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Iraq welcomes US plan for coalition against Islamic State militants

To prevent a repeat of 2003's 'Coalition of the Willing' invasion of Iraq, Obama and others will likely be looking for countries in the Middle East to join the coalition. Only Turkey has joined so far.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari meets US Secretary of State John Kerry in Baghdad in June (AFP)

Iraq on Saturday welcomed US President Barack Obama's plan for an international coalition against militants as a "strong message of support", after repeatedly calling for aid against the militants.

Obama outlined a plan at a NATO summit Friday for a broad coalition to defeat the Islamic State (IS) militant group, which led an offensive that overran chunks of five Iraqi provinces in June and also holds significant territory in neighbouring Syria.

International concern has been building for some time over IS - which has carried out numerous atrocities including killings, kidnappings and attacks on minorities in areas it controls in Iraq and Syria.

But the beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, which IS claimed, have sparked significantly more outrage in the West than its other abuses, providing increased impetus for action against it.

The United States has sent military advisers to Iraq and launched a campaign of more than 100 air strikes against the militants, while it and a string of other countries have promised arms for Iraqi Kurdish forces battling IS militants.

Obama said Friday that regional involvement was "absolutely critical" for the anti-IS effort, although the State Department added there were "no plans" for military coordination with Iran in the fight.

"We're going to degrade and ultimately defeat (IS)," Obama said.

He said there was "unanimity" among NATO members that the group "poses a significant threat", although many cautioned that any action hinged on the formation of a new Iraqi government.

The 10 nations -  the US, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark - have thus far signed on to join the coalition. 

In an effort to prevent a repeat of 2003's 'Coalition of the Willing' invasion of Iraq, Obama and others are likely to be looking for other countries in the region, in addition to Turkey, to publicly support the coalition.

On the eve of the NATO summit earlier this week, the UAE's foreign ministry stressed the need for cooperation and coordination amongst existing international frameworks to "work towards a unified strategy to face this issue at all levels." It was not immediately clear on Saturday whether the UAE had signed on to Obama's coalition.

In Iraq, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari praised Obama's remarks as a strong response to Baghdad's long-standing appeals for aid.

"We welcome that, and we have repeatedly called on our international partners for help and support because this threat is a very deadly threat... not only to the people of Iraq or the region, but to Europe, to America, to NATO," Zebari told AFP on Saturday.

"This is basically our fight... but we need the support -- our capacity is limited, and we need the support to enhance our capacity.

"Nobody's thinking of any ground troops at this stage - they are calling for air support, for tactical support, for arming the forces on the ground, like the (Kurdish) Peshmerga, the Iraqi security forces, and also to provide... intelligence, reconnaissance," he added. 

US President Barack Obama outlined plans on Friday for a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, but they received a cautious response from European allies.

'Time, patience and resolve' 

European allies of the United States, while supportive of Obama's initiative, were more cautious.

Britain has left the door open to air strikes in Iraq, but Prime Minister David Cameron played down the prospect of any immediate action.

"This will take time, patience and resolve," he said at the end of the two-day NATO summit in Newport, Wales.

"We will proceed carefully and methodically, drawing together the partners we need, above all in the region, to implement a comprehensive plan."

President Francois Hollande said France was ready to join a coalition against IS militants in Iraq, but warned it would not commit to actions in Syria that might aid President Bashar al-Assad in the country's civil war.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressed the effort was at an early stage.

"We are at the beginning in dealing with a group which nobody has a strategy to deal with in the long run," he said.

American officials were quick to distance the process from the heavily-criticised "coalition of the willing" that was formed ahead of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

"When we talk about what we are doing today, in no way do we want to resemble anything that was done in 2003," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

"We're certainly not using that playbook."

The initial IS-led militant drive swept Iraqi security forces aside, but Baghdad won its first major victories of the conflict this week when federal troops, Shiite militiamen and Kurdish fighters broke a months-long siege of one town and retook other nearby territory.

In the town of Sulaiman Bek, which had been held by IS since June but was retaken on Monday, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militiamen discovered mass graves containing 35 bodies, an officer and a doctor said Friday.

It was not clear when the killings took place, as the town north of Baghdad has fallen from government control several times this year.