Iraq’s Foreign Minister said Friday that his country must lead the fight against Islamic State militants within its borders, but encouraged a continued air campaign from international allies.
Addressing the United Nations Security Council in New York, with an audience of key anti-Islamic State coalition leaders including the U.S., Ibrahim al-Jaafari said his country should shoulder the burden of ground combat.
“We believe the main responsibility to fight the Islamic State [IS] and other terrorist organizations on our territory is our responsibility and the responsibility of the Iraqi armed forces and the Peshmerga forces and the National Guard, as well. However we require the support of friendly nations in the air campaign [against IS],” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke after al-Jaafari, reiterating the message from Washington that the defeat of the extremist group in Iraq and Syria, known also as ISIL, requires an international response.
Chairing a special session of the U.N. Security Council, he urged a comprehensive approach to defeating what he called a “cult masquerading as a religious movement.”
Kerry told the council that Islamic State is nothing more than a terrorist group that must be defeated.
“In the face of this sort of evil we have only one option: to confront it with a holistic, global campaign that is committed and capable of degrading and destroying this terrorist threat; to confront it with a holistic, global campaign that is committed and capable enough to ensure whether in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere, ISIL cannot find safe haven.”
Kerry added that U.S. diplomatic foe Iran, which shares a lengthy border with Iraq, also has a role in countering the Islamic State.
Kerry expressed “deep outrage” at the killing, kidnapping, rape and torture of Iraqis and citizens of other countries by Islamic State.
“The coalition required to eliminate ISIL [Islamic State] is not only, or even primarily, military in nature,” Kerry told a United Nations Security Council meeting.
“It must be comprehensive and include close collaboration across multiple lines of effort,” he said. “There is a role for nearly every country in the world to play, including Iran.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council on Friday condemned the Islamic State group and called for greater international support for the Iraqi government to counteract militants.
All 15 council members approved the statement at a meeting chaired by the U.S. secretary of state.
Kerry’s comments came as French fighter jets hit an Islamic State military depot in northeastern Iraq, the first such airstrikes by French forces.
The office of French President Francois Hollande said Rafale jets destroyed the depot and there would be more operations in the coming days. Iraqi military officials said the airstrikes targeted positions near the town of Zumar.
On Thursday, Hollande said his country was ready to conduct airstrikes requested by Iraq once reconnaissance flights had identified targets. He has said the military operation would be limited to Iraq and would not include any ground troops.
U.S. President Barack Obama praised the French announcement, saying that “France is a strong partner in our efforts against terrorism.”
The United States already has launched more than 170 airstrikes against IS targets, and has said it would hit targets in Syria if necessary.
Obama said Thursday that more than 40 countries, including Arab nations, have agreed to join the coalition.
Cleric’s qualified endorsement
The French military action appeared to win qualified endorsement from Iraq’s top Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
In a Friday sermon, delivered by one of his aides, the elderly cleric said Iraq needed foreign help but shouldn’t become subservient to outside powers.
“Even if Iraq is in need of help from its brothers and friends in fighting black terrorism, maintaining the sovereignty and independence of its decisions is of the highest importance,” Sistani’s spokesman Sheikh Abdul Mehdi Karbala’i said.
Sistani speaks for millions of Iraq’s majority Shiites and has a worldwide following.
Islamic State fighters, who have controlled much of Syria’s eastern oil and agricultural provinces for more than a year, swept through mainly Sunni Muslim regions of north Iraq in mid-June, seizing cities including Mosul and Tikrit and halting only a few dozen miles north of the capital Baghdad.
Iraq’s army and Shiite militia forces have battled the militants and their allies, but failed to make significant territorial gains.
Car bombs, some of them claimed by Islamic State, have been a near daily occurrence in Baghdad. Two car bombs killed nine people there on Friday and a bomb in the Kurdish city of Kirkuk in the north killed eight people, security officials said.
Washington launched airstrikes for the first time in August to halt an IS advance on the Kurdish autonomous capital Irbil.
Kurds make gains
The attacks have helped Kurds claw back lost territory, and this week they retook ground in the northern province of Nineveh and near the town of Zummar, which remains under IS control.
Elsewhere in Nineveh, the Islamic State offered another sign of its growing authority over Iraqis, creating a police force “to implement the orders of the religious judiciary”, according to a well-known militant Islamist website.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday authorized equipping and training moderate Syrian rebels to battle the militants, one day after the U.S. House had approved the legislation.
Obama said the congressional approval shows the world that Americans are united in combating the militant group.
Turkish hostages released
Turkey’s prime minister says 49 Turkish hostages seized by Islamic State militants in Iraq in June have been freed.
Ahmet Davutoglu said Saturday the hostages were released earlier in the day and have arrived safely in Turkey.
The hostages, including diplomats, soldiers and children were kidnapped from Turkey’s consulate in Mosul, Iraq on June 11, as the Islamic State group overran the city in its surge to seize large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
It was not immediately clear how Turkey secured the release of the hostages and if a ransom were paid.
Turkey – a NATO member – has been reluctant to join a coalition to defeat the Islamic State, citing the safety of its 49 kidnapped citizens.
Their release contrasts with the recent beheadings of two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker by the Islamic State group.
Prime Minister Davutoglu said the release was a result of the Turkish intelligence agency’s “own methods,” but did not give additional details.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Turks were freed through “a successful operation” that “lasted through the night in total secrecy.”
Thirty-two Turkish truck drivers who were also seized in Mosul on June 6 were released a month later. Turkey has not provided any information about their release.
VOA’s Margaret Besheer contributed to this report from the United Nations, and material from Reuters, AFP and AP was used in this report.