The Paris Conference on Iraq: Pessimistic Forecasts?

Any anti-ISIL operation in Iraq cannot be effective unless the Islamic State is attacked in Syria. But the final statement of the Paris Conference did not mention Syria as a precaution against disunity in the coalition and with due regard for the Russian position. Professor of the Chair of Modern East Department of History, Political Science and Law in RSUH

Held in Paris, the International Conference on Peace and Security in Iraq became the major political event of the last few days. This is evidenced by the 26 states, including Russia as represented by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and three international organizations. The final statement of the conference emphasized that its participants agreed with “the urgent need to remove Daech (ISIL) from the regions in which it has established itself in Iraq.” It also said that the participants were committed to “supporting the new Iraqi Government in its fight against Daech (ISIL), by any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance.”

The result is obvious: an anti-ISIL international coalition is a reality. Moreover, conference participants showed resolve to put an end to this radical political entity, at least within the Middle East, where it is most active today and likely to persist in the future. The conference was preceded by active US political and diplomatic efforts, with President Barack Obama proclaiming an “anti-ISIL strategy.” The United States was also responsible for most of the effort that went into forming the coalition, which eventually came to include the leading regional powers. The final communique of the meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on September 11, 2014, stated that the “ministers representing states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the United States confirmed their commitment to implement UN Security Council Resolution #2170 and noted the Arab League Resolution #7804 of September 7, 2014, as well as the discussion of ISIL at the NATO Summit in Wales.” The participants emphasized that the role played by regional states is central to this effort.

All of this does not mean, of course, that the coalition is ready for immediate action, even if it is known what contribution – logistic, financial, humanitarian or military – each of its members will make to the effort. For the operation to start, it has to be approved by the UN (and in the United States by Congress, whose House of Representatives has already endorsed the arming and training of the Syrian opposition). But there are other problems, such as the special position of Turkey, which is linked to active Kurdish involvement (and arms supplies to the Kurds) in the standoff with the Islamic State. Another problem is the differences over the Russia-demanded invitation of Iran, something that is opposed by the leading Arab states, including Iraq. It is also unclear to what extent the Iraqi Government is able to unite the nation, win over the Sunni public and political forces, and turn the army into a battle-worthy organization. Yet, the most serious problem is related to Syria.

Any anti-ISIL operation in Iraq cannot be effective unless the Islamic State is attacked in Syria. But the final statement of the Paris Conference did not mention Syria as a precaution against disunity in the coalition (and with due regard for the Russian position). Nevertheless, President Obama and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia talked by phone as early as September 10, 2014, and, according to the official text, “agreed on the need for increased training and equipping of the moderate Syrian opposition,” stressing that “a stronger Syrian opposition is essential to confronting extremists like ISIL as well as the Assad regime, which has lost all legitimacy.”

The issue of the differences within the new international coalition (stemming from Russia’s steady support for the Assad regime and the Russian demand that war should be waged on all Islamist groups in Syria) takes on added acuteness, if we keep in mind that the US-Saudi understanding of the term “moderate Syrian opposition” covers not only the Free Syrian Army but also the Islamic Front, a group of Syrian antigovernment religious organizations that nevertheless fight the Islamic State. At any rate, the Syrian President’s latest statement to the effect that the formation of an anti-fundamentalist coalition should begin with pressure being brought to bear on those who supply them with money and arms (the United States and Saudi Arabia. –G.K.) could become yet another argument for his Russian partner to insist on exempting Syria from the coalition’s scope.

So a coalition has been established. But will it be capable of an all-out action that will uproot the Islamic State? The answer cannot fail being steeped in pessimism. 

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