French President Heads to Iraq

French President Francois Hollande heads to Iraq Friday to underscore his country’s support in crushing the Islamic State, as an international campaign against the brutal jihadist movement ramps up.  France also hosts a conference Monday to coordinate efforts to fight the militants.

In flying to Bagdad on Friday, President Francois Hollande is signaling his country’s support not only for Iraq’s new government, but also its fight against the Islamic State group that poses a growing threat in the Middle East and for the West.  Hundreds of young recruits have left Europe and the United States to join the fighting.  Some are now returning home.

Wednesday,  President Barack Obama announced a stepped-up campaign against the Islamic State, aimed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the group.  France says it will take part in an international coalition to do so, if Iraq and the United Nations approve its actions.  France is also supplying arms to Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State as well as humanitarian aid.

In a speech Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Paris will participate in airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq, if necessary.  But while Obama says U.S. strikes could extend into Syria, Fabius made it clear that France’s response there will take another form, by supporting moderate Syrian rebels in their fight against the jihadists and the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.  France is already supplying the rebels with some weapons.

The deputy director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, Jean-Francois Daguzan, says despite the varying tactics Paris and Washington share the same objective.

“There is a small difference, due to the position of France about Syria.  But globally the goals are exactly the same.  That is, we have to destroy, destroy definitely, the Islamic State,” he said.

President Hollande’s trip comes amid a flurry of international action.  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is also in the Middle East, where he met Thursday with Saudi and other Arab officials on ways to respond to the jihadist threat.  And earlier this week, Britain announced it is shipping weapons to Kurdish fighters in Iraq.

On Monday, Paris hosts an international conference to coordinate efforts in fighting the Islamic State. Iraq’s President Fuad Masum and other regional leaders are expected to attend, along with U.S. and other Western representatives.  It is unclear whether Iran will be invited.

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