Arab League endorses US-led coalition against Islamic State

League accuses Islamic State of crimes against humanity; US to adopt strategy of "offense"; air campaign in Iraq expands; Obama will outline plan in national address.

September 7, 2014 20:11
4 minute read.

Foreign ministers of the Arab League take part in an emergency meeting at the league's headquarters in Cairo September 7. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – The Arab League elected on Sunday to join Europe and the United States in its confrontation with Islamic State.

Vowing to provide all necessary support, foreign ministers from the league met in Cairo to endorse international action against the Islamist army, which has conquered territories throughout eastern Syria and northern Iraq. The Arab League also condemned Islamic State as a corrupt, immoral enterprise engaging in crimes against humanity.

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The group has reportedly killed thousands of civilians.

Consequentially, the Arab League also endorsed a United Nations Security Council resolution passed last month that aims to stem the flow of military equipment to extremists operating in Iraq and Syria. Member states of the league have openly armed various groups in Syria throughout the civil war there since it began in 2011.

While a draft resolution proposed by Baghdad made explicit reference to the US air assault, the final text adopted by the league did not specifically endorse the coalition campaign against Islamic State.

The wording, however, clearly offered Arab cooperation to US and Iraqi efforts, and is read as a tacit agreement to back Washington’s campaign against the group, officials said in Cairo.

Baghdad and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi also called for harsher language on the extent of the group’s criminality.

Action from the Arab League comes at the strong encouragement of the Obama administration, which seeks multidimensional support from Sunni governments in the region to degrade the group.

Islamic State considers itself a strict Sunni caliphate.

After dispatching US Secretary of State John Kerry to Amman and Riyadh for meetings to rally the Hashemite and Saudi kingdoms, US President Barack Obama will address the American people on Wednesday to outline his “game plan” for action.

“The next phase is now to start going on some offense,” Obama said in an interview on Meet the Press with Chuck Todd. “There’s going to be an economic element to this.

There’s going to be a political element to it. There’s going to be a military element to it.”

Previewing his speech, the president said he wants to explain to the American people the significance of the Islamic State threat to the homeland, the capability of the US government to handle it, the breadth of coalition support he has built thus far and why it is imperative that the US Congress support the mission.

Obama suggested, however, that he would not seek authorization for the use of force from Congress in Syria.

Should the US choose to go after Islamic State targets militarily, the president would not have the expressed invitation of the nominal Syrian government in Damascus, as he currently does in Iraq from the government in Baghdad.

“I’m confident that I have the authorization that I need to protect the American people,” Obama said.

Obama said he seeks to systematically degrade Islamic State capabilities, shrink their territorial claims and ultimately defeat the group. But that process will require manpower beyond what the US is prepared to offer, he said.

“The boots on the ground have to be Iraqi,” he said, “and in Syria, the boots on the ground have to be Syrian.”

Since July, the US has conducted 143 air strikes against Islamic State targets throughout northern Iraq. Those operations are coordinated with the Peshmerga forces of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan regional government, in protection of its capital in Arbil, as well as the Iraqi Armed Forces.

No such ground force exists in Syria, however, able to hold territory cleared by US air power, posing a tactical challenge to the Pentagon. The president said last week that his team does not yet have a military strategy to go after Islamic State targets in Syria, where the group holds court in Raqqa.

The US cannot “serially occupy various countries all around the Middle East,” Obama explained, asked what ground force would aid in the fight against Islamic State at the heart of its territory. “We don’t have the resources. It puts enormous strains on our military. And at some point, we leave. And then things blow up again.”

The US expanded its air campaign in Iraq on Sunday with strikes in a new location, by Haditha Dam, a site threatened by Islamic State fighters.

“The Haditha Dam is the second largest hydroelectric contributor to the power system in Iraq,” said Caitlyn Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

“Destruction of the dam or release of water would create a level of flooding that would potentially pose a catastrophic threat to thousands of Iraqis along the Euphrates Valley from Anbar province into parts of Baghdad, including possible flooding in areas in and around the Baghdad International Airport, where hundreds of US personnel reside.”

The Pentagon said the strikes came at the request of the Iraqi government.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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