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Saturday, Sep 13, 2014

World

US banks on strong Iraq coalition, but allies hesitant

Reuters | Saturday, Sep 13, 2014

Shi'ite fighters from Mahdi Army rehearse their final tactics before advancing into Bo Hassan village in near Tikrit, northern Iraq, to fight Islamic State militants September 12, 2014.

PARIS - Islamic State, but with Western and Middle Eastern allies hesitant, it risks finding itself out on a limb.

President Barack Obama this week unveiled a rough plan to fight the Islamist militants simultaneously in Iraq and Syria, thrusting the United States directly into two different wars in which nearly every country in the region has a stake.

The broad concept of a coalition has been accepted in Western capitals and on Thursday 10 Arab states, including rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar, signed up to a "co-ordinated military campaign".

"I'm comfortable that this will be a broad-based coalition with Arab nations, European nations, the United States, others," US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Ankara on Friday.

But he added it was "premature" to set out what tasks individual coalition partners would shoulder. And the devil could be in the details.

"This coalition has to be efficient and targeted," said a senior French diplomat. "We have to keep our autonomy. We don't want to be the United States' subcontractor. For the moment they haven't made their intentions clear to us."

The United States and Britain pulled out of striking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last year hours before French planes had been due to take off, leaving President Francois Hollande embarrassed and isolated.

This time around Paris wants clear commitment and international legality for any action in Syria. In Iraq, it wants a political plan encompassing all sides of society to be in place for the period after Islamic State (IS) is weakened.

"The coalition must be the most legal possible," said former French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine. "It needs members of the Security Council and as many Arab countries as possible and there has to be a follow-up. Otherwise it will all start again in three months. There needs to be a long-term vision."

That is the idea of a conference in Paris on Sept. 15 that will bring Iraqi authorities together with 15-20 international players. The talks come ahead of a UN Security Council ministerial meeting on Sept. 19 and a heads of state meeting at the UN General Assembly at the end of the month.

"The goal is to coordinate aid, support and action for the unity of Iraq and against this terrorist group," Hollande, the first Western leader to travel to Iraq since Islamic State's advances in June, told reporters in Baghdad on Friday.

France has so far sent weapons to Kurdish fighters in Iraq and humanitarian aid. It is likely to send about 250 special forces troops to help direct strikes for Rafale fighter jets.

But what it can offer is limited. France's forces are stretched, with more than 5,000 troops in Mali and Central African Republic. Its planned 450 million euros overseas defence budget for 2014 is already over a billion euros, at a time when the government is under severe pressure to cut spending.

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