U.S., al­lies pledge to step up Iraq sup­port

Af­ter com­plaints, the West says it will send more arms and cur­tail the in­flux of mil­i­tants.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Pa­trick J. McDon­nell

BEIRUT — Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider Abadi re­ceived fresh pledges from the United States and its al­lies Tues­day to ex­pe­dite arms de­liv­er­ies to Iraq, stem the f low of for­eign fighters into the coun­try and cut off the fi­nan­cial pipe­line of Is­lamic State mil­i­tants.

Abadi had com­plained at a se­cu­rity con­fer­ence in Paris that the global re­sponse had been in­ad­e­quate at a time when the ex­trem­ists were seiz­ing ter­ri­tory in Iraq and neigh­bor­ing Syria.

“I think this is a fail­ure on the part of the world,” Abadi told re­porters be­fore the start of the con­fer­ence, which in­cluded the United States and about two dozen al­lied na­tions. “There is a lot of talk of sup­port for Iraq, [but] there is very lit­tle on the ground.”

Re­cent Is­lamic State ad­vances in Iraq’s An­bar prov­ince and in Syria have raised grave doubts about the ef­fec­tive­ness of the cur­rent strat­egy to de­feat the Al Qaeda break­away fac­tion. Is­lamic State arose from the tu­mult of the Syr­ian war and last year ad­vanced across vast stretches of Iraq.

As the con­fer­ence wrapped up Tues­day, Abadi ap­peared with U.S. and French rep­re­sen­ta­tives at a news con­fer­ence and as­sumed a con­cil­ia­tory tone. The Iraqi leader, who came to of­fice last year with strong U.S. back­ing, said he had been as­sured that in­ter­na­tional al­lies “are determined to con­tinue to help Iraq.”

Abadi had urged his al­lies to take more steps to choke off Is­lamic State’s ma­jor in­come sources — in­clud­ing black mar­ket sales of oil and looted an­tiq­ui­ties. He also called for more strin­gent steps to curb the inf lux of for­eign fighters into Iraq. Most mil­i­tant re­cruits en­ter Syria from Turkey and then cross into Iraq, se­cu­rity of­fi­cials say.

The United States vowed to “keep the pres­sure” on Is- lamic State and pledged to ex­pe­dite de­liv­er­ies to Iraq of an­ti­tank rock­ets, cut Is­lamic State’s fund­ing streams and re­duce the f low of for­eign fighters, said U.S. Deputy Sec­re­tary of State Antony Blinken.

The moves out­lined were not bold new steps but rather a con­tin­u­a­tion of the strat­egy in Iraq.

Nei­ther the United States nor its al­lies are keen to send com­bat troops to Iraq. Many Iraqis also re­ject the pres­ence of for­eign forces.

At the Paris ses­sion, West­ern diplo­mats also backed Iraq’s plan to re­take An­bar prov­ince, west of Bagh­dad, the cap­i­tal. Is­lamic State oc­cu­pies much of the prov­ince, con­sid­ered the na­tion’s Sunni heart­land. Last month, the ex­trem­ists over­ran Ra­madi, the pro­vin­cial seat, in a hu­mil­i­at­ing blow for Abadi’s gov­ern­ment.

The Iraqi blue­print to re­take An­bar “is the right plan both mil­i­tar­ily and po­lit­i­cally for Iraq,” said Blinken, who was sit­ting in for Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry as Kerry re­cov­ered from a bi­cy­cling ac­ci­dent.

Bagh­dad says thou­sands of Sunni tribal fighters will take part in the an­nounced of­fen­sive to re­take Ra­madi. Still, highly mo­ti­vated and pre­dom­i­nantly Shi­ite mili­tias known as popular mo­bi­liza­tion forces are ex­pected to take the lead in the Ra­madi coun­terof­fen­sive, a fact that has led to fears of in­flam­ing sec­tar­ian ten­sions.

West­ern gov­ern­ments have urged Abadi’s Shi­ite­dom­i­nated ad­min­is­tra­tion to do more to bol­ster rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with Iraq’s dis­af­fected Sunni mi­nor­ity. Some Iraqi Sun­nis alien­ated from the cen­tral gov­ern­ment have wel­comed Is­lamic State, an ul­tra-fun­da­men­tal­ist Sunni move­ment that views Shi­ites as heretics.

The gen­er­ally up­beat as­sess­ments of­fered in Paris were some­what at odds with grim bat­tle­field re­ports in Iraq and Syria. But Blinken said the mil­i­tants con­trol about 25% less ter­ri­tory than they held last sum­mer.

While pledg­ing to aid Iraq, the al­lies of­fered no rem­edy pub­licly to one of Abadi’s ma­jor com­plaints — that Iraq has been thwarted in ef­forts to buy arms from Iran and Rus­sia be­cause of West­ern-led eco­nomic sanc­tions against the two na­tions. Nei­ther Rus­sia nor Iran is part of the U.S.-led al­liance in Iraq; nei­ther na­tion was rep­re­sented in Paris. pa­trick.mcdon­nell @la­times.com Twit­ter: @mcd­neville

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