among members of the international coalition gathered to review their so far unsuccessful strategy to defeat the jihadists of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq.
The foreign ministers of 20 or so members of the coalition tried to assess what went wrong recently when ISIS claimed major victories in Ramadi, the capital of the Iraqi province of Anbar, and in the antique city of Palmyra in Syria.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi took the opening shot. To those who were critical of the poor performance of the Iraqi Army, he replied saying that the defeat in Ramadi was a collective failure of the international community. He complained that the coalition was not doing much to help, notably by not sharing enough intelligence on its air strikes. Abadi also said the Iraqi Army needed more weaponry.
The anti-ISIS coalition renewed its commitment to support Iraqi troops with air strikes, training and equipment.
US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Iraqi forces will receive anti-tank weapons. These should come in handy as one of the main problems facing the Iraqi forces is how to fend off suicide bombers, a tactic used by ISIS to wreck government defences.
“In a given month there are 400 suicide bombers entering Iraq with their vehicles,” said Abadi, who asked that the coalition prevent the flow of foreign jihadists into Iraq and to disrupt ISIS sources of financing and revenues. Every drop of oil that is sold by ISIS, lamented Abadi, means more spilling of Iraqi blood.
For its part, the coalition stressed that for its military strategy to be successful, a political and national reconciliation in Iraq between Sunnis and Shias should take place. Sunnis have been ostracised since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003 and have no say in political or security matters.
The coalition endorsed an ambitious “action plan” to regain Anbar. The plan was put forward by Abadi and had been approved by Baghdad following the loss of Ramadi.
Key elements of the plan include the recruitment, training and equipping of Sunni tribal fighters in Anbar alongside Iraqi troops; the beefing up of Iraqi Army divisions in the province that have been depleted over 18 months of fighting; the recalling and restructuring of the police force to hold territory that will eventually be regained; and ensuring that all forces taking part in the offensive to regain the area will operate under the control of the Iraqi prime minister and Iraq’s chain of command.
This plan will obviously need time and lot of money to be implemented. French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius, as well as Blinken, warned this would be a “long campaign”.
The situation in Syria was discussed but apparently only because ISIS, as Fabius stated, “is present in Syria and Iraq”. The French foreign minister said for success to be achieved in Iraq “a political transition was needed in Syria”. That transition he said should include “elements of the Syrian regime — but not (President Bashar) Assad — and members of the opposition”.
Participants addressed the suffering of the civilian population, the protection of minorities and the cultural heritage of Syria and Iraq and a high-level meeting on key questions might convene in Paris next fall.
One key player in Iraq was absent at the Paris meeting, and that was Iran.
As for the Russians, one of Assad’s main allies, they have a role to play in the political transition in Syria, Fabius said.
In any case, political observers suspect that many more meetings of the coalition to review its strategy will probably be needed in the course of the international coalition fight against ISIS.