Arab countries offer to strike Islamic State, say US officials

Officials decline to identify which countries made offers to join US in targeting radical Sunni group.

An Islamic State terrorist holds a flag with the group's insignia. (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Islamic State terrorist holds a flag with the group's insignia.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
PARIS - Several Arab countries have offered to join the United States in air strikes against Islamic State targets, US officials said on Sunday, indicating a possible widening of the air campaign against militants who have seized parts of Iraq and Syria.
The officials declined to identify which countries made the offers. But they said they were under consideration as the United States begins to identify country roles in its emerging coalition against jihadists who have declared a caliphate or Islamic state ruled under Sharia law in the heart of the Middle East.
The addition of Arab fighter jets could strengthen the credibility of the American-led campaign in a region skeptical of how far Washington will commit to a conflict in which nearly every country has a stake, set against the backdrop of Islam's 1,300-year-old rift between Sunnis and Shi'ites.
"I don't want to leave you with the impression that these Arab members haven't offered to do air strikes because several of them have," a senior US State Department official told reporters in Paris.
The official said the offers were not limited to air strikes on Iraq. "Some have indicated for quite a while a willingness to do them elsewhere," the official said. "We have to sort through all of that because you can't just go and bomb something."
So far, France has been the only country to publicly offer to join US air strikes on Islamic State targets, although limiting these to Iraq. Britain, Washington's main ally in 2003, has sent mixed messages. It has stressed the West should not go over the heads of regional powers nor neglect the importance of forming an inclusive government in Iraq.
The US comments come a day after Islamic State stirred fresh outrage with a video purporting to show the beheading of British aid worker David Haines. British Prime Minister David Cameron called it "a despicable and appalling murder," and vowed to bring the killers to justice.
US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond during a conference on Iraq in Paris on Monday. "I am sure that will be a topic of discussion," a second senior US State Department official said, referring to the beheading.
The US officials spoke on condition of anonymity.