WASHINGTON — Iraq's plan to recapture the western city of Ramadi from Islamic State jihadists will dominate a meeting on Tuesday in Paris of foreign ministers from the international coalition fighting the group, a senior US official said.
In the wake of the stunning defeat in Ramadi this month, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will outline how his government intends to retake it and what coalition partners can do to help, a senior State Department official told reporters.
"This is not a business-as-usual meeting," said the senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity by teleconference.
"We're coming to discuss with Prime Minister Abadi his plan for liberating Ramadi and Anbar province." Under a campaign plan adopted by Abadi's cabinet shortly after Ramadi's fall, the Iraqis hope to mobilise the Sunni tribes of Anbar province, deploy police units under new leadership, channel reconstruction aid quickly to recaptured areas and ensure all Shiite militias are operating under Baghdad's authority, the official said.
The disastrous rout of Iraqi security forces led Baghdad to ask the Hashed al-Shaabi, an umbrella organisation which includes Iran-backed Shiite militias, to move into the area to block the advance of the IS extremists.
But Washington remains concerned about any role for the Tehran-backed fighters in the mostly Sunni area, and officials said on Monday the Iraqi government's campaign plan places a top priority on imposing Baghdad's authority over all militia units.
"It's very important... that all forces be brought under the command and control of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi prime minister. That's something that's a fundamental element of the plan," he said.
Pentagon officials acknowledged on Monday that some of the Shiite militias remain outside of the central government's control in Anbar province.
Training Iraqi troops
The Paris talks will include foreign ministers from the so-called "small group" of the anti-IS coalition, including representatives from Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
John Allen, the retired US general who serves as White House envoy to the coalition, will take part in the discussions along with other senior American officials.
But Secretary of State John Kerry, who is recovering from a cycling accident in Switzerland, will not be able to attend in person and instead will listen in by phone, officials said.
The US-led coalition is heavily focused on efforts to train Iraqi army troops to pave the way for counter-offensives to seize back territory in Anbar and elsewhere, the senior official said.
"The troops in Ramadi that retreated were not troops that we trained," the official said.
"Some of the troops that will part in the counter-attack (in Ramadi) we anticipate will be troops that we train." About a dozen coalition partners were helping train and equip Iraqi security forces, with about 7,000 troops trained so far and another 4,000 undergoing instruction, the official said.
The blueprint to take back Ramadi also would include an appeal for donations from coalition members for a "stabilisation fund", which would help the Iraqi government deliver reconstruction aid immediately after areas are retaken from the IS group, the official said.
The fund was designed to back "immediate quick-hit projects" to help clear homemade bombs and allow residents to return to their homes, the official said.
Asked if the coalition members would consider broadening the fight against the IS group beyond Iraq and Syria, the US official said the main effort would remain in those two countries, but acknowledged that the jihadists were seeking to expand their network to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
"We're not going to be distracted every time a terrorist organisation raises a black flag," the officials said.
The coalition would concentrate on hitting the IS core leadership and fighting the extremists where they hold territory, while closely monitoring the group's attacks and links to other areas, the official added. — AFP