Leaders of 30 Countries Pledge Iraq Support Against Islamic State

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U.S. Secretary of State, left, speaks through an interpreter to Iraqi President Fuad Masum in Paris, September 15, 2014.Credit: AFP

The foreign ministers of close to 30 countries on Monday agreed in Paris to support Iraq "by any means necessary" in fighting Islamic State.

Using an Arab acronym for the group the ministers from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries agreed on "the urgent need to remove" the Islamic State from the areas it controls in Iraq and promised Baghdad military assistance.

Opening the conference with his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Masum, French President Francois Hollande said there was "no time to lose" against the Sunni extremists, who released a video at the weekend showing the beheading of British aid worker David Haines.

"Iraq's struggle against terrorism is also our struggle," he said, referring to fears that the thousands of European citizens estimated to be fighting in Iraq and Syria for Islamic State could return home to stage attacks.

Around 40 countries have agreed to play some part in a U.S.-led campaign to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State in the words of U.S. President Barack Obama.

Two U.S. journalists have been executed by Islamic State in recent weeks.

Like Haines, the U.S. hostages were beheaded by a hooded executioner who spoke with a British accent.

Masum told the ministers that the only hope of keeping the extremists at bay was to take the fight to them "wherever they are."

"Militarily we don't need troops on the ground but rather air cover and the expertise of countries like France," he told Europe 1 radio in an interview.

Kerry has spent the past week traveling the Middle East to try drum up support for a new U.S.-led offensive in the region, 11 years after the start of the last war in Iraq. Several Arab states, like Saudi Arabia, have agreed to support the operation.

The Paris conference focused on Iraq, where the jihadists made lightning gains in early August before being stalled by U.S. airstrikes.

Obama last week vowed to expand the bombardments to the jihadists' positions across the border in Syria.

Kerry: U.S. won't rule out working with Iran against Islamic State

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday he won't shut the door on the possibility of working with Iran against a common enemy in the Islamic State militant group, but the two nations won't coordinate on military action.

But Kerry ruled out coordinating with the Syrian government, although he vaguely described ways to communicate to avoid mistakes should the United States and its allies begin bombing the Sunni extremist group's safe haven there.

Kerry spoke to a small group of reporters after international diplomats met in Paris to discuss how to defeat Islamic State.

He said it's unclear how the United States and Iran might join up to eliminate the extremists who have taken over much of Iraq and Syria.

Kerry was speaking after Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Tehran had vetoed a U.S. invitation to cooperate in fighting Islamic State. "The American ambassador in Iraq asked our ambassador [in Iraq] for a session to discuss coordinating a fight against Daesh [Islamic State]," said Khamenei, in quotes carried on state news agency IRNA.

Asked if that news was false, Kerry replied, "I have no idea of what inter-operation they drew from any discussion that may or may not have taken place. We are not coordinating with Iran. Period."

France to begin surveillance flights over Iraq

Speaking during a visit to a French airbase in Abu Dhabi, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France would begin military reconnaissance flights over Iraq on Monday.

France, like Britain, is reluctant, however, to join in any air campaign in Syria.

While Iraq's government requested Western assistance against Islamic State, Western governments have said they will not work with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, meaning any airstrikes there would lack an international legal framework and be fraught with risk.

Hollande, in his speech to the conference, proposed instead bolstering the moderate Syrian rebels, who rose up against Assad's regime in 2011 only to be shunted aside by Islamic State and other fundamentalist groups over time.

Saudi Arabia has agreed to train the moderate rebels.

Notably absent from the conference was Iran, which supports Assad against the rebellion in Syria as well as the government in Iraq.

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