International anti-ISIS meet set to kick off in Paris

Fighters from Mahdi Army load rockets into a rocket launcher during heavy fighting with ISIS militants at Bo Hassan village in near Tikrit, northern Iraq September 12, 2014.

Fighters from Mahdi Army load rockets into a rocket launcher during heavy fighting with ISIS militants at Bo Hassan village in near Tikrit, northern Iraq September 12, 2014.

Almost 30 countries will be meeting with Iraqi authorities in Paris on Monday to coordinate their response to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Reuters news agency reported.

French President Francois Hollande and his Iraqi counterpart will co-chair the conference which will include the European Union, United Nations, and the Arab League. Hollande said the goals are to provide political support to the Iraqi government, coordinate humanitarian aid, and fight ISIS militants.

John Kerry is scheduled to meet British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond during the 26-state conference, a day after ISIS militants released a video showing the beheading of British aid worker, David Haines.

The conference comes after Prime Minister David Cameron said the United Kingdom is battling ISIS on numerous fronts, but ruled out joining the United States in announcing air strikes on militant targets.

As Kerry has been pressuring allies ahead of the meeting to show a united front, especially from majority-Muslim nations, sSeveral Arab countries offered to conduct airstrikes against ISIS, a State Department official traveling with Kerry told reporters.

The U.S. Secretary of State also said nearly 40 countries agreed to contribute to a worldwide fight to defeat the militants before they gain more territory in Iraq and Syria.

Muslim-majority countries are considered vital to any operation, although there have only been vague offers of help previously. Iran was struck off the invitation list, and Western officials have made clear they consider Syria’s government part of the problem.

“Ultimately, this is a fight within Islam, within Sunni Islam,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough told Fox News on Sunday.

“That’s why we know that ultimately to defeat and ultimately destroy ISIL, something that is not only in our interest but in the interest of the countries in the region, they are going to need to take the fight to it,” he said, using one of the acronyms for the group.

“We’ll build, we’ll lead, we’ll undergird, and we’ll strengthen that coalition. But ultimately, they’re going to help us beat them on the ground,” McDonough said.

But the Paris conference, officially dedicated to peace and stability in Iraq, avoids mention of Syria, the power base of the militant organization gaining territory in both countries by the week.

The U.S. opposed France’s attempt to invite Iran, which shares a 1,400-kilometer border with Iraq. The gathering itself will be brief, a matter of a few hours between its start and a planned joint statement.

Action against ISIS

The CIA estimates the militant group has access to between 20,000 and 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria. A senior Iraqi intelligence official told The Associated Press that more than 27,600 ISIS fighters are believed to be operating in Iraq alone, including about 2,600 foreigners. He spoke anonymously as he is not entitled to brief the media.

McDonough said Iraq’s newly inclusive Iraqi government allowed the U.S. and other countries to step up their role.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was preparing to contribute up to 10 military aircraft and 600 personnel to be deployed to the United Arab Emirates. A statement from his office said special operations personnel who could assist Iraq’s security forces were being prepared also, but combat troops were not being deployed. Australia was not on the list of countries attending the Paris conference released Sunday by the French presidency.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called Sunday for “internationally agreed action to effectively stop the flow of fighters and money.”

Germany on Friday banned all activity on behalf of ISIS, including the distribution of propaganda and the display of its symbols, and is supplying Kurdish forces fighting the extremists in Iraq with assault rifles, anti-tank weapons and armored vehicles. But Germany has ruled out airstrikes and ground troops.

 
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