Kerry to press Arabs to back campaign against Islamic State

Kerry to press Arabs to back campaign against Islamic State
Kurdish fighters

AMMAN - US Secretary of State John Kerry will press Arab leaders on Thursday to support President Barack Obama's plans for a new military campaign against Islamic State militants.

In a strong measure of support, Saudi Arabia has agreed to host training camps for moderate Syrian rebels who are part of Obama's broad strategy to combat the militants, who have taken over a third of both Syria and Iraq, US officials said.

The agreement, outlined by Obama's aides on the night of his speech to the American people laying out his expanded campaign against the Islamist group, appeared to reflect the depth of Saudi concern about Islamic State's threat to the region.

Saudi Arabia, the richest Sunni Arab country, this year outlawed Islamic State as an extremist organisation, but it is worried that the focus on the group will distract from what it sees as a bigger regional threat stemming from Shi'ite Iran.

The conservative Islamic kingdom has long pressed the United States to take a bigger role in aiding moderate Syrian rebel groups, which it sees as the best hope of tackling both Islamic State and the regional ambitions of Tehran.

In a prime-time speech to Americans, Obama announced he had authorised stepped-up US airstrikes in Iraq and for the first time would extend the aerial assault into Syria, where he also vowed to beef up support for moderate rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Earlier, in Baghdad, Kerry endorsed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's plans to mend Baghdad's relations with Sunnis and Kurds, and said Abadi's new Shi'ite-led government was "the heart and backbone" of the fight against Islamic State.

Kerry, on a tour of the Middle East to build military, political and financial support to defeat the militants, said "a new and inclusive Iraqi government has to be the engine of our global strategy against ISIL."

Kerry will fly early on Thursday to Jeddah, the summer seat of the Saudi government, to seek support for a number of initiatives that Washington hopes will undermine the militants.

The initiatives include efforts to stop the flow of money to the group by tackling oil smuggling and cracking down on contributions from private donors, a senior US State Department official told reporters traveling with Kerry.

In talks with foreign ministers from Sunni Arab nations, Kerry will also ask Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states for other help, including overflight rights and using regional television news outlets - specifically Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya -- to broadcast anti-extremist messages, said the US official.

"There are these major media groups that have a huge role in the region, but they need to get at the clerics because the clerics can get at the mosques in the neighborhood and they have to expose ISIL for what it is," the official told reporters in Washington on the condition of anonymity.

Saudi Arabia's senior clergy have been attacking Islamic State and al Qaeda in a series of messages over the past month, denouncing the militant groups as heretical and saying it is religiously forbidden to support or join them.

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