Saudi minister: coalition must fight Daesh on the ground
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. (AFP/File)
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Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal called Thursday on the US-led coalition conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as Daesh) group in Syria and Iraq to fight the jihadists on the ground.
The kingdom, part of the coalition, "stresses the need to provide the military means needed to face this challenge on the ground," Faisal said during a press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
For his part, Kerry said military pressure may be needed to oust Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.
"He's lost any semblance of legitimacy, but we have no higher priority than disrupting and defeating Daesh and other terror networks," he told reporters, using an Arabic acronym for the ISIS which has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq.
"Ultimately a combination of diplomacy and pressure will be needed to bring about a political transition. Military pressure particularly may be necessary given President Assad's reluctance to negotiate seriously," he added.
The call for a military intervention in Syria comes a week after Western-backed Harakat Hazm group was defeated by al-Qaeda Syrian wing, al-Nusra Front, dealing a blow to Western countries backing such groups in Syria to fight both Assad and Islamist groups.
In its latest briefing note on Tuesday, the Soufan think-tank said “the collapse of the rebel group Harakat Hazm means that, in effect, there is no substantial and credible Western-backed ‘moderate’ opposition throughout most of Syria.”
Critics opposed to US involvement in the conflict with ISIS have pointed out that Washington in partnership with its Gulf allies, Jordan, and Turkey played a role in the formation and expansion of extremist groups like ISIS by arming, financing and politically empowering the armed opposition groups in Syria, and also allowing insurgents to freely infiltrate into the country.
A study published in September 2014 by the London-based small-arms research organization Conflict Armament Research revealed that ISIS jihadists appear to be using US military-issued arms and weapons supplied to the “moderate” rebels in Syria by Saudi Arabia.
The report said the jihadists disposed of "significant quantities" of US-made small arms including M-16 assault rifles and included photos showing the markings "Property of US Govt."
Moreover, Faisal warned of Iran's growing role in Iraq, accusing the Islamic republic of "taking over" its Arab neighbor through its aid in the fight against ISIS.
"Tikrit is a prime example of what we are worried about. Iran is taking over the country," Faisal said of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown.
Saudi Arabia is wary of the ambitions of its arch rival across the Gulf.
The US military's top officer, General Martin Dempsey, said Tuesday that Iran's help in an Iraqi offensive to recapture Tikrit could be "a positive thing" providing it did not fuel added sectarianism.
US commanders rarely discuss Iran's activities in Iraq in public, stressing that Washington does not coordinate with Tehran's military in any way — even though the two foes see ISIS as a common enemy.
On February 26, Kerry said the United States and Iran had a "mutual interest" in defeating ISIS but said the long-time foes were not cooperating to do so.
"They are totally opposed to ISIL and they are in fact taking on and fighting and eliminating ISIL members along the Iraqi border near Iran and have serious concerns about what that would do to the region," Kerry told lawmakers, using another acronym for ISIS.
"So we have at least a mutual interest, if not a cooperative effort," Kerry added.
Kerry, who has been pivotal to Washington's drive to strike a deal to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, said the United States had not asked Tehran to get involved in the fight against ISIS.
Washington has shunned the idea of partnering with the Damascus government, seeing Assad as part of the problem, while Iran maintains its full support to the embattled leader.
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