EU hopes to build support group for Iraq against Islamic State

The European Union hopes to build a "support group" with Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, to help Iraq stave off the threat from Islamic State fighters, a senior EU official said on Thursday.

EU foreign ministers, who will hold emergency talks on the Iraq crisis in Brussels on Friday, will discuss how "with all the ... countries in the region we could form some sort of supporting group toward Iraq," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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He suggested the group could include Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Iran and others.

"It is important to have everyone on board against the ISIL (Islamic State) because this shouldn't be seen as a confrontation between the western countries and the ISIL. It should be clearly a confrontation between ISIL and all the countries of the region," the official said.

The EU's aim is to exchange information about Islamic State, including about its financing, and "to see if all together we can move ahead and try to find a way not only to stop the present ISIL offensive but also to try to push it back," the official said.

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The official gave no details of how Islamic State might be pushed back, but there is little appetite among EU governments for joining the United States in military strikes against the militants.

Peshmerga fighters provide security at the last checkpoint outside of Mosul which is currently under control of ISIS militants
Sebastiano Tomada | Getty Images
Peshmerga fighters provide security at the last checkpoint outside of Mosul which is currently under control of ISIS militants

The rapid advance of Islamic State through northern Iraq has led to an unlikely convergence of interests between the West and Iran, normally hostile to each other. Like Western powers, Shi'ite Iran is alarmed by Sunni militants' hold in Syria and Iraq.

New kind of group

Noting its seizure of dams and oilfields, the EU official suggested that Islamic State might be changing from a terrorist group into something more complex - "a new type of organization that can play the role of a terrorist group but at the same time try to grasp parts of a territory and try to set up its own state.

"That is one of the reasons why we really need to discuss this with the countries in the region and to try to have a common position and common attitude toward that phenomenon," he said.

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The foreign ministers will see on Friday if they can reach a joint EU position in support of sending arms and ammunition to the Iraqi Kurds, who have appealed for international help to combat the advance of Islamic State.

Individual EU governments do not need an EU green light to send weapons to Iraq, and several European governments, including France, Germany, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, have said they will send arms or are considering doing so.

Nevertheless, some EU member states have been reluctant to endorse EU arms exports to the Iraqi Kurds, fearing the weapons could end up falling into the hands of Islamic State.

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EU foreign ministers will also discuss crises in Ukraine, Gaza and Libya, as well as the threat from Ebola, which has killed more than 1,000 people in West Africa.

Ebola was added to the agenda at the request of Spain, after Spanish priest Miguel Pajares, 75, the first European infected by the Ebola strain prevalent in West Africa, died in hospital in Madrid after contracting the disease in Liberia.

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