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Iraq Pleads for More Help From West as Bombs Continue to Drop on Islamic State

A meeting in Paris brought together the leaders of more than 20 countries battling the surging jihadist group, which took Ramadi and other parts of Iraq’s Anbar province last month.
Imagen por Al-Semaree/EPA

At an international meeting to discuss the ongoing mission against the so-called Islamic State (IS), Western leaders put the onus on Iraqi forces to mount a ground offensive to retake recently lost territory.

As the limits of airstrikes become apparent, the US has promised to rush anti-tank rockets to Iraq, whose prime minister is pleading for more weapons and intelligence assistance.

Held in Paris on Tuesday, the talks brought together leaders of more than 20 countries battling the surging jihadist group, which took Ramadi and other parts of Iraq's Anbar province last month.


Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi presented a plan to reconquer the lost territories, notably by training and equipping Sunni tribes, a strategy the international coalition endorsed. The coalition, which includes Western and Arab countries, also agreed to work together to stem flows of money and foreign fighters to the group, to combat its propaganda machine, and to provide humanitarian relief to Iraqi citizens uprooted by the insurgents' brutality.

"Coalition partners reaffirmed their strong unity and their commitment to work together under a common, multifaceted, and long term strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh, a threat to the entire international community," the meeting's final communiqué read, using an Arabic term for IS that is slightly derogatory.

But outside the meeting's carefully scripted diplomacy, leaders hinted at remaining points of discord between Iraq and the West. Speaking to French media Tuesday, al-Abadi said that the main thing his country needs is arms and intelligence to help it fight what promises to be a nasty urban battle.

"The air campaign is useful to us, but it isn't sufficiently intensive," he said in an interview with the newspaper le Monde. "We don't want ground forces. Even if we asked the United States for them, we wouldn't get any. We need more intelligence assistance. We've gotten practically no weapons or munitions from the coalition. There are a lot of discussions on support, but almost nothing in practice."


Weapons from the US have already made their way to Iraqi government forces, but there is general concern that Western arms could fall into the hands of insurgents. Al-Abadi himself has admitted that IS captured 2,300 hundred armoured US Humvees when Mosul fell last summer, in addition to other weapons.

The loss of Ramadi, capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, is a major setback for Iraq's government, which lost even more equipment as its troops retreated. Only an hour and a half drive west of Baghdad, the city's fall is one of IS's most significant victories since the start of the coalition air campaign, which the US launched to contain the group's rapid advance through northern Iraq last summer.

Watch the VICE News Documentary, "The Battle for Iraq: Shia Militias vs. the Islamic State."

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US Secretary of State John Kerry was not at the meeting in Paris, due to injuries he sustained in a bike accident Sunday. He was represented by his deputy, Anthony Blinken, who admitted that, despite a sustained Western bombing campaign, IS is still a serious threat.

"We also acknowledge that Daesh remains extremely resilient, ruthless, and capable of taking the initiative," he said. "We have to learn from and act on our setbacks."

Blinken reiterated that the fight "must be won by the Iraqi people," but promised to deliver anti-tank rockets as soon as possible, perhaps as early as this week.


"One immediate step that we're taking is to ship anti-tank rockets for use against the kind of suicide vehicles that were deployed in Ramadi to such terrible effect," he said.

IS continues to use armored vehicles to mount suicide attacks on government positions in Anbar. Forty-one Iraqi security officers were killed Monday as three Humvees packed with explosives slammed into their base north of Ramadi.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who co-chaired the conference with al-Abadi, said it would be up to Iraqi forces to retake Ramadi without the help of Western troops.

"We have sent planes, but there's no question of us sending ground forces," he said on French television Tuesday. "On the ground, it's the Iraqi army and population that have to do the work."

Fabius said that military interventions could not succeed unless the Iraqi government reaches out to Sunni Arabs with "more inclusive policies." IS feeds off Sunni disenchantment with the Shiite-led government, and analysts have questioned whether Iraqi forces will be able to hold territory without the support of Sunni tribes.

"This population is not going to act against Daesh unless they have the feeling that the government is inclusive," Fabius said, though he noted after the conference that al-Abadi's plan had made progress on this point.

Canada also ruled out sending combat troops to Iraq, agreeing with France that the Iraqi government must take responsibility for retaking the territories it lost in May. Prior to leaving for Paris, Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson said that bombing raids will not be enough to drive IS fighters out of places like Ramadi, and called on the Iraqi ground forces to "take the fight to ISIL," using an acronym for the group.


"It's got to be on the ground, and it's got to be by the Iraqis," Nicholson said in an interview reported by The Canadian Press Monday. "Our air support has been helpful, and I think it's absolutely necessary, but ultimately they will have to retake those parts of their country."

Canada is providing $10 million dollars of "non-lethal security assistance" to Iraqi forces, including bomb-disposal robots and night vision goggles. Canadian officials told VICE News that Canada has not sent any offensive weapons to Iraq, though it has transported small arms and ammunition donated by other members of the coalition.

Nicholson announced Tuesday that Canada will help fund some of the priorities discussed at the meeting, including a program training judges, investigators and financial analysts to stop money from reaching IS.

He also said his government would commit $1 million to the police agency Interpol to help prevent foreign fighters from reaching Iraq. About half of IS's estimated 30,000 fighters come from outside Iraq and Syria, according to the Canadian government, including hundreds of Western jihadists.

The aim of the coalition mission, which targets the group's forces and command structures, is to "degrade and destroy" the insurgency from the air. The Americans claim to have taken out over 6,200 IS targets, while Canada has launched over 600 sorties using its six CF-188 Hornet fighter planes since November of last year. France has provided 12 fighter planes and Australia six. Britain's air force is flying a squadron of Tornado warplanes, as well as Reaper attack drones armed with Hellfire missiles.

While some coalition countries, including Canada and the US, have also sent ground forces to train local troops and support bombing raids, they are not authorized to engage in combat missions. Many still operate in dangerous territory, however. In March, Canadian special forces soldier Sgt. Andrew Doiron was killed by friendly fire after Kurdish forces mistook him for an IS fighter.

Doiron was part of an ongoing Canadian Special Forces mission training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in a variety of capabilities, which has taken many Canadian commandos deep into the battlefield of northern Iraq and to the front lines.

Follow Arthur White on Twitter: @jjjarthur