BBC news: Islamic State: Where key countries stand

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SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- The lightning rise of Islamic State (IS), the jihadist militant group that has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq, has sent shockwaves around the region and beyond, leaving allies and rivals deciding how to go about dealing with the threat.

Although it is seen as a common enemy, longstanding enmities and an already complex situation in the Middle East mean devising strategies to confront IS is far from straightforward.

Here is a look at where key countries stand:

United States

The US has openly expressed alarm over IS, saying the group was “beyond anything” it has previously seen. The US began launching air strikes on IS in northern Iraq on 9 August – at the request of the Iraqi government – but has said it will take a “broad international coalition” to defeat it.

Although he has pledged to step up support for Iraq if it forms a unified and inclusive government, President Obama has insisted he will not deploy ground troops.

Besides not wanting to repeat the mistakes of 2003 when the US invaded Iraq, Mr Obama is aware “boots on the ground” could aggravate Iraq’s precarious political situation and risk further antagonising Sunni Arabs, many of whom supported the IS-led rebellion against the former government. Instead, the US has shown willingness to work with its long-time enemy Iran.

Top US general Martin Dempsey has warned that IS cannot be beaten without attacking its strongholds in Syria. That has prompted questions about whether to co-operate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has offered to assist the international community in the fight against IS.

However, Washington still wants Mr Assad out of power. Mr Obama has authorised reconnaissance flights over Syria to track IS, but so far not air strikes because of the risk posed by Syria’s advanced air defence system, international law and the fact that they might benefit Mr Assad. Instead, the president appears to be relying on Syrian rebels to take the fight to IS.

 

Iran

Shia Islam is the dominant branch of the faith in Iran, and Iran has seen IS – whose fighters view Shia as heretics who should be killed – advance to within 25 miles (40km) of its border.

Although Iran stands on the opposite side to much of the international community over Syria, it has called for co-operation against IS.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the threat from IS “requires us to work together and seek common solutions”. It has reached out to Saudi Arabia – the leading Sunni power and Iran’s regional rival – and turned a blind eye to US actions in Iraq, which it has historically opposed.

In Iraq, the Iranians themselves have played a key role in countering IS. Iranian Revolutionary Guards have advised Iraqi security forces, Iranian pilots have carried out air strikes, Iranian-backed Shia militia have mobilised, and Iran says it has been sending weapons and advisers to Iraqi Kurdistan.

The breaking of the siege of Amerli saw US aircraft act in apparent co-ordination with Shia fighters on the ground, despite the deep and longstanding enmity between the US and Iran.

Tehran also joined Washington in withdrawing support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki in August, forcing him to step down and allowing a consensus candidate to be named to replace him.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said Iran “will not hesitate to protect holy [Shia] shrines” in Iraq, which IS has threatened to destroy, though he has said it would be “very unlikely” Iran would send in its forces.

 

Turkey

Turkey has been one of the most vocal critics of Syrian President Assad. It became the primary route into Syria for foreigners wanting to fight alongside the rebels, many of them jihadists. However, the rapid advance of IS into territory along the Turkish borders with Syria and Iraq prompted Ankara to try to stem the flow of jihadists.

More than 450 foreign fighters have been detained or deported since the start of the year and Turkish security forces have sought to close smuggling routes that have allowed jihadists to avoid checkpoints and sell oil from territories under their control. However, Turkey’s ability to crack down on IS has reportedly been limited by the kidnapping of 49 Turkish diplomats and their families in Mosul in June.

Meanwhile, members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), designated a terrorist group by Ankara, Nato and the EU due to its history of attacks against Turkey, have been fighting IS in Iraq.

 

Saudi Arabia

Regional Sunni power Saudi Arabia has been a key supporter of Syrian rebel forces, including hardline Islamist groups, but it has rejected an Iranian accusation that it has directly supported IS. However, wealthy Saudis have sent donations to the group and some 2,500 Saudi men have travelled to Syria to fight.

The Saudi authorities are concerned that IS will inspire Saudi jihadists to challenge the monarchy’s legitimacy and seek to overthrow it. King Abdullah has called for “rapid” action and warned that “terrorism knows no border”.

In July, Riyadh deployed 30,000 troops to beef up security along its border with Iraq, and the following month hosted Iran’s deputy foreign minister as the two regional rivals agreed to co-operate.

 

Jordan

Jordan, a staunch US ally, has security services and a military that could support efforts to combat IS. The group has threatened to “break down” Jordan’s borders, although it is not thought likely to launch an assault anytime soon.

The Jordanian military has nonetheless doubled its military presence along the border with Iraq. King Abdullah II attended the Nato summit in Wales in September, where the alliance discussed how to deal with IS.

Within Jordan itself, IS enjoys the support of a growing number of people, some of whom staged demonstrations in the southern town of Maan in June, and more than 2,000 Jordanian citizens are believed to have travelled to Syria to fight.

The king has long called on Syria’s President Assad to step down and has reportedly allowed Jordan to become a staging ground for the rebels and their foreign backers.

 

Lebanon

Lebanon has become deeply divided by the conflict in Syria, and has had to deal with an overspill of violence and a huge influx of refugees.

In August, Syria-based IS fighters raided the border town of Arsal, killing and kidnapping dozens of Lebanese security personnel.

Jihadist militants have also carried out a series of deadly bombings in Beirut and elsewhere, mostly targeting Hezbollah and Iranian facilities.

Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam has warned that the spread of IS poses “a big test that our destiny depends on”. His country’s many religious and political factions have been urged to put aside their differences to ensure the group does not establish a foothold.

 

Qatar

Qatar has rejected accusations from Iraq’s Shia leaders that it has provided financial support to IS. However, wealthy individuals in the emirate are believed to have made donations and the government has given money and weapons to hardline Islamist groups in Syria.

Doha is also believed to have links to the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate.

Since IS launched its offensive in northern Iraq in June, the Qatari authorities are reported to have repaired relations with other Gulf states who accused it of meddling in their affairs.

 

Russia

Russia is one of President Assad’s most important allies, providing it with diplomatic and military support. It has vetoed several UN Security Council resolutions condemning his deadly crackdown on peaceful dissent and continues to supply the Syrian military with weapons and aircraft.

Moscow’s actions have prompted IS fighters to vow to oust President Vladimir Putin and “liberate” the North Caucasus. Russian security services believe hundreds of militants from Chechnya and other Caucasus republics have joined IS, including prominent commander Omar al-Shishani.

In July, Russia delivered the first batch of 25 Sukhoi fighter jets to Iraq to help boost the firepower of its air force.

 

European Union

The UK, France, Germany and Italy have been sending weapons to Kurdish Peshmerga forces, as well as aid for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people in northern Iraq.

The German government has said it has a “humanitarian responsibility… to help those suffering and to stop IS”.

French President Francois Hollande has called on world powers to unite in the face of the IS threat, and suggested that military action in Syria may be necessary.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has meanwhile said he will not rule out air strikes against IS, which is holding a British hostage, but said any action must not be “Western intervention over the heads of neighbouring states”.

 

en.shafaqna.com

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