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Iraqi President: Extremists Have United Iraqi Factions

  • Zlatica Hoke

Iraqi President Fouad Maasum said the barbarity of the militants who have taken control of one-third of Iraq and a part of Syria has served to unite previously divided factions in the region. In a recent interview during his stay in New York, Maasum told VOA that Islamic State is losing the support of Sunni Muslims, which the militants enjoyed at the start of their campaign. He said Iraq's neighbors have pledged their support to Baghdad's effort to defeat the terrorist group.

Islamic State militants have been attacking Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims and others who stand in their way. It is generally believed that the group is led and supported by disgruntled Sunni Muslims who once ruled Iraq, but were sidelined by the Shia-dominated government of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Iraq's president said the initial support the group received has diminished.

"The political leadership of the Sunnis are all opposed to Islamic State and know that Sunnis are not beholden to them. Now that Sunnis have seen how Islamic State behaves, they are very worried. The group's dictatorial behavior and backward philosophy has scared all," said Maasum.

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly last week, the Iraqi president said Islamic State must be eradicated or it will rise again. The United States has organized a coalition of Western as well as Arab states to help destroy Islamic State strongholds in Iraq and Syria. However, the United States has not invited Iran to join the coalition against the terrorists, despite a recent thawing of relations with Tehran.

"Cooperation or non-cooperation between Iran and the U.S. is their concern. But we saw that the Iranian government was the first to provide us with humanitarian assistance and great cooperation; they even provided weapons to all sides that were resisting Islamic State militants,” said Maasum.

President Maasum said Iraq also has the support of Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Bordering both Iraq and Syria, Turkey has been under pressure to play a greater roll in fighting the extremists.

"We are ready for any kind of cooperation in fighting against terrorism. However, Turkey is not a country in pursuit of temporary solutions, nor will Turkey allow others to take advantage of it," said Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

Iraqi Kurds have been at the forefront of resistance to the extremists, and have received international support. There are concerns that this will strengthen their aspirations for an independent state.

Iraq's president expressed confidence that it will not come to that.

"Islamic State was instrumental in uniting all Iraqi groups because all understood the gravity and danger of the situation facing them. Domestic Iraqi differences and disputes must be solved, because their continuation will not benefit anyone," said Maasum.

Iraq's president is a Kurd. Earlier this year, he appointed a new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, who is working to ease religious and ethnic tensions. Maasum said a separation of Kurds from Iraq would be a start of serious troubles for the region.